Bottom Line: Five car salesmen with a lot of miles move down the road to Claremont dealership

  • John Lippman. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Business Writer
Published: 6/15/2019 9:20:54 PM

The guys who drove sales at Gateway Motors sure don’t like to remain in idle.

Five of the former White River Junction Ford dealership’s veteran car salesmen have moved down the Connecticut River to Ford of Claremont, where they resurfaced only a few weeks after Gateway owners Charlie and Allen Hall sold their franchise to St. J Auto’s Ford dealership in Lebanon.

Andy Boutin, Terry LaCasse, Dick Poirier, Bob Buckman and Lee Porter — who combined have more than 200 years of car-sales experience — are now all working out of the recently reopened Ford dealership in Claremont, which had closed in 2015 after its previous owner ran into legal and financial difficulties.

“This seemed like the best fit for us,” LaCasse said of the move to Claremont. “They are letting us sell cars the old-fashioned way we like to.”

Ford of Claremont (as opposed to its previous name, Claremont Ford) opened in November in a new 19,000-square-foot facility on Charlestown Road and is owned by Christian Gomes, who previously owned a Ford dealership in Smithtown, N.Y., and was approached by the automaker about replanting its flag in Claremont.

Gomes said it didn’t take any time after he opened before he began hearing positive “feedback” about “the guys” at Gateway Motors.

“I knew they were all good guys because the customers all like them,” Gomes said. “We’re a family-owned dealership and they keep telling me they feel right at home.”

LaCasse, 72, went to work at Gateway when he was 19 years old and spent 53 years there. Poirier, 74, worked at Gateway for 40 years. They graduated a year apart at Lebanon High School in the early 1960s and live a few doors from each other on Tenley Drive in West Lebanon.

The youngest of the group is Boutin, their sales manager. He’s 59.

“I was the rookie. I worked at Gateway only 29 years,” Boutin confessed.

True, none of these salesmen — LaCasse said at Gateway they were jokingly called “the Geritol squad” — needs to sell another car. Several work part time or take monthslong vacations every year to Florida or Maine.

But, perhaps because they are inveterate salesmen and love dealing with people, they get the itch to come back.

“I have to do something because I’d get completely bored if I don’t,” said Buckman, 73, who worked at Gateway for 23 years. “I know a lot of people when they retire don’t last very long.”

Poirier estimated he’s sold at least 10,000 vehicles over four decades and he and his fellow salesmen “probably have 200 to 300 customers” apiece among them.

Their customers have been loyal, and Poirier said they did not want them to feel abandoned.

“We all wanted to find them a good home,” he said of the customers. “I tell everyone (Ford of Claremont) is the new Gateway, only the roof doesn’t leak.”

Poirier said he spent four days at Lebanon Ford — where he sold one vehicle, a Ford Edge SUV — and although the dealership was only “five-tenths of a mile” from his house, he’s happy to drive 28.3 miles to Claremont to be with his buddies.

“I came down, and the rest followed,” said Poirier, who is never without his trademark Stetson hat.

Still, some are incredulous when they learn the Gateway guys didn’t hand in their keys.

“I’m just surprised they are still doing it,” said Hartland resident Robert Hutchins, a salesman at Gateway Motors in the early 2000s and who now runs his own drone aerial photography business. “I’d thought they’d retire by now, but I guess it’s in their blood.”

Worthy Burger to take Wednesdays off, citing staffing shortage

How bad is the labor shortage in Vermont? Bad enough that it has forced Worthy Burger in South Royalton to close on Wednesdays.

“It’s so hard that we can’t find anyone to work in the kitchen,” said Jason Merrill, chief operating officer of The Worthy Group, which also owns Worthy Kitchen bistro in Woodstock and last November opened its second Worthy Burger in Waitsfield, Vt.

Fully staffed, Worthy Burger’s kitchen would have 15 employees, but Merrill said it is currently down to 10 employees. He’d need to fill three cook and prep positions to reopen on Wednesday.

Although Vermont historically has had a low unemployment rate compared with other states, Merrill said he has never had to shut down for a day each week before due to a labor shortage, let alone just as the summer tourist season gets in full swing.

As a result he has had to cast his net ever wider and is now having to consider applications from people “on the other side of Route 7,” including Shaftsbury, Vt., in Bennington County, near the border with New York State.

Merrill said he hopes Worthy Burger will be staffed again enough to reopen on Wednesdays after the Fourth of July holiday (the restaurant, which opened in 2012, has always been closed on Tuesdays).

Vermont’s unemployment rate in April — the most recent period for which data is available — was 2.2% on a seasonally adjusted basis, according to the Vermont Department of Labor, which said it was a new low since 1976.

What’s more, in White River Junction the unemployment rate is even lower: 1.5%, tying with Burlington as the lowest in the state among the 17 measured labor markets, VDL said.

Merrill said restaurants all around the country are starving for workers.

“This is pretty much a countrywide issue,” he said, adding that the problem is compounded in Vermont because of the state’s perennial population and demographic challenges.

“Vermont is a tourist state,” he said. “We need people to live here.”

Stern no longer with Stern’s

When the White River Junction discount fresh produce store Stern’s Quality Produce — now called Stern’s Quality Produce and More — reopened a couple months ago, the new owners made a point that Keith Stern, who had owned and run the store along with his wife, Judy Stern, for 33 years, would continue to make the thrice-weekly overnight trips for provisions to the produce market in Chelsea, Mass.

But after a brief period of employment Keith Stern is no longer working at his old store for the new owners, Jill Metivier and her daughter, Amanda Metivier, who bought the business from the Sterns earlier this year.

“They called, text messaged, and said they wouldn’t need him to come in on Monday,” Judy Stern said.

Judy Stern said when she called the store back to find out the reason, she was told “they got somebody else doing it” but wasn’t provided further details, Stern told me last week.

Jill Metivier, reached at the store, confirmed that Keith Stern is no longer buying the store’s produce and they have instead hired “a couple of guys” to make the purchasing trips to the Chelsea market. Asked what prompted the decision, Metivier said “I’d rather not get into it.”

John Lippman can be reached at jlippman@vnews.com.




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