Zacherl Motors ‘Ascends’ to Pennsylvania’s Largest International Truck Dealership
CLARION, Pa. (EYT) – Zacherl Motor Truck Sales, a Clarion family-owned business since 1940, became a part of Ascendance Truck Centers – Pennsylvania’s largest International Truck dealership group, on Monday, November 20, 2023.
Photos by Dave Cyphert of ProPoint Media.
Pat Kahle (pictured above), President of Zacherl Motor Truck Sales, told exploreClarion.com, “We saw a great opportunity for our employees, our customers, and for the community, and the ownership group decided to pursue that opportunity.
“That is really what this change has been about from the first conversation to the final decision…How do we make it better for all parties involved in the long run?
“Many truck dealerships have been consolidating to create scale and better ways of doing business. It can give more opportunity for growth for our employees and bring better pricing for our customers. Initially, I did not think much about consolidation or joining a larger group when the three current owners took over in 2009.
“At one time, most dealerships in the country were family businesses, and we were content to stay smaller. We’ve been a family business since Grandpa Zacherl turned the first wrenches on Clarion’s river hill back in September 1940.”
According to Pat, one advantage of being part of a larger group of dealership locations is the allocation of new International trucks for sale. Since the COVID pandemic, shortages have reduced the number of trucks allotted to every dealer, so joining forces makes good sense to get more trucks.
Proud of its 28 employees, Zacherl Motors wanted to ensure their situation would improve under this partnership.
Pat said that he initially spoke with the first group to move to Ascendance (Five Star Trucks from Harrisburg and other PA locations), and the owner there said that good things happened with their employees and for their customers – and it was a win-win situation for them to join Ascendance.
Zacherl Motors Owners to Still Hold Ownership
The three owners of Zacherl Motors–Pat Kahle, Steve Kahle, and Chris Rhoades–still hold ownership in the new Ascendance dealership group which was another significant part of this deal.
Pat said, “In March or April, the three of us met with the Ascendance team and the conversation was comfortable. We learned that Ascendance has the same principles that Zacherl Motors always has had: Honesty, Customer Focus, Employee-Centric, and Community-Minded.”
Pat said that in the initial meeting, as they were finishing their conversations, he told the representative from Ascendance Truck Centers, “My final question is a ‘deal-breaker.’ I asked Michael (the person involved in the deal from Ascendance), ‘Before we go any further… Do I have to wear a suit to come to work?”
Pat continued, “He looked at me and laughed. He was dressed, basically just like me, which was blue jeans and a fleece jacket. He said, ‘Look at me. This is how you can dress. This is still going to be your dealership, and we just want you to join our team because we plan to grow and become an even better team.’”
After negotiating with the Ascendance Truck representatives for a few months, Pat said that he, Chris, and Steve decided to make the change to Ascendance Trucks official on November 20, stressing that it is mainly about taking care of employees and continuing to service their customers.
“This entire deal was about our employees and our future here in Clarion County…because Steve, Chris, and I wanted to keep working. I wanted to ensure that in 15 or 20 years, this company was still here,” Pat pointed out.
“I do believe that it would be extremely hard to stay here as a strong business in our community if we hadn’t moved to do something like this. The cool part is we get to be a big part of the decision-making process for what is already the largest International truck dealer group in the Commonwealth of Pa.
“On the corporate side, it’s skinny…We have a CEO; we have a CFO; we have a marketing manager; and we have a fixed-operations man. That’s all that sits at the corporate level. The rest of it is us at the dealership locations.”
“I guess the emotional part for me is that this is Granddad’s (Michael Zacherl’s) shop. He and Grandma started this whole thing in a one-bay garage back in 1940. My mother’s still a big part of our company and our success. She worked here, officially, since 1960, but she has probably done bookwork since 1953, helping her mother (Marie Zacherl) and learning the business when she was 12 or 13.
“As a matter of fact, Mom (Rose Marie Kahle) just had her work anniversary of 63 years the other day.”
Pat added, “We talked about it with Mom, and I said, ‘I don’t want to ruin Grandpa’s legacy.’ And. she told us, ‘Nothing will be ruined…We’re extending Dad’s legacy because his business will still be here in the town where it all started. The beauty of it is that with Ascendance’s recent purchase of the Hunter International dealerships, we will now have an even bigger area to serve, and we will have to add people to the team to take care of that.”
