Kern Motor revs up for 70-year celebration of serving community

Treat every customer with honesty, integrity and service after the sale is a value that is passed down to each generation of Kern Motor Company family members who serve the community through a family-owned business now approaching its 70th anniversary.

Richard D. Kern Jr., president of Kern Motor Company, said that over the years, the Kern family has believed that they have an obligation to stand behind anything they sell.

“This has been passed down through three generations and will continue in this family owned and operated business,” Kern said.

Maj. Richard D. Kern Sr., founder of Kern Motor, returned to Winchester after World War II and saw an opportunity in the car business, but getting started presented challenges. The post-war economy made it difficult to invest in a new business by himself, and he needed help. He turned to his father, H.P. Kern, and his brother, Henry Kern Jr.

“With all the money they could scrape up and borrow, they started Kern Motor Company Inc.,” Richard D. Kern Jr. said. “They built their first building, brand new building at 603 S. Loudoun Street and opened in the spring of 1946.”

H.P. Kern died in 1948, failing to see the success of his sons in the new business. The automobile business kept growing and to keep up, the Kern brothers were ready and up to the challenge.

“To stay up with the competitors, the Kern brothers knew they needed to add franchises or fail. They started adding nameplates, replacing failed models, and through the next six decades they represented an amazing list of manufacturers,” Richard D. Kern Jr. said.

He went on to list some of the memorable models.

“It began with the lineup of Kaiser-Fraziers, then as the business grew and times change so do manufacturers: Hudson, Mack Truck, Studebaker, Indian Motorcycle, Nash, Rambler, GMC Metropolitan, Edsel, Triumph, Pontiac, AMC, Jeep, Fiat, Renault, Eagle, Oldsmobile, Buick, and the list goes on.”

In 1972-73, Henry Kern III and Richard D. Kern Jr. joined the company and took over operations in 1988. Henry Kern Jr. died in 1992.

In 2008, Kern Motor had evolved into three vehicle franchises they had sold for over 49 years: Pontiac, GMC and Jeep. As do all businesses, Kern Motor Company faced new challenges.

“President Obama and his newly appointed car czar decided GM needed to get rid of Pontiac in 2008 and soon thereafter 786 Chrysler Jeep dealers were given 30 days to get rid of all new inventory. In the summer of 2008, after 49 years, Kern Motor Company was left with just GMC Trucks,” Richard D. Kern Jr. said.

The company rallied and thrived on selling used cars, keeping up a strong service department and body shop. Kern Motor was awarded the Buick Franchise by GM in 2010.

Trey Kern, a next generation Kern, serves as the company’s sales manager.

“I cleaned cars in high school, then became a salesman in the summer of 1999. I had a lot of success selling that year and was named top salesman on more than one occasion. I went back to school but officially joined the business in 2001 after graduating from Shenandoah University,” Trey Kern said.

Like his elders, Trey Kern sees value in service, noting that while the success of a dealership may often thrive on manufacturers, their dealership thrives on family-oriented energy and effort. It’s not unusual, he said, for a Kern family member to help a customer choose a car.

“I would imagine most dealerships don’t have an owner or someone that carries on the name of the owner dealing with the public as much. We try to go the extra mile for our customers and take vehicles to them, if needed,” Trey Kern said.

At the age of 95, Maj. Richard Kern Sr. still comes in and checks up on his business, making sure that the company continues to practice the values he founded the company on.

“I think my grandfather’s dream is still alive and thriving currently. I’ve got three kids to support and must keep that dream going,” Trey Kern said.