(located on Woodward Ave. in Pontiac) has been an Oakland County staple since 2000, but president and owner John Mihelich has Woodward roots that extend far earlier than that.
“In 1988 I leased part of the old Cadillac dealership on Woodward Ave,” Mihelich says. “I keep coming back to Woodward Ave., from growing up near Woodward to working on Woodward; I was born at the hospital on Woodward … it just kept bringing me back!”
Mihelich’s parents were in the food industry, owning restaurants and a pizzeria. “The whole family was in the business,” he states. “I grew up and wanted nothing to do with the food industry!” But that early small business training he received proved invaluable to him for his own (decidedly non-food-related) future. He learned a lot about building relationships and taking care of the customers through that industry. “That was all good for setting yourself straight in business no matter what you do.”
Mihelich grew up and went to school in Royal Oak, where he attended vocational school and got straight A’s in his auto classes. He was occupationally placed in a Porsche dealership in the 1970s, where he became a certified master technician for Porsche and Audi. Then the mechanic became a business owner in 1988, when he bought the old Cadillac dealership and turned it into a Porsche dealership called Bloomfield Eurotech.
He joined the Woodward Avenue Action Association in 1997 and served on the executive board as a Pontiac business representative for over 10 years, during the period of time when Woodward Avenue went through a major overhaul by adding a median and instating other beautification efforts. Mihelich and his business are very involved with the community and do a lot to support it, including organizing community clean-up efforts on Woodward south of and through the Loop (in Pontiac).
In 1999 he started work on building a new facility in Pontiac. He knew he wanted to be on Woodward Avenue and the city and county helped guide him through the process of finding and buying the property he needed and using his commercial loan to construct the new building. In 2000, he opened Woodward Auto, which was a bit of a departure from Bloomfield Eurotech.
“I used to do nothing but high line European cars given my experience,” Mihelich explains. “I did the name change because I was selling cars, repairing cars, doing fleet and restoration service, and accessories sales. It was a more versatile name [for how the business focus had shifted].”
Woodward Auto is an independent dealer, not affiliated with any particular manufacturer. “We’re selling all kinds of cars, trucks and trailblazers,” he says. “It wasn’t just about the European thing anymore; people were moving away from the big European stuff. I feel really fortunate that I did what I did when I did it.” His shift in focus ultimately enabled him to weather a severe economic decline in a way that might not have been possible if he were still strictly in the business of European and exotic auto sales and service. “Everybody now wants a cheap car with a cheap payment and warranty,” he continues. “With the vehicles we have available today, we can finance everybody—good credit, no credit, first-time buyers, buyers who have declared bankruptcy. And obviously with the increase in sales there has also been an increase in service; half of our business is sales and half is service.”
Milhelich just recently started looking for another facility. “I was looking for a community to expand our same operations that we have here,” he says. He found such a community in Highland (on the far western side of Oakland County). He learned about a site there, visited it, put a proposal on the property and is currently in the process of rehabilitative construction on the building. He points out that he started his operation with three employees and now has 12 with five more to be added in Highland when he opens his second location of Woodward Auto. “We’re going to cookie cutter the processes here and implement them over there.” He adds, “The whole process is sort of working with employee retention and building a business and moving forward,” with most of his employees having been with him five or more years (some over 20 years).
He hopes to have the Highland location open in spring or summer 2012. In the meantime you can check out Woodward Auto’s inventory, request financing information, and find out more information about their various services at www.woodwardauto.com.