Bob Zeigler recognized for 50 years of ownership

CLAYSBURG — Bob Zeigler has been in the automobile business for a long time.

“I started selling cars while in junior high,” Zeigler, 71, said. “I sold cars before I got my driver’s license. I worked in all departments, wherever I was needed.”

In 1918, his grandfather, Walter Zeigler, started an automobile business, called Zeigler and Elder, in 1918 in Manns Choice.

That business moved to Claysburg in 1920 and became Claysburg Garage.

Bob’s father, Ken, took over that business in 1938 and changed the name to Zeigler’s. In the meantime, Walter had opened Zeigler Motors at 400 E. Plank Road, Altoona, selling Oldsmobiles.

Bob Zeigler said he always planned to work in the family business, but in 1967 while studying business administration at Hawthorne College in Concord, N.H., his father passed away.

So Bob left school and came home to take over his father’s business.

“When I took over, I was four months and 21 years old,” he said. “I was the youngest dealer in the United States to secure a General Motors (Chevrolet) contract.”

Zeigler was recently honored by Chevrolet for serving as president of Zeigler Chevrolet for 50 years.

“We don’t have a lot of them so it is significant,” said Dan Adamcheck, regional director for Chevrolet for sales, service and marketing. “This is a man who has weathered the ups and downs of the economy, the auto crisis and our bankruptcy and has been a part of the community for all of these years. He has had a big impact on the community. He has done a lot of things right to thrive and grow.”

Not many people operate a dealership for that many years.

“Bob Zeigler is one of those ingenious people who has managed to build a prosperous business in a small town by focusing heavily on low price and outstanding service,” said President/CEO Joe Hurd of the Blair County Chamber of Commerce, which named Zeigler its Small Business Person of the Year in 2010. “If you think that’s easy to do, just look around and see how many others have done it successfully for a long period of time. The list is pretty short.”

Zeigler moved Zeigler Chevrolet from Bedford Street to Route 220 in 1977 and survived a 1991 fire, which burned the showroom and sales department.

He said the automobile business has changed over the years.

“It is all internet driven today, and that has helped Zeigler Chevrolet sell more cars all across the United States,” he said. “People don’t shop by driving around and looking at our inventory, they can do it from home or work or sitting in their PJs at 11 o’clock at night. People like the convenience. They can look at all different selections, prices and distance of travel. They are more informed about that car than the salesman they talk to. It doesn’t eliminate the sales people, you still need the one-on-one contact. It becomes a personal transaction.”

Zeigler credits his employees for his success and the success of the business.

“It is like a football team,” he said. “You have to have a quarterback, people who run with the ball, you have to make a game plan and everybody has to know their assignments. I try to hire people smarter than myself. The company had good people when I took over. Some of them still work with me today.”

“They are good people to work for and treated me as a family member,” said longtime employee Jay Wyles. “I am 73. I started here in 1964 as controller.”

“Bob told me over 30 years ago you hire good employees and keep them. They are hard to find,” said Ernie Roudabush, finance director.

Zeigler Chevrolet has competed successfully with larger dealerships over the years.

“We are the little profit dealer and we give great service,” Zeigler said. “We offer a great product, we have a great location, and I-99 has helped us transport people to Claysburg easier and faster.”

Zeigler recently sold the business to his sons, Ken and Keith, who have worked for him for several years.

Bob remains as company president and continues to sell vehicles.

“I still sell cars because I enjoy seeing the people,” he said. “I enjoy my employees, being with my employees. They become family. Most of them have been here 20-plus years. We have accumulated some longtime customers, and we still enjoy arguing about prices.”

Ken Zeigler said he is proud to be part of the family business.

“We still work the same as before with a sense of pride to extend the legacy. We try to set ourselves apart from others by listening to customers and going out of our way to appease customers,” Ken said. “We’ve seen growth because of that.”

Bob Zeigler is optimistic about the future of the business.

“We will continue to grow; if you don’t, you fade away. That is why we expanded our parts and service and added more inventory,” he said.

Zeigler plans to remain active in the business.

“Retirement, I don’t understand the word,” he said. “I tell people I’ve been retired for 30 years, and they just look at me. There are three things you need: Someone to love, something to do and something to look forward to. I have all three.”

Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.