It’s serendipity at work: Kitty Van Bortel earns a degree in psychology from Wells College in 1976, then uses her knowledge of the human mind and behavior to create two exemplary “customer-first” car businesses with “no tricks, no games, no dicker price.”
“We are so dependent on our vehicles and most dealerships forget that,” Van Bortel says. “To make the car business successful it means really, truly understanding the psyche of the person and their needs. What I treat is not the buying and selling of the car or the truck, I treat the emotion, the stress, the worry of buying the car at a fair price, having it serviced and maintained, getting a loaner if you become stranded.”
Van Bortel is the driving force behind two highly successful dealerships in the Rochester area with 150 employees and revenue of $123 million. In 1991 she was awarded the franchise for Van Bortel Subaru—now the No. 2 Subaru retailer in the nation—and in 2001, partnered with her brother, Howard, to purchase Van Bortel Ford.
For her successful business efforts, Van Bortel was named recipient of the 2009 Herbert W. Vanden Brul Entrepreneurial Award by Rochester Institute of Technology’s E. Philip Saunders College of Business and will be honored during a luncheon on April 22 at the Genesee Valley Club.
As Saunders College Dean Ashok Rao says, “To succeed in business today, American businesses have to return to providing the kind of superior customer service for which they are known around the world. Kitty Van Bortel is an exemplary entrepreneur who ‘gets it.’”
Married to Roger Garrett with a 10-year-old daughter, Patricia, Van Bortel says, “I am shocked and honored at being the Vanden Brul recipient. I don’t know why they chose me for this prestigious award.”
But Gary Austin does. As a dedicated Subaru owner who bought four Outbacks from Van Bortel’s, the RIT alumnus (’92 health systems administration, ’95 telecommunication) says the best evidence is when he purchased a Subaru last May, then discovered his vehicle with only 10,000 miles on it needed the catalytic converter replaced.
“The Subaru is a workhorse and it’s inconceivable that a major non-moving part would blow that early even though it was covered under warranty,” says Austin, “so I sent Kitty a quick note on a Sunday afternoon to their customer comments e-mail address.
“On Monday morning Kitty shocked me by saying, ‘I’m just going to get you a new car.’ I answered with ‘HUH?’ Not only that, but the salesman said it was hard to find a 2008 model in September, so he asked if I would mind having a brand new 2009. I was floored; I’ve never even met Kitty in person and this was all done sight unseen.”
Van Bortel says there is a reason for doing what she did. “I don’t want this man to worry for the next two, three, four years that his car is a lemon, or that something major can go wrong. It’s just not worth that, so to give him a brand new start is what it’s all about.”
To attend the award luncheon, contact Donna Slavin at (585) 475-2199 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
NOTE: RIT’s Herbert W. Vanden Brul Entrepreneurial Award was created in 1984 and annually goes to a successful individual who developed a business that improved the Rochester economy or whose innovative management skills have changed the course of an existing business. Past recipients include James Hammer, president and CEO of Hammer Packaging Corp., Richard Kaplan, president and CEO of Pictometry International Corp., and Arunas Chesonis, chairman and CEO of PAETEC Corp.