August 17, 2004 > Don Signer
A Family Tradition
His "thirty second rundown" quickly informs a listener that Don Signer has been involved with sales and service of automobiles throughout his life. It could be said that it runs in his blood since his father was a factory man with Pontiac when Don was born in Portland, Oregon. Transfers to Spokane, Seattle and then to the Bay Area. When Don was preparing to enter his sophomore year in high school, his father decided to move back to Oregon and buy a Dodge dealership "with the anticipation of buying a Buick, Cadillac, GMC dealership that would soon become available.
In 1970 - Don was a Junior in college - the owner of the Buick/Cadillac/GMC dealership retired and within weeks, Don's father passed away. His mother "stepped right in," even though she previously knew nothing about the business. Don was expected to assume control after graduation. Don says, "I became sales manager a week after graduation, knowing very little about it." He learned quickly and remained at the dealership until 1980. At that time, the dealership had shifted a bit. The Dodge dealership was dropped and Jeep was added.
Don's attention turned to the Tri-City area. There had never been a Buick dealership in Fremont even through the city housed the zone office. Plans for a Buick dealership had been drawn, but time had expired on a previous bid for operating the new dealership. Don stepped into the picture and in October 1979, at age 28, Don was given a letter from Buick naming him as the exclusive operator of the dealership with a one year window to gather capital, build a building, hire employees and begin operations.
Negotiations with the landowner, Art Bridges, a Pontiac dealer in Hayward with a Toyota dealership in Fremont, proceeded and, although a bit late, Signer, with a partner, opened the Buick dealership in November 17, 1980 even though the building was unfinished and winter was approaching. For several months, operations proceeded even though there was no heating, windows were missing, the floor was uncovered and desks had not arrived. By early January, 1981, the building on Fremont Boulevard near Washington High School and next door to Mezzetti Volkswagen, was "pretty much completed." Don remembers that "we ascended pretty rapidly; we were among the leaders of the Bay Area." In February, 1982, Don bought out his partner and assumed total ownership of Don Signer Buick.
The eighties were mixed economically. In March, 1988, Don bought the San Leandro Suburu-Saab dealership and added them to his Fremont location. At that time, Signer Buick-Subaru-Saab was the name of the dealership but changed in June of 1990 when Don was given the local Cadillac franchise by General Motors - the first in Fremont. By agreement, Don no longer handled Subaru and Saab. This change resulted in the birth of Signer Buick-Cadillac. "That was my long term goal in the '80's, to get Cadillac." With his initial experience in Oregon with Buick and Cadillac, Don had come full circle. "This is where I wanted to be."
The move to the present location in Newark came in July, 1995 - July 4th weekend. Originally, most dealerships in the area planned to move to the Fremont Auto Mall, a concept promoted by Southern Pacific Railroad with land they owned in Southern Fremont. Catellus Corporation, an offshoot of the railroad, was interested in rezoning the property to accommodate the dealerships. The Auto Mall concept began in June 1987 and General Motors had stipulated when they gave the Cadillac franchise to Don that he would move the dealership to that location. Delays and bureaucratic red tape slowed the process and when, finally, one dealership moved to the "Auto Mall," he closed within six months. As Don says, "one dealer does not make a mall."
General Motors was very interested in relocation of Don's franchise and kept asking when this move would take place. In 1992, General Motors spoke with Don about property in Newark that would be a good location for a cluster of General Motors dealerships. Pontiac-Olds-GMC had committed to a move to the Newark location next to Fremont Ford, but Don still had hopes to join other dealerships at the Auto Mall. As time moved on, the Auto Mall was still slow to form and finally Don agreed to the move to his present location in Newark on Balentine Drive.
Don is proud to represent Cadillac and Buick in the area. He feels that Cadillac has always represented the best -in fact, the term has often been used to designate the best of a product, (i.e. the Cadillac of .....). Buick retains a perception of high quality and "understated elegance" as well. The choices available to American consumers have expanded through the years with the introduction of foreign manufacturers and global marketing, but through it all, Cadillac is still seen as a mark of quality, luxury and style. Increased pressure from manufacturers around the world in the luxury market has caused a reexamination of Cadillac's role in the automobile world. Don says that Cadillac has recommitted itself to the role as a standard of leadership. New designs and marketing are broadening the appeal of the Cadillac products to a younger audience. The introduction of the Escalade, XLR, SRX and CTS models has enticed a younger population to the dealership. For many, Cadillac is still the car they aspire that represents achievement and prestige, however, newer models can accommodate both those who have "made it" and those who are "on the way" too!
Don invites everyone to come by and experience the difference a new Cadillac or Buick can make in your driving pleasure. These General Motors products are filled with new features that have increased driving pleasure and comfort such as the OnStar system using a global communication and positioning satellite technology. There is a change in style and design that will change some preconceived ideas of who is driving these cars and how you can afford to be part of the new generation of Signer customers. Don's long experience in the business and his attention to customer satisfaction has been the reason for many repeat customers. A visit can be the beginning of a new relationship and a new understanding of what makes these automobiles stand out in a crowded field of contenders!
39639 Ballentine Dr., Newark