NEWMARKET, ONT.—Hans Pfaff was a German immigrant to Canada in the 1950s. He loved three things: his family, his horses and his cars.
He got a job washing cars at a Volkswagen dealership in the Yonge-St. Clair area in the early 1960s. But he was such an enthusiast that it didn’t take long before his boss put him on the sales floor.
Soon, he was a sales star. Many good car salespeople dream about owning their own dealership. So when a VW store became available in 1964 up in Newmarket — at the time, considered halfway to the North Pole — his wife convinced him to go for his dream.
And now, he has a street named after him.
Yes, there were a few steps in between.
Hans built the Beetle-selling business slowly, acquiring a good reputation for service, which in the early days of imported car sales was a big issue for new customers unfamiliar with some of the brands that were on offer.
He started with 23 employees, and sold about 200 cars a year.
At the street-naming ceremony I attended last week, his son Chris, now president and CEO of Pfaff Auto, reminisced about his father who went to that Big Pit Stop in the Sky in 1993.
“He was one of the greatest salesmen I ever met,” says Pfaff the Younger.
“His test drives were legendary. He’d steer the Beetle onto the shoulder, take his hands off the steering wheel and hammer on the brakes. No ABS or directional stability control in those days of course, just what VW called the ‘dual-diagonal braking system’ which would keep the car pointed straight. The customer in the passenger seat of course was freaking out.”
Surely due to this personal touch, the business flourished, and now is effectively an upscale automotive emporium.
Last year, the business employed 1,200 people in dealerships in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, London, Guelph and Montreal. They sell upscale cars like Audi, Porsche, BMW, MINI and Mercedes-Benz and exotics like McLaren and Pagani.
Not forgetting their roots, they also still sell VWs, and other “popularly priced” brands such as Toyota, the complete Fiat-Chrysler-Alfa Romeo-Ram truck line, Mazda and Subaru.
They’ll even sell you a Harley-Davidson motorcycle if you have a death wish…
They also have extensive experience and success in motorsports, with their Porsches competing in top-level race series across North America and beyond.
At the street-naming ceremony, Chris told his favourite story of his Dad’s salesmanship. One day many years ago, a young man who had just got his driver’s licence came into the dealership to ogle the new cars. Hans gave him one of his legendary test drives even though the young man had neither the intention nor the means to buy anything.
That same man, now a doctor, returned to the store three years ago to buy a Porsche. I don’t think Chris will mind when I tell you that he got a bit misty telling this story about his Dad, who passed away in 1993.
So, how does one get a street named after one?
The Pfaff business has a long history of contributing to their community, assisting many local charities.
Some eight years ago, an auction was organized to support the Southlake Regional Health Centre in Newmarket.
When this facility’s predecessor opened as the “York Country Hospital” in the early 1920s, Newmarket had perhaps 3,000 residents, and the hospital had six beds to look after them.
Today, the Centre has about 400 beds, and serves the health care needs of some 1.5 million people from as far away as Muskoka. Chris Pfaff serves on Southlake’s board of directors.
Among the items up for bid at this auction were the naming rights for three streets in a new upscale housing development by Redwood Properties in the Leslie Street/Mulock Drive area of Newmarket.
Chris won one of the bids, and has now memorialized his father’s name. It took a few years to get it done, but it seemed well worth it to the Pfaff team.
And just when you thought all car dealers were heartless…
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