According to Pat, “International needs this spot off Interstate 80 to take care of trucks because that is what Clarion is here to do…take care of customers, fix trucks, and ensure the country keeps moving. That is what trucks do, and we are here to sell, repair, and provide parts for those trucks.”
Pat explained that their decision to make the deal with Ascendance strengthened their position with International Trucks.
“We solidified International Trucks will be sold here and serviced here in Clarion County for a long time. In the end, we still get to be owners of the overall company and we have a better chance for growth for everybody,” Pat explained. “The new relationship is better for the county and the area. The only loss is my grandpa’s surname on the outside of the building, which is a little tough for all of us. But, I love how the Ascendance marketing team wants to keep the history of Zacherl Motors alive. Mark Hayden, the marketing manager from Ascendance, wants the Zacherl name to remain within the dealership with historical signs and advertising items from the past…because we have 83 years of history here.”
The legacy of Zacherl Motors will remain in logos and Zacherl Motors gear.
“As we talked about replacing some of the logo rugs and such in the office that have the Zacherl Motors name on them, the marketing director looked at me and said, ‘I’d rather see them stay in the building. You don’t want to lose all that.’ He added that this place has been here since 1940, and you don’t want to lose your legacy,” Pat said.
“You can be sure all employees will still wear some Zacherl Motor gear as we move forward, but we’ll be proud to wear Ascendance Truck Centers on our new uniforms, too.”
Technology Keeps Us in Touch with Our Drivers
Zacherl Motors and International made significant investments in technology over the years, including high-speed fiber connection to the Internet to keep in touch with the fleets of trucks that they serve on the highways.
“Today’s service methods even include replacing parts before they fail sometimes and keeping the trucks running. They have continent-wide tracking systems in place where certain fault codes come up on the dashboard from the electronic control module in the truck. These systems tell the driver that a part is in danger of failing.”
“Connectivity to these moving trucks allows us to see those issues… and International approves fixing it before it fails. Even though it hasn’t completely failed, if they tell us, and they tell the fleet to come in here for repairs, we can get paid for the warranty work on that before it fails… and that is reducing truck downtime and getting shipments to their final destinations on time. That’s the key to good service in the 21st century.”
Growth Will Continue
Ascendance Trucks’ concept is to build a big dealer group to get scale, to use each other’s truck and parts inventories, and to enjoy the price breaks on parts from vendors they receive because there is more sales volume on the parts.
The rise in electronic vehicles was another component that helped Zacherl Motors decide to join Ascendance. As a single-location dealer, it would have been difficult to incorporate all the infrastructure needed to prepare for electronic vehicles.
Kahle feels it will be easier to take care of this coming technology as part of a larger group with larger capital.
Ascendance Trucks plans to establish a technician training center in Pennsylvania to help train and recruit workers for their network of dealerships for International trucks. Also, an Ascendance CDL training program is coming to help technicians obtain their Commercial Driver’s License.
“The fixed operations director from corporate (Chuck Pettine) lives in Florida, but he’s at all these dealer locations in Pennsylvania as much as he is in Florida,” Pat explained. “He’s actually a native of Philadelphia, and he loves coming back to his home state.”
“Chuck has fallen in love with this little town of Clarion with its hometown atmosphere and family-owned outlook,” Pat said. “As we were preparing for the change from Zacherl to Ascendance, we spent a lot of time with the executive team and they have been very employee-centric.”
During his visits, Chuck stays at a Main Street B&B owned by Jim Crooks.
“That kind of tells you what kind of guy Chuck is,” Pat continued. “It’s just the little things about our town that he enjoys. When he saw they were doing the (Halloween) parade for the children, he went out and handed out candy he purchased to the kids in our community right on Main Street.
“I know our Zacherl Motors team will do a great job as we move into the future as Ascendance Trucks, Clarion,” Pat said. This is just the beginning of great things coming for our local dealership, for the dealership group, for our loyal customers, and for the Clarion community, in general. We’re going to be here for a long time because of this move… hopefully at least another 83 years!”
Although Halloween has passed us for another year, Kahle and the other owners believe that this change to Ascendance Truck Centers will bring “no tricks….Instead, ALL TREATS!”
Reminiscing Zacherl Motors Past
Pat Kahle shared the following photos and images of Zacherl Motors’ history:
For more information on Ascendance Trucks Clarion, click here.
To learn more about Ascendance Trucks, visit https://ascendancetrucks.com/
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