In 1921 Benjamin Ourisman opened a Chevrolet dealership on H Street in Northeast Washington. Sixty years and half a million cars later Ourisman Chevrolet, since moved to the suburbs, is going strong.
Mandell Ourisman, the founder's son and current president, has built on his father's philosophy of service and selection.
Ourisman, which enters its 60th year this month, is the largest volume Chevrolet dealer in the Washington area and, with annual sales of more than $61 million, ranks among the top ten of the nation's 6,000 Chevrolet dealerships. Its inventory of 2,000 cars and trucks covers 23 acres in Prince George's County.
Ourisman joined the dealership in 1946 and took over as president in 1955. In 1964, he moved from his downtown location to then-underdeveloped Marlow Heights.
"Our pioneering move to Marlow Heights triggered relocations by other car dealers," he said last week. "Eventually more and more dealers came here as they discovered that operating in the suburbs could be done more economically and conveniently than in downtown locations."
Ourisman has always been an agressive advertiser in the area. A full-page ad in the Dec. 14, 1929 edition of the Washington Times advertised "the greatest sale ever held in Washington." The deals included a 1926 Ford Roadster for 99 cents, and 1925 Oakland Coupe for just $4.99 and a 1926 Chevrolet Coach for $89.99.
It's "you always get your way" commercials with Susan Gailey, the "Ourisman girl," have been a familiar part of the local television diet for the past 10 years.
Ourisman attributes the dealerships success to a combination of advertising, service, large inventories and a flexible pricing policy.
The most popular cars at Ourisman these days are the Chevette and the Monza which account for about 20 percent of car sales. The next best selling car is the Citation, Ourisman said.
Ourisman is counting on an enthusiastic reception for next spring's GM's J-Cars, a smaller version of the Citation with front-wheel drive.
"I feel that in the future, all American cars will be front-wheel drive," Ourisman predicted. "The cars can be lighter, with better space utilization and excellent traction in snow or ice."
Ourisman is optimistic about the future of the U.S. car. Although small cars will be in vogue, there will still be a place for a larger, family-sized car, he said. He said that General Motors has predicted that by 1985, the typical American family will have a family-sized car, a subcompact and an electric car in the garage.
Ourisman feels that Japanese car sales in the United States, which are approaching 30 percent of the market, will be half that two years from now as U.S. car manufacturers shift to producing small, more fuel-efficient cars. "The domestic manufacturers are on the way to correcting the situation," Ourisman said. "But many think they started too slowly."