Welcome to Palm Automotive Group
With 12 dealerships in one location, we are southwest Florida's ultimate destination for new and pre-owned cars and trucks. Our family has been serving the Charlotte Harbor community since 1955 with the finest brands, people and service.
The car and truck business in America is changing and we're changing with it. No longer is it enough to just offer the lowest price. Everyone can get you to the lowest price. It's about people. Our people are the force behind our success. With more than 250 employees, it is impossible to acknowledge them all. However, without the dedication, commitment and talent of these individuals, we would be nothing. I thank them all.
Our customers are another reason for our success. We are honored that most of our clients are returning customers, that's our #1 goal. We never approach a customer without the following thought in mind: We are creating a customer for life.You have many choices when it comes to where to purchase your new vehicle. Price is obviously top of the list. On that point, we can't be beat. We're the volume leader in these parts, and therefore, we offer the best price-incentives you'll find. Shop us first or shop us last, you'll drive away in the car of your dreams with a smile on your face.
JoAnn Helphenstine, President
PALM AUTOMOTIVE GROUP HISTORY
A picture on JoAnn Helphenstine's tidy desk sums up the 55-year history of Palm AutoMall. It shows no mercy: a debris field of shattered glass and mangled steel, giant gashes ripped from roofs and wiring and pipes that droop like wilted vines from her Palm Toyota dealership. Yet, amid all this wreckage left by Hurricane Charley as it tore through Punta Gorda and the 11 Palm AutoMall dealerships, several palm trees still stand. And just like those palms, which rise from the rubble left in the wake of a Category 4 hurricane, JoAnn and the family-run business are survivors. There was never a single thought to not rebuild. Retirement wasn't an option, as anyone who knows Palm's matriarch will tell you. She is, after all, that same woman who ventured with her new husband to the ends of the Earth, or so Punta Gorda likely seemed in 1955? with little money, a just-bought Chevrolet dealership and a dream that today represents a blocks-long, 52-acre sweep along Tamiami Trail, 11 franchises, the largest repair shop in Charlotte County, a six-wrecker towing service and a new used car superstore.
"It never occurred to me to retire," she said with a sly smile. "What would I do? Play golf?"
The Early Days
The story of any 55-year-old business isn't without its hardships, roadblocks and hurricanes, literally and figuratively. Palm AutoMall's story is deeply layered, one that blends the historical perspective of a blip-on-the map 1950's Florida town and a biographical sketch of newlyweds Bob and JoAnn Helphenstine. The story begins in 1955 when the Helphenstines, married just nine months, learned of an available dealership in a town called Punta Gorda. The automotive industry, Chevrolets in particular, were already in their blood: Bob was working at a Chevrolet dealership in Jacksonville; JoAnn's father owned the Chevrolet dealership in her south Georgia hometown.
"It was financially feasible and the price was right," recalled JoAnn who, because of her gender, wasn't permitted to attend the negotiation sessions or be listed as an owner.
After purchasing Campbell Chevrolet, Bob was charged by the Chevrolet zone office to come up with a name. His idea for Charlotte Chevrolet was nixed "because General Motors franchise names couldn't include geographical locations," JoAnn said. Palm was born. A Lot of Faith JoAnn remembers traveling U.S. Highway 17 through Arcadia from Jacksonville, stopping just on the outskirts of her new hometown because a tackle-shop owner was conducting an impromptu fly-fishing class right on Marion Avenue.
"The bucket was in the middle of the street, and we had to wait until they were done," she said. "I grew up in a small town but this seemed like the ends of the earth. We had to go to Fort Myers to eat that first week."
Back then, there was no Punta Gorda Isles, and Port Charlotte was a concept the Mackle brothers were in the process of conceiving. U.S. Highway 41 was just two lanes swallowed by a tangle of surrounding woods. The city had one traffic light and a single two-lane bridge spanning the Peace River.
"The mosquitoes were tremendous," JoAnn recalled. From the start, the dealership was Bob's baby (JoAnn preferred the back office to the sales lot). He was a natural salesman, an honest and friendly man who employees and customers adored and called "Big Bob."
