In 1966, a business partnership between two families began that last month celebrated its 50th anniversary.
“You don’t see a 50-50 partnership that lasts that many years,” Robbie Burgess, co-owner of Artesia Ford Sales, reflects.
Such a milestone is indeed rare in the world of commerce, where the stress and strain of operating a successful venture can take its toll on relationships.
But when Burgess’ father, the late Robert Burgess, and Bob Hendrickson took over ownership of Artesia Ford on May 10, 1966, they were dedicated to the concept of hard work and customer service that has seen the local dealership thrive ever since.
“It’s too bad that he is not here with us to celebrate,” Hendrickson says of the elder Burgess. “He was a good partner, and we worked together just really good at all times from the start until he passed away.”
Burgess and Hendrickson had become business acquaintances in 1962 in Lovington and remained in touch. Hendrickson was employed by Artesia Motors and Burgess by SIC in Artesia when the opportunity arose to purchase Artesia Ford Sales. It was a perfect fit for the pair.
“We worked hard at the Ford business, and it was rewarding enough that it kept us going all these years in the same spot,” says Hendrickson.
He can recall the first car he ever sold as a co-owner: a red 1966 Ford Mustang to “a gentleman that worked for the gas company.” The cost was less than $3,000.
The quickest sale Hendrickson ever made was “to an ol’ boy from the mountains that come to the lot one morning around 7:30 a.m. looking to buy a pickup, but he had to go down the street to sell a couple of dirt bikes first.
“I told him he didn’t need to go down the street – I would make a trade with him, and by 8 a.m., he had a new pickup and I had a couple of dirt bikes. We have traded for almost everything with four wheels in these 50 years.”
Growing up, Robbie Burgess would frequently visit the business he would later come to co-own.
“Dad would bring us down on weekends, and we would go to the back hunting steelies (ball bearings) and get a coke from the 25-cent coke machine,” he recalls. “Dad would call us when the convoy would show up to unload the cars, because we kids got a real kick out of watching that.”
Burgess would spend the early years of his career working for a Ford dealership in Dallas, Texas, so, he says, “I could experience what it was like to work at a different dealership and how to sell a car to someone I didn’t know.”
He says what he ultimately learned was what not to do.
“It was too high-pressure,” Burgess says. “Sell now. And I decided right then that that was not how I was going to sell cars. No pressure, and let me know tomorrow. I want to make sure it is what the people want to do, and I want people to shop me, shop around, and then give me the last shot, not the first shot.
“I’m sure I can then make them a deal they are comfortable with.”
He eventually took on the position of sales manager at Artesia Ford.
“It was a challenge to work for my dad,” he says. “People would think that I would have it easy working for my dad, but I was an employee first at work, and a son first at home.”
He quickly learned the benefit of his father’s no-nonsense attitude toward the dealership and also learned from the solid partnership between Robert Burgess and Hendrickson.
“Growing up in the dealership, I knew that my dad and Bob had a very special relationship,” he says. “They had an agreement from the beginning that if anything happened to one or the other, they would buy the surviving partner out, because they didn’t want to work with anyone else but each other.”
Upon Robert Burgess’ death last July, however, Hendrickson was happy to see his old partner’s son step in to continue his father’s work.
“All these years, I was afraid that Ford would not let me be his successor,” says Burgess, “because Ford has very strict values and rules about who they awarded dealerships to. So I did the right thing growing up, kept my nose clean.”
“(Robbie) has worked for the business since he was old enough to, has stepped into his father’s shoes without hesitation, and fills them better than anyone else could have,” says Hendrickson. “I am blessed to have him as my new partner in the business.”
Burgess feels the same.
“I have always had the highest respect for Bob,” he says. “He’s like my second dad. In fact, sometimes, if my dad said no about something, I would go and visit with Bob, and he would listen to what I was proposing and then he would help me get my point across to dad a whole lot better.”
At Artesia Ford Sales is a scrapbook, compiled by Hendrickson’s wife, Mary, of Daily Press articles on the dealership over the last 50 years. It’s a book Burgess and Hendrickson hope to continue filling for many years to come.
“It’s been a good 50 years,” Hendrickson says, expressing gratitude to “all the people in this area that have been our customers all these years, because without them, we wouldn’t still be here.”
“It’s an honor,” says Burgess. “I’ve only been here 26 of those 50 years, but I bleed blue. I was born the year after Dad and Bob acquired the dealership, and I bleed blue.”