Locally owned car dealerships provide a family atmosphere that benefits not only consumers but employees and their communities as well.

IN MANY HOUSEHOLDS, THE CAR IS AS much a part of the family as Fido or Fluffy. What other consumer product gets humanized like our cars, which we often give a pet name like “Bessie” or “Buddy”? That automotive genealogy actually starts at the dealership—many of which are family owned and operated. “If you ask any dealer what business they’re in, most are likely to answer that they’re in the people business first,” says Wes Lutz, 2018 National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) chairman and president of Extreme Dodge Chrysler Jeep Ram Inc. in Jackson, Mich. “Obviously, that means customers, but it’s also true of their employees. An atmosphere where employees feel valued is bound to radiate to customers.” And because giving back is part of the DNA of local dealerships, the larger community benefits as well. Auto dealers contribute millions of dollars every year to local charities, but, as the saying goes, charity starts at home. Through the NADA Foundation, dealers provide support to employees in times of need. The most visible—and perhaps the most crucial lately—is the Emergency Relief Fund, which provides financial support after natural disasters.

Philanthropy is a big component of the TIME Dealer of the Year Award, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary and is perhaps the most coveted honor there is for a new-car dealer. The winner, along with the other 50 nominees, will be honored at the 102nd annual NADA Show in San Francisco on Jan. 25, 2019. “At Ally, our motto is ‘Do It Right,’ and the dealers honored by the TIME Dealer of the Year Award are incredible examples of this philosophy,” says Doug Timmerman, the president of Auto Finance at Ally, which sponsors the award. “Not only are they successful businesspeople, but they also give back to their communities in remarkable ways. They understand that doing right by their customers and promoting causes they care about makes them better dealers and makes their neighborhoods stronger. Over the eight years that Ally has sponsored the TIME Dealer of the Year program, we have been inspired by these dealers and are honored to share their stories.” As one of the largest providers of automotive financing, Ally offers a range of products and services to support the dealers who do so much to support their local communities. In addition to helping them optimize their business operations and improve service, Ally also helps dealers drive the adoption of digital initiatives to meet the evolving needs of their customers. “For over a century, the auto industry has been the backbone of the U.S. economy,” adds Timmerman. “Dealerships play an important role in their communities— from small towns to big cities. In addition to working with their customers to deliver and service cars that fit their needs, dealerships also provide good-paying jobs and career opportunities to a diverse range of Americans.” Clearly, cars represent so much more than the sum of their automotive parts. They represent economic growth, opportunity and family.