"Bob was amazing. He never met a stranger," said general sales manager Tonya Blair, who joined the team 25 years ago as the first female salesperson hired by Palm. "He was the kind of guy who walked into a room and lit it up. He was positive, genuine and a good person."
Although JoAnn has never sold a car, Blair said "she knows this business inside and out. She can walk the walk and talk and the talk. She's very involved, active and caring. She understands it's an emotional business, and she never let it bother her the one month in our history when we didn't sell a car."
Palm Chevrolet opened on a Monday in late September 1955, just five days after the initial negotiations and three days after the deal was finalized.
"We were approved in just one day, which is unheard of today," JoAnn said. "We opened that first day with no inventory. We had no financing to buy any cars and no connections to finance any vehicles sold."
JoAnn took care of the books and Bob handled the sales. There were two other employees, a technician and a porter, and as one would imagine for a town of that stature, sales were often slow and customer cash not always readily available. "We did anything to make a sale, and even accepted cows and baby chicks as payment," JoAnn remembered.
Palm Chevrolet sold a couple of dozen cars in 1955, JoAnn said, pulling a neatly printed index card from a file. Its 2A marking indicates this was the second sale, made to a woman who traded in a 1954 Chevrolet for a 1955 model.
"She bought a new car from us every year," JoAnn recalled.
With little to do after hours, JoAnn and Bob quickly became involved in the community, something she continues today. "There was nothing else to do but develop friendships," she said. "I was sitting at my desk shortly after arrival and two ladies walked in and invited me to a coffee they were hosting in my honor because I was new to the community. Back then Punta Gorda was such a small town, you knew everyone in a restaurant."
Growth and Family Values
The Helphenstines rented the original Campbell Chevrolet building until 1970, when they purchased it. They constructed a new building adjacent to the original property two years later, and bought adjoining properties on both sides of Tamiami Trail as they became available. They also purchased existing franchises: Chrysler and Dodge from Bob King Chrysler in 1982, Jeep soon after and Trail Toyota in 1990. Their auto empire continued to grow with the opening of Palm Mazda-Hyundai in 1991 and the acquisition of Mitsubishi in 2002 and Buick-GMC in 2009. Today, the company boasts more than 250 employees, many with a decade or more of tenure, and about 6 with over 25 years.
"I'm not the only one who's been here forever," JoAnn laughed. Jeff Hughes, who has worked in the body shop for 32 years, has witnessed much of Palm's growth. "I started the day before Valentine's Day in 1978, and it was a small, low-key shop at the time" he said. "It's grown to 18 techs who handle probably 100 cars a week. We're one of the busiest on this coast south of Tampa."
Hughes credits his longevity at Palm to its owner's son Brett and son in-law Jody Lombardo now assist JoAnn and their attention to detail. "I worked for a dealer in Fort Lauderdale, and the owner might say hello to you," he said. "Every time I see Mrs. H., she says hi and sincerely wants to know what's going on with me. We'll have a 20-minute conversation. It's the same with Brett and Jody. They're good people to work for. It's a very big company with a small company feel."
Blair still remembers how she felt when she joined the Palm family in 1985. "I was very excited to come to company that had wonderful family values and a great reputation."
Those family values include family picnics and volleyball games, riverboat cruises, an annual Christmas party and monthly staff breakfasts "to let everyone know what's going on in the company," Blair said. "Everyone has a smile on their face, and a new employee recently joked that she wanted to know where the Kool-Aid comes from."
Palm AutoMall is one of the largest private employers in Charlotte County, and its voluntary annexation into the city of Punta Gorda several years ago has been a boon for the city, said Punta Gorda Mayor Harvey Goldberg. "Palm Auto has been a very good corporate citizen and a very good community partner that contributes a great deal to our community."
From the sales staff to the detailing team, one notices an immense pride among Palm's employees. It's this family spirit that has helped Palm AutoMall weather the rough times: that first year, Hurricane Donna in 1960, Hurricane Charley in 2004 and the economic downturn that started in late 2008. The development of Punta Gorda Isles and Port Charlotte in the 1960's and 70's helped boost sales as seasonal residents sought out southwest Florida for the warm winters.
