Making A Big Difference In A Small Town

On my travels in Ontario, Canada, I have been challenged and inspired by business owners who are transformational in the way they run their companies.

Please be inspired by the story of John Edelman.

John Edelman may not be a household name in Canada, but if you’ve been car shopping in the past 30 years, chances are you’ve heard of his company.  Based in the small town of Cayuga, Ontario, Haldimand Motors has been selling used cars since 1984, when John and his wife Arda first purchased a small gas station at 42 Talbot Street East and set up shop.  Since then it’s grown to be Canada’s largest volume used car dealership, and if you’re driving around Southern Ontario chances are pretty good you’ll see the company brand on a back bumper.

But it’s not the cars that set the company apart. Nor is it the financing or warranty packages.  It’s been a consistent focus on relationships: treating every customer, as it reads on their website, as “a real, live, breathing person.”

Going a different way requires trust and trial

Believe it or not, this way of doing business came with tremendous challenges.  If you trace it all the way to its root, it came from a changed heart.  And it is a heart that’s still being transformed on a daily basis.

“I’ve always believed that transformation starts in your time with God and in His word,” said John in a recent interview.  “Everything flows from there.  All that I’ve been involved in, with the dealership, commercial real estate, or just the relationships I have in my community, I get my motivation, direction and creativity from my time with the Lord.”

John firmly believes that being transformationally-minded means accepting that trials will come and that they are necessary for what God means to do with and through you.

“Right from the beginning, I wanted to run my business differently. People know and recognise us for our no-hassle approach now, but in the beginning it was hard.  In this industry, especially back in the day, haggling and the art of salesmanship was the norm.  In my first years a lot of people wouldn’t do business with me because I wouldn’t dicker.  But I read in scripture that we should let our yes be yes, and our no be no.  So I did it differently.  I was going to be up-front about the price of our cars.  We would trust the customers coming in, set the tone that we aren’t going to be slick and sales-y.  God showed me a different way for our business, and because we stuck to it we grew exponentially.  Believe me, we’ve done a lot of things that, at first, were unusual and at times didn’t make sense financially, but because of my walk with God I’ve learned that transformation often means doing unusual stuff.  It also means we have to look at what we’re doing from a different balance sheet.  God is all about relationships, and for me that’s the core of transformation.”

The ripple effect of a transformed heart

He has a heart for his staff and community, and gives back to others in many ways.  Recently he’s developed a good relationship with local politicians and the mayor.

When asked about what transformation looks like in a small town, John points again at relationship.

“In a town the size of Cayuga, everyone knows everyone.  Relationships are magnified.  I had a staff member leave the company and work in another industry in town, and that affected our relationship and many others because we’re a town of 1,500 people.  My family and company have a direct, relational impact.  So if you have a transformed heart and a willingness to be obedient to what God puts in front of you, you can really see the results in a small town.