HAVERHILL — A three-tiered story played out on River Street recently when the Jaffarian family received a 50-year award from Toyota in a ceremony in the dealership’s showroom.
On level one, it simply was a nice local story. The hometown dealer was honored by the world’s No. 2 auto manufacturer, recognizing a long-term partnership. Toyota sent Cooper Erikson, the Boston regional manager, to make the presentation.
Many publications would take a picture, tell the story in the caption, and call it a day.
But this wasn’t an everyday event.
“I’ve made a lot of 25-year, 30-year, and 40-year presentations,” Erikson said, “but never a 50-year award.”
In 1962, Richard Jaffarian was one of 90 dealers nationwide who signed on to sell vehicles for the then little-known Japanese manufacturer. That year, those 90 US dealers combined sold 711 new Toyotas. They had two vehicles to sell — the Land Cruiser and the Toyopet Crown sedan, a vehicle that was beset by both engineering and rust problems. The Land Cruiser sold for $3,495 and the Toyopet for $1,650.
Today, the Boston region’s dealers sell that many Toyotas on an average day and the company’s 1,200 US dealerships are projected to sell more than 2 million this year.
On this awards day, a ’60s-era Land Cruiser was prominent in front of the dealership, looking as though it belonged on today’s roads after it was meticulously restored by Mark Jaffarian, head of the company’s collision center.
“My father [Richard] had faith in Toyota’s future from Day 1,” said current CEO Gary Jaffarian. “The company stood by every cylinder head failure [poor-quality iron] and rusted-out headlight [poor design for US roads].”
That loyalty proved prescient. “Dad had done his homework before becoming a Toyota dealer,” said Gary Jaffarian. “He kept saying that someday they would be the No. 1 car company in the world. That day arrived in 2008.”
Of the 90 dealerships at the start, Jaffarian is one of only four that remains under the original ownership, a source of great family pride.
Watching the proceedings, it was easy to feel the history involved in the day and the pride of the family and employees.
Much was made of the “Jaffarian Way,” and the company’s history in Haverhill, a modern example of how the American Dream can be passed from generation to generation. That’s level two of this story, a living example of a family that grew up ingrained from early childhood with the values of family, respect, hard work, loyalty, duty, and love.
In 1938, Fred Jaffarian founded Jaffarian Service, a gas station on River Street. Fred was a natural salesman, wife Alice a frugal businesswoman. Their son, Richard, worked there after school, learning the trade.
They opened a Hudson dealership, then switched to Rambler in the 1950s. In 1958, Richard’s research led him to add Volvo, and the Jaffarians also remain the region’s longest-standing dealership of the Swedish vehicles.
It was Richard who added Toyota to the business in 1962 after considerable research.
That was the landscape that Gary Jaffarian, the third generation to work in the business, grew up in, along with brothers Mark and Paul.
Today, Gary’s son Gavin (the fourth generation) runs the Volvo service operation.
After Fred died in 1976, the business thrived under Richard’s guidance. Mark ran the body shop, Paul (also deceased) built a regional parts empire, and the present showroom — featuring both Toyota and Volvo — opened in 2003.
But it’s level three of this story that shows where the Jaffarians have thrived where other family businesses falter.
How did they handle disagreements?
“My father’s attitude toward the inevitable dispute was to get us together — always around our kitchen table — mediate respectfully, and make the experience constructive,” said Gary. “He never said ‘My way or the highway.’ Instead, he’d say, ‘If anybody thinks they can do a better job, I’m willing to listen.’ That approach eliminated any defensive mindset. We knew two things: 1. Dad respected and valued each of us, and 2. We were all in it together, forever.”
When Richard took over, Fred’s role changed. “Grandpa got deeply involved in the community. We sponsored Little League, junior football and basketball, and adult bowling, softball, and basketball,” said Gary.
“My grandpa was a humble guy. He showed it in 1972 when he was inducted in the first class for the Haverhill Sports Hall of Fame. They asked him to make a speech; instead, he went up on stage, smiled hugely, and gave a big wave. That said it all,” said Gary.
Giving back continues today with Jaffarian’s Game On program, which donates $50 for each car sold to local athletic programs at high schools representing 20 area communities. Now in its second year, the program has donated $30,600 for athletics, the most recent a $8,550 check to Haverhill High.
Jaffarian recently was nominated for a family business of the year award.
In filling out the questionnaire that came with the paperwork, Gary added a concluding statement about the “Jaffarian Way.”
“My brothers and I did fine together. Dad was able to sit back for the last 25 years of his life and enjoy watching us and my son, Gavin, working the business. His eyes sparkled when he watched us making deals, sending happy people home with safe, reliable, beautiful cars. His greatest pleasure was spending time with his grandson, helping him learn mechanics, and knowing Gavin would one day take over. The American Dream turned out to be even more than Dad expected.”
As a follow-up to celebrating 50 years with Toyota, the Jaffarians will mark 75 years as a family business next year.