Birchwood Auto Group returns to its roots

by Myron Love  . Jul 08 2016
Myron Love / Winnipeg Free PressBirchwood Credit Solutions, located at 2554 Portage Ave., was previously home to the original Birchwood Chevrolet store.

Myron Love / Winnipeg Free Press

Birchwood Credit Solutions, located at 2554 Portage Ave., was previously home to the original Birchwood Chevrolet store.

Birchwood Credit Solutions officially opened its third Winnipeg location on June 29, with a reception for about 100 customers and guests and a ribbon-cutting ceremony with Birchwood Auto Group president Steve Chipman doing the honours.

For the Birchwood Auto Group — and Chipman personally — the opening of a new Birchwood Credit Solutions location at 2554 Portage Ave. is a return to the auto group’s roots.

“This is where we began,” said Chipman in his welcoming remarks. “This was my father’s (the late Bob Chipman) first large venture in auto sales. This store was our mother ship. Birchwood Chevrolet was here from 1963 until we moved to our new location at the Pointe West AutoPark in 1999. I got my start washing cars here. All my siblings worked here.”

For Chipman, who was the general manager when the move took place in 1999, this was the first time he had been back. “Coming back here, the memories came flooding back,” he said excitedly. He noted the store has been expanded. He pointed out the area where Birchwood Chevrolet introduced Canada’s first drive-thru service area and where the customer lounge used to be.

“My dad had a barbershop near the customer lounge,” he said. “Most men kept their hair short back then.”

In the intervening years, the facility had been home to Mercedes-Benz Winnipeg. Two years ago, the Mercedes-Benz store, having outgrown the building, began construction of a new facility just south of IKEA and moved into its new location just over a year ago.

“I had always let (Mercedes-Benz Winnipeg president) Brian (Lowes) know we wanted first crack at the building whenever he was ready to move out,” Chipman said.

The Birchwood Auto Group founded Birchwood Credit Solutions in 2010 and opened its first location on Salter Street between Partridge Avenue and Leila Avenue in 2012. A second location at 768 Nairn Ave. was opened in 2014. The 2554 Portage location is the largest by far.

“Our (Birchwood Credit Solutions) staff of 50 are passionate about helping people with credit problems to get into a good, safe car at a good price and get a leg up on re-establishing their credit rating,” Chipman said.

Jonathan Parker, Birchwood Credit Solutions’ operation manager, reported that sales have grown tremendously over the past five years. The company has been averaging over 100 sales a month over the past seven months, including 115 units sold in June.

Parker anticipates sales of more than 1,000 vehicles over the course of the year between the three locations. The new location, he said, will have about 80 late-model vehicles in stock.

“We sell all makes and models, but Hyundais and Kias are particularly in demand because of the longer manufacturers’ warranties, he said.

“No other dealership group in Canada provides sub-prime credit at the level of the Birchwood Group,” Chipman said. “Our goal is to help people get into vehicles and, hopefully, they will come back to us a few years later, with their credit ratings restored.”

New Manitoba Motor Vehicle Safety Association

The Manitoba Motor Dealers Association’s (MMDA) newly-formed Motor Vehicle Safety Association of Manitoba (MVSAM) recently celebrated its first anniversary and all systems are about ready to go, reports Daryl Nielsen, the new association’s director.

“All of our programs and certification partnerships are very near completion,” he says. “We have created a list of contacts at almost every one of our over 1,300 member companies and our website (mvsam.ca) is up and running. Member companies can go to our website to learn what safe workplace resources and workshops we have to offer, and register to begin the certification process.”

He notes that member companies include auto sales and repair companies, auto body shops and heavy industrial and agricultural equipment sales and repair companies.

MVSAM was officially introduced at a press conference at Mercedes-Benz Winnipeg on May 19, 2015. “Our industry’s success depends on our workers,” Brian Lowes, the president of Mercedes-Benz Winnipeg and MMDA president, said at the time.

“We are committed to keeping them safe and healthy by making safety through injury or illness prevention a priority, and the MVSAM will help us achieve this.”

He noted that, every year, there are approximately 600 injuries among new-car-dealer service technicians and body shop personnel. In addition to the real human cost of injuries to workers, the Manitoba Motor Dealers Association estimates that workplace injuries cost the motor vehicle industry about $30 million annually.

The Safe Work Certification process includes an initial consultation with a MVSAM safety adviser to determine the member company’s current safety management system; a request for and scheduling of a Gap Analysis (a mini high-level audit to compare safety management system documentation to SAFE Work Certified Standard requirements); attendance at safety training sessions provided by MVSAM; development and implementation of policies, safety programs, procedures and guidelines; completion of a safety management system audit through MVSAM; continuous improvement of the safety management system as required; and a commitment to conducting annual assessments of the safety management systems.

To handle the anticipated workload and demand for services, MVSAM has recently added Chrissy Novak — formerly with Safety Services Manitoba — and Chris Castellano, who was most recently a health and safety officer with the Government of Manitoba, to its team alongside Adam Nychuk, who previously worked for the Construction Safety Association of Manitoba.

“There has been a lot of interest from the industry about our industry-specific safety resources,” Nielsen says. “Many businesses from all three industries have already registered through our website.

“We expect to begin the process of certifying member companies in January 2017.”

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Myron Love / Winnipeg Free PressManitoba Motor Dealer Association employees from left Terryn Shiells, Daryl Nielsen, Adam Nychuk, Andrea Darling, Chris Castellano and Chrissy Novak.

Myron Love / Winnipeg Free Press

Manitoba Motor Dealer Association employees from left Terryn Shiells, Daryl Nielsen, Adam Nychuk, Andrea Darling, Chris Castellano and Chrissy Novak.