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Brian Jessel, the eponymous founder of Brian Jessel BMW, always dreamed of owning his own dealership. Brian grew up in Ontario, and worked in Toronto as a car broker. In the early '70s, he made his move to Vancouver, where there were more opportunities for owning the dealership he envisioned.
He continued his career as a broker in Vancouver - the job he knew, and one, he says, that "you do when you have no money." He laughs. Eventually he found the chance to start a used car dealership. He had managed to accumulate "six used cars at once, and so there you go - a dealership," he says. He found space to lease at Burrard and 1st and thus began Brian's storied career as a car dealer.
But you can't talk about Brian without also mentioning his father, Bernie Jessel. Bernie was a car broker in Toronto, and taught Brian the business. He also showed Brian how nice guys can finish first. Despite some tough times in the business, Bernie persevered. His kind demeanour and willingness to put customers' best interests first made him someone that people enjoyed working with, and so they came back to him again and again. "He just had a nice way about him," says Brian simply.
Bernie followed Brian to Vancouver, and would work for his son in different capacities over the decades, including a 14-year span at Brian Jessel BMW from 1996-2010. Bernie was "old school," Brian recalls, a throwback to an older time, but a man who had an uncanny sense of whom and what would succeed in car sales.
From his dad, Brian learned that tough times could come, but they would also go. And that just because you were down, you weren't out. Says Brian now of the rough patches in his own career.
Bernie's diagnosis of pancreatic cancer in 2009 was devastating. Bernie was a mentor and "one of the good guys." Bernie succumbed to the disease in 2010, and Brian was made fundraising for treatment and awareness of pancreatic cancer his mission. His annual Cabriolet Gala charity event is one way Brian raises funds and support on an ongoing basis.
Brian transformed his first used car lot at Burrard and 1st into a Fiat dealership, along with continuing to sell pre-owned vehicles, specializing in imports. This was a bold move in the mid-70s, when everyone else was selling domestic vehicles. But Brian saw how European import cars were slowly entering the market, and how much attention they garnered. "These were days when if a Jag went down the road, people stopped and looked," he remembers.
At that point, Brian was having his cars detailed and serviced at a shop in Toronto. His dad walked in, looked at the array of unusual cars - Mercedes, Jaguars, BMWs - and asked who was handling all these vehicles. "Your son," was the answer.
With a killer location right on dealership row and a niche product, plus building a service department, Brian continued to grow his reputation for precision and service. He describes himself as detail-oriented, which is perhaps an understatement. "I trained my people that everything had to be perfect."
Brian rode high through the rest of the 70s, and sold his location for $3 million in '81. He then opened a Toyota dealership in Langley, once again sniffing out a rising trend - the new interest in Japanese models. He continued acquiring dealerships, with six under his name when the 80s recession hit hard. That forced him to sell everything - everything, that is, except his beloved BMW dealership.
But Brian Jessel BMW was in Langley, and Brian longed for a location closer to his customer base in the city. He did everything he could to draw buyers away from his competitors - his service department was legendary for driving into Vancouver, to customers' homes and offices, to valet vehicles. No one offered valet service in the 80s.
When he heard that Mercedes-Benz was planning to locate in Coquitlam in a proposed auto mall (where Ikea is now), Brian used that as leverage with the BMW head office. He had a great relationship with the president, an enlightened leader who supported Brian's desire to move to Coquitlam, despite noise from competing BMW dealers.
While the proposed auto mall never moved forward, Brian did, and found a two-acre location for his new Coquitlam dealership. Within a year, he was the number three dealer in Western Canada, the lowest sales mark Brian Jessel BMW has ever hit. Five years in, the dealership was number one in all of Canada, a distinction it's held in all years except one from 2003 to present. Now, at 5000 vehicles sold annually, no other dealer even comes close.
Brian explains the continuing business model: "Always do the right thing for your customer. They might walk away from one car, but they'll come back for ten more from you in their lifetime."
In 2004, Brian Jessel BMW was finally established in a coveted location in Vancouver itself. Customers come from all over the Lower Mainland, and are still treated to valet service, plus many other perks that make buying and servicing a vehicle at the dealership seamless.
Brian credits his success with building business one relationship at a time and old-fashioned hard work, just like his dad taught him, plus having the pluck to take a chance when opportunity knocks. But while his father was old school, Brian considers himself a bridge between the past and the present. Now his dealership is run by his protégé, Manager Partner Jim Murray, whom Brian says is definitely on the pulse. It means that Brian, the self-confessed "control freak," can kick back, enjoying the assurance that his dealership is overseen by someone with the same exacting standards as his own who is also spearheading a vision for the future.
Known for its thousands of loyal customers, committed staff, and thriving sales, service and pre-owned departments, Brian Jessel BMW is now one of Vancouver's most recognized brands. Brian paraphrases Winston Churchill: "I'm easily satisfied - just give me the best." And that's what Brian Jessel BMW has done for its customers, and continues to do to this day.