Roy Avis of West End Motors was nominated earlier this year for a prestigious award to recognize the local business' extraordinary service to the community and industry.
Avis was one of five nominees in the running for the Canadian Automobile Dealers Association's (CADA) Ambassadorship Laureate.
While he did not end up winning the Laureate this year, the nomination stands for two more years and the honour may yet belong to Avis and West End Motors.
“It's good to be recognized, especially for Fort Frances,” Avis said.
“Seeing a small-town businesses among the top five in Canada is pretty impressive,” he added.
The CADA Laureate award is the most exclusive recognition a dealer can receive over the course of their career, Avis noted.
Only three individuals among more than 3,200 new car and truck dealers across Canada are recognized annually, he added.
Avis said he has no idea who nominated him, adding CADA Laureates only can be nominated by their peers in the industry.
This past spring, Avis was contacted by CADA and informed of the Ambassador Laureate nomination.
At that time, he was asked to provide CADA with more information about himself and West End Motors to satisfy five criteria, including community relations, industry relations, business relations, social responsibility, and environmental responsibility.
Given that West End Motors has been around for 72 years, and he's been working there for more than 52 years, there was “a lot of ground” to cover when summarizing this information, Avis conceded.
A big part of fulfilling the community relations criteria was the fact Avis has been intrinsic in local politics for more than two decades.
He's been mayor of Fort Frances for three terms (following in the footsteps of his father, Allan), a town councillor for three terms, and a public school board trustee for two years.
He also had a longtime involvement with the Fort Frances Curling Club.
Avis said the biggest hurdle the town has faced during his tenure has been the “tremendous reduction" in the tax base due to the pulp and paper mill shutting down, as well as reduced assessment for several "big box” stores.
“We've had to refocus our attention, trying to make sure we can keep a full-service community at an affordable cost,” he remarked.
Avis added the town has not been stagnant in its efforts to expand that tax base, with the success of the new Huffman Court subdivision being an obvious example.
“When the darkest days come, there's only one way to go: look for the bright light,” he reasoned.
“And I think we in Fort Frances have done that as a council.”
Avis thanked the citizens of Fort Frances for allowing him to be mayor, and put him and West End Motors in a position where they were able to qualify for such a prestigious award.
The nomination also is a testament to West End Motors' good reputation within the community.
“During my years in business, my philosophy has been to operate with the highest level of honesty and integrity, and to build trust while treating customers and employees with the utmost respect,” Avis said.
He added West End Motors is a third-generation business with third-generation customers that continue to do business there.
“We have an open door policy. If someone has a problem, we have one or two people look at it and try to solve the issue,” said Avis, noting he feels the current council also practises that policy.
The dealership also has been successful with employee retention. In the past five years, two technicians each retired with more than 40 years of service.
Today, they have two technicians with 45 years of service. Some other staff members have been there for more than 25 years while the majority of staff has been there at least 12.
“Whether you're in a small or large community, it's good to keep staff; to have a good, solid base," Avis stressed. "And we've done that.”
Like many other longstanding, locally-owned businesses, West End Motors always has supported charities and community causes with donations and sponsorships.
“Businesses that have their ownership within a community have more of an attachment to that community," Avis noted, adding the advent of "big box” stores has been changing that.
“The 'Ma and Pa' stores are decreasing, which is affecting the economy in our town,” he warned.
Avis added that even in the automobile sales businesses, there's more and more dealerships that are becoming part of conglomerates, meaning that if there's profits made in those companies, they don't stay local.
West End Motors also has won numerous sales excellence and service excellence awards from Chrysler over the decades, including one recognizing its 70th anniversary from a couple years ago.
Avis was notified in mid-June that he was selected one of five finalists in the Ambassador Laureate category of CADA's 2018 Laureate recognition program.
There also were five finalists each in the Innovator Laureate and Retailer Laureate categories.
The three winning Laureates were selected from among these finalists by the Ivey Business School at Western University in London, Ont.
Then in mid-July, CADA announced the names of the three Laureate winners.
Mal Barber of Barber Motors in Weyburn, Sask. was chosen as the 2018 Ambassador Laureate.
This year's winners were featured in a recent edition of Canadian auto dealer magazine.
While being nominated for such an honour might be considered a fitting time to end a long and successful career, Avis isn't ready to retire yet.
He is taking a step back from politics, opting not to seek re-election in the Oct. 22 municipal election, but Avis plans to stay involved with the running the dealership with his son, Chad.
“I'll have more available time. I don't plan on retiring,” Avis said during an interview in his office at West End Motors.
“I think you'll probably find me in this chair some days,” he added, noting he continues to enjoy having a good working relationship with his employees and customers.