Service has earned Marlo Motors state, national honors

Paul Sonnenberg is a fellow who knows automobiles, because he's been in the business for more than 40 years--ever since he was in diapers. "Mom and Dad took me to auto auctions in their arms," said Sonnenberg, the second generation owner-operator...

Paul Sonnenberg is a fellow who knows automobiles, because he's been in the business for more than 40 years--ever since he was in diapers.

"Mom and Dad took me to auto auctions in their arms," said Sonnenberg, the second generation owner-operator of Marlo Motors.

In fact, his first sale was when he was age 15, selling a 1979 Plymouth Volare before he even knew how to write up the transaction.

Paul Sonnenberg is also following in the footsteps of his father Marlo as an active member of the Independent Auto Dealers Association. Marlo earned the IADA's Minnesota "Quality Dealer of the Year" honor in 1995-96. For 2006-2007, son Paul won the award. Paul is the current president of the association, and also served as president in 2002, and vice president from 2005-2006.

Marlo Motors received another honor recently, the "Diamond Dealer Award" presented to the top 35 "Ultimate Warranty" representatives in the nation. This honor is from a company that writes warranties, and Marlo was a dealer with among the fewest warranty "claims." What that means to consumers is that Marlo re-sells quality vehicles with few repair problems.


Marlo Motors is a true family business. Father Marlo, semi-retired, started in used auto sales in Vergas in 1964. His wife Shirley, who died in 1996, was active in the business as bookkeeper. Paul and his wife Deb fulfill almost identical husband-wife roles today. And, the next generation is ready to start pushing the broom and washing cars: son Kyle, 11, and daughter Elizabeth, 8, both students in the Perham schools.

Reflecting back on his years in the auto business, Paul said the biggest change has been the advent of the Internet. People shop for cars online, and he can buy cars online.

"It has also helped educate the consumer," said Sonnenberg, as customers are much more informed about the value of a given vehicle.

The impact of the Internet is vividly displayed on a map of the U.S. in the Marlo Motors lobby. Pins show where Marlo has sold cars--from the west coast, to Texas to Colorado to Florida. As few as 10 years ago, nearly all of Marlo's sales would have been in a few counties in west central Minnesota.

Service, trust and integrity have been primary factors in the success of Marlo Motors, and also in the string of honors the family has won over the years.

Marlo Motors has had customers who have taken a Greyhound across two states to buy a vehicle.

In 2004, Marlo Motors assisted a soldier in finding a vehicle for his family while he served in Bosnia. The relationship was so warm, said Paul, that in return, the soldier personally delivered a U.S. flag, which flew over his base in Bosnia. The flag now adorns the Marlo Motors lobby.

Another customer, all the way from Ohio, bought a Cadillac sight unseen.


The unique thing about the business is the variety. "Every day, every customer is new and different," said Sonnenberg.

Customer service is what has set Marlo Motors apart. The family prides itself in earning customer trust--and dispelling the mostly unfair reputation of "the used car lot."

"We know we need the repeat business of the community," said Sonnenberg. "Treating the customer with respect has always been of utmost importance to us. We go the extra mile for the customer."

Including Paul and Deb, Marlo Motors employs seven--including a full time mechanic. The business sells about 350 to 400 vehicles a year, noted Deb.

"A business is only as good as its employees--and we have very good employees now and we have in the past," said Paul, adding, "and without my wife, I wouldn't be here."

The Sonnenbergs built on Perham's Main Street in 1989, and moved to the present location in about 1995. The building was expanded in 2004.

--- Sonnenberg believes U.S. auto makers still offer good value ---

Marlo Motors stocks vehicles of all makes, foreign and domestic--but Paul Sonnenberg still has a soft spot for American-made autos.


Commenting on the state of U.S. manufacturers, Sonnenberg said, "I've always liked American- made cars, and I always will."

Not that there isn't outstanding product from foreign companies. But Sonnenberg is still a believer in the American companies that built the auto industry into what it is.

"The big difference is the repair costs," said Sonnenberg, noting that most repairs are less expensive with the domestic vehicles.

Though the foreign manufacturers have generally lead the industry in highermileage autos, Sonnenberg notes that many GM and Ford products are up in the 30 mpg range--which is competitive with the imports.

Even though the larger SUV sales took a hit in 2006, because of fuel prices, Sonnenberg has seen a rebound in SUV sales in 2007.

"Many Americans want a bigger, safer vehicle--and they are willing to pay for it," said Sonnenberg.

It is important to remember, noted Sonnenberg, that fuel prices in America are still a good deal--considering prices globally.

He also drew an interesting parallel to consumer beverages.


"How much do people pay for bottled water? A buck? At that price, stop and think how much you're paying for a gallon of bottled water....Seven, eight dollars?"

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