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Peter Baljet calls it quits with GM after 26 memorable years
Peter Baljet isn't really driving into the sunset after selling his 26-year-old GM dealership to the AutoCanada consortium.
The Cowichan business and community pillar told the News Leader Pictorial he aims to keep running his Discovery Honda dealership — just up the highway from his namesake GM-Buick operation he sold effective March 1.
And Baljet will continue living in Cowichan where he owns a stunning spread overlooking the Sansum Narrows.
"I'm not going anywhere; I love this valley," said Baljet, 55, who bought Gary Hawe Chevrolet in May 1987.
The Vancouver native renamed Hawe's dealership to Baljet, and ran it from his former downtown-Duncan site until 2003 when Baljet built a bigger operation just north of the city.
"We had 15 staff in 1987, and at the high probably 100 employees in the mid-90s after buying Hindle (former local Pontiac dealership), then merging the two."
Baljet said he'll miss his staff, and his many loyal customers after selling his new- and used-vehicle business to Edmonton-based AutoCanada — a cleverly aggressive firm he'd rather join than try to beat.
"As a business owner, you can't necessarily pick the day you retire, and these people were interested in taking all my employees — and showed they'll look after them.
"I talked to other dealerships and their employees are happy with AutoCanada.
"I've been here 26 years-plus, and it's important the people who bought the dealership understand it's family oriented," said Cowichan United Way's past-chairman, calling AutoCanada "pretty sharp."
"They believe in a high-volume, low-profit approach through synergies of owning so many dealerships.
"They're a public company that owns 30 a dealerships of all brands across Canada."
At first, Baljet was apprehensive about selling his booming car-and-truck business.
"They approached me and we discussed it.
"I wasn't immediately interested in selling, and wanted to do this for a little while longer."
But he realized how the competitive vehicle industry is changing through canny promotional use of the internet and social media by AutoCanada and others.
"They're a very smart bunch of people. In seeing how they operate, they stare at the world more as a global entity with dedicated departments for looking after the internet and marketing."
AutoCanada will keep the Baljet name for now, and maintain the dealership's hugely successful Antifreeze Warm-Clothing Campaign he started in 1990 to give winter clothing to Cowichan's needy.
"I discussed the charitable things we do, and they said they'll carry on with them," said the community-minded father of one.
"Like my mother always said 'If you go to the shelf and always take out, one day it'll be empty.' You have to look after the community that looks after you.
"The only person they won't see there is me."
His sale is still sinking in.
"It's a bit early to comment on how I feel. I'm not a person to look in the rear-view mirror; when I make a decision, I make it and move forward on it.
"All my employees are great, and realize I'm still in the valley and will still visit them."
Meanwhile, Baljet had no regrets.
He planned to continue chasing his car-racing passion "and who knows what other opportunities will present themselves?"
"I've been very fortunate to have lived a blessed life.
"I haven't bought a jack knife for whittling on my back porch yet."
Meanwhile, the president of AutoCanada says the new ownership group of Peter Baljet G.M. is ready for the challenge of maintaining the dealership's high standards.
"Peter's done a great job with the dealership for 26 years,'' said Tom Orysiuk. "We're going to keep the service level running to what people are accustomed to.''
AutoCanada, based out of Edmonton, now runs 28 dealerships across the country from coast-to-coast, including another one on the island, Victoria Hyundai.
"We're familiar with business on the island,'' said Orysiuk. "We've got a fair number of employees on the island.''
The deal to purchase Baljet G.M. closed at the beginning of March.
The connection to Baljet stemmed from a previous purchase.
"We had bought another dealership quite a few years ago in Vancouver,'' said Orysiuk. "The guy we bought it from knew Peter. He referred us to Peter.''
Orysiuk said it took a few months of negotiations to close the transaction.
"We're really excited about our partnership with G.M.,'' he added. "We've expanded our presence there. G.M.'s a great brand for where that dealership is. It's a great fit.''
Orysiuk is also happy to be in the market for an obvious reason compared to the other locations in Canada.
"The weather's definitely nicer on the island,'' he chuckled.
It's not yet decided, Orysiuk added, about the name of the dealership.
"It'll stay the same for a period of time,'' he said.
Orysiuk knows there's a strong reputation to uphold. "It's a good facility,'' he said. "I hear we've got great staff here.''
— with a file from Don Bodger