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Home is where the Corvette is

Rochester Business Journal
January 7, 2011

Corvettes have been part of Tom Turner's family since he was a boy.

His father, Bill, started Turner Automotive at the kitchen table in 1972. In those days, he sold all kinds of cars. Turner remembers, "like it was yesterday," his dad heading out to car auctions on Tuesdays and coming home with two or three to sell from the family's front yard on Church Street in Victor. Before long he was specializing in his favorite, the Corvette; his first car was a black 1957 model.

Today the firm operates on West Main Street in the same village. Turner credits the dealership's longevity to his father's knack for spotting trends in consumer tastes-strong sellers, popular colors, preferences for standard or automatic.

"