As the market hit a high in 2004, so did Palm's sales volume, reaching a 50-year peak with more than 6,000 vehicles sold. However, the fall of the real estate market and a struggling economy have had a converse effect: Palm sold just 3,393 units in 2009. Donna claimed the roof of a building and leveled an entire wing, damaging cars hit by debris and water- logging and rusting a bin filled with car parts. But, JoAnn said, "Our dedicated employees helped with the clean-up effort, and we were soon back in business."
Forty-four years later, Charley barreled into Punta Gorda, causing major damage to all of Palm's buildings and new and used car inventory. Hughes was the first employee to survey the aftermath.
"Those of us who saw it that day never thought it would reopen," he recalled. "But we just started cleaning up and that made a difference. We worked 16- to 18-hour days. It was exhausting, but they took care of their employees."
"Charley brought our team closer together," Blair said. "We all did what had to be done. We cleaned, raked, swept and shoveled together, from the highest-paid employee to the introductory-level employee."
Twelve days after Charley's landfall, the shop reopened, working on its first car: a dark blue Alero that was repaired in a make-shift setting lit by a generator. "It was a two-hour process just to start," Hughes said. "You'd get there early and leave your headlights on so you could see to get to the generator. There were holes in the roof and the garage doors were blown off."
Despite pre-hurricane precautions, JoAnn said the dealerships lost about 600 cars. "We were so blessed to be surrounded by people and other dealers who helped us out, bringing water and food. All our employees came back." It took a full two years before normal operations resumed, and five years to completely rebuild the Palm AutoMall campus.
"They did a great job rebuilding these beautiful showrooms," Goldberg said. "The car lots are behind the buildings so passing motorists don't see a sea of automobiles from the roadway. They see beautiful buildings and showrooms and landscaping."
Hurricane Charley, however, wasn't the worst thing that happened to the tight-knit Palm AutoMall family. In 1994, Bob was diagnosed with lymphoma, succumbing after "eight mostly good years" in November 2002.
JoAnn credits Palm's success to its dedicated team and brand selection, now represented in approximately 1.500 feet of frontage along the west side of Tamiami Trail and another 1,000 feet to the east. "We have more inventory to offer," she said. "Our sales team can cross sell even though 90 percent of buyers have done their research on the Internet and are already brand conscious when they come to our showrooms.
"It's had its challenges, but it's been fun and rewarding, too," she added. "I would definitely do it all again.
PALM AUTOMOTIVE GROUP COLLECTION OF DEALERSHIPS
Under the leadership of the Helphenstine family, our family of dealerships has grown to 11 legendary car makers and a pre-owned division that is one of the finest in the nation.
Here they are, with notes on "core values"
A car for today's driver. Express yourself! Cars that have real character, real spirit, real soul. With over 150 custom accessories to choose from, and our modern, Pure-Price® no-haggling policy, your car-buying experience will be a fulfilling, meaningful relationship. Scion means automobiles that are fun to buy, fun to drive and fun down the road. Cars that do something more than any car has ever done: retain value!
The most popular and successful line of automobiles and trucks in the world. Fifty years ago, Toyota was started with a dream, "To build the best cars and trucks in the world."
We have succeeded.
The values we stand on are as follows: We believe in hard work. We believe good neighbors make good company, and vice versa. We believe the world is getting bigger, but its resources aren't. We believe in the value of diversity. It's what makes the world so interesting. We believe in the future. Test drive a Toyota today and see why.
It's not just about how we build cars.
There's a reason why Hyundai cars are praised for their standard safety equipment, why our designers spend so much time driving and testing our vehicles. And there's a reason why we've invested so heavily in processes and equipment that ensure the QUALITY of our cars. That reason?
You, the Hyundai owner.
We offer the only 10-year, bumper-to-bumper warranty in the world. Test drive one today to believe it.
Chevrolet is focused on being your car company. One of America's most iconic brands is now creating automobiles and trucks that are consistently earning BEST BUY from Consumers Digest. With a line-up of vehicles from the world's toughest trucks to the most American of all sports cars, the Corvette, Chevrolet is one of Charlotte Harbor's most favorite vehicles.
A century of innovation and a brand that gets brighter every day. The quintessential All-American luxury car, Buick.
For more than 100 years, Buick has been the hallmark of fine craftsmanship and enduring quality. The same is even truer today. Automobiles that are so advanced, they are proudly defining new safety, luxury and driving standards that imports are chasing today.
We stand on our motto, "if you can find a better car, buy it!"
Trucks, SUV's, cargo vans and crossovers. The best in the business.
The evolution of the truck. We wrote that book.
For 2011, we offer an astounding line-up of technologically advanced vehicles that are the safest in the world. Need to tow? No problem. Need to haul? No sweat. Need value? Compare and we'll win every time.
We are professional grade.
CHRYSLER DODGE JEEP RAM
The internationally famed Fiat brand embraces these three American legends under one umbrella, with a completely new method of doing business, we are remaking the industry.
The company Walter Chrysler founded in 1925 is now building automobiles that are setting new standards in safety, style and performance and defining a new generation of driving enthusiasts. Automobiles with a timeless design. And now, with the fusion of Chrysler and Fiat, the Chrysler Brand = Provocative Designs Engineered for Passionate Living.
Jeep means rugged durability with driver and passenger safety job one. A legendary line of vehicles for any modern family, from the affordable Liberty and Compass models starting around $16,000 to the ultra luxurious and rugged Grand Cherokee.
"It's a Jeep."
One hundred and eleven years ago, the Dodge Brothers founded a car company with a very simple objective: provide Americans with vehicles that fit their lives. Through two World Wars and countless challenges, Dodge continues to be a hallmark of American car building at its best. From legendary sports cars, such as the Challenger and Viper, to the greatest family vehicle in the world, the gold-standard by which all other mini vans are measured, the Grand Caravan.
Dodge means value.
An impressive past, an exciting future.
The name stands for uncompromising quality, outstanding value and an exhilarating driving experience. It was that way through the 70's with the introduction of such legendary vehicles as the RX-7 and the MX-5 Miata in the 80's. And it continues to be that way today as we build on our reputation as a leader in the industry with a loyal following that's as passionate about driving as we are.
Go ahead - say it.
Goes fast, looks good and is very, very safe.
Must be a Mitsubishi. From that first Mitsubishi automobile sold in 1981 until today, Mitsubishi Motors has been committed to offering cars that are truly Driven to Thrill. Our cars provide a unique blend of spirited performance, inspired design and durability. At Mitsubishi, we continue to build cars for those uncompromising souls seeking a driving experience that's all too rare in today's world. Cars that actually feel different from the first time you turn the key, and continue to provide safety, performance and comfort year after year, mile after mile.
PALM USED CAR SUPERSTORE
Our pre-owned operations are decidedly different. That's because our company is decidedly different. And, quite frankly, better.
Our newest addition is the Palm Used Car Superstore, a beautiful 10,000 square foot showroom. From budget wheels from under $5,000 to our Luxury for Less division, where we can help you acquire the car of your dreams - regardless of who makes it.
Most pre-owned cars and trucks come with warranty, and warranties are available for all vehicles. The decision to shop PALM for your pre-owned car, truck or van is a wise choice indeed.
Your love affair with your automobile or truck is a very special one. We want to make sure it's a long and trouble-free affair. That's why all our service departments have the latest technology and most experienced staff anywhere. Your complete satisfaction is the least we'll accept in ourselves. Should you need a rental car while yours is in, we'll make the arrangements.
The best reason of all to shop PALM for your next vehicle?
Because we're family. Your family.
The Palm Automotive group is one of Charlotte County's largest employers. When you shop us, your investment stays here in the community. We're not a chain, we're not a franchise. We are your hometown automobile dealership.
Here yesterday. Here today. Here tomorrow.