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by Gregg Laskoski on Nov 24, 2012 06:00 AM
There's no Blue Book value for pigs, cows or maple syrup. But Gardner Stone has taken all of those as trade-ins from customers of his Ford and GMC dealership in rural Vermont. No kidding!
He'll take anything in trade and he means it.
"I feel everything is worth something," says Stone, 71. "Lots of times you'll get into the middle of a deal and the customer won't be able to go any further. So we always ask them, 'What else you got that you're not using?'"
According to Automotive News, Stone has been bartering antiques, livestock and other oddities with car and truck shoppers for nearly 50 years. He says such transactions represent about 20 percent of his sales.
Recently, his unique business approach caught the attention of a production studio, Lionsgate, which thought the dealership would be an ideal subject for a TV reality show.
A pilot the company filmed tested well, and GSN -- formerly the Game Show Network -- ordered a season of eight half-hour episodes. Filming just wrapped up after about six weeks, and the show, titled "Family Trade," is planned for sometime in 2013.
Stone founded a used-car lot in his lifelong hometown of Middlebury in 1974, gaining GMC and Ford franchises in the 1980s. In 1993 he became one of the first Hummer dealers.
Stone's son and daughter grew up around the dealership and now help run it; Todd manages the main dealership and Darcy oversees a commercial division that sells trucks and trailers.
A prominent aspect of "Family Trade" is the younger Stones having to figure out how to turn the items their father accepts into cash. They use eBay and Craigslist for a lot of the acquisitions and know people that will repeatedly buy certain things, such as tractors.
Many of the items are displayed for sale in the showroom, while animals typically are either sent to a nearby auction barn, sold to local farmers or temporarily housed on one of his children's pastures.
"It works for us," says Todd Stone, 44, who grew up watching his father wheel and deal and expects he will continue the tradition after eventually taking over. "It's helped us get some deals that we wouldn't have gotten, and most of the time we do make good money. Even if we break even, we still sold the automobile, and we made money on that."
This month G. Stone sold a Ford F-550 by closing a $2,500 gap with an antique phone booth, desk and Victrola phonograph.
Another deal just closed with Stone taking possession of a 21/2-year-old heifer. "We were down to $1,500, and I just couldn't make the guy move," Stone says. "He said, 'I have some beef cattle.'"
The cow later sold for $1,000, Todd Stone says.
Over the years, Gardner Stone says he has agreed to take airplanes, pool tables, cowboy boots, horses, donkeys, a barber chair and land in the Florida Keys.
"If you can think of it," he adds, "I've probably negotiated on it."
America needs more car dealers like Gardner Stone. He's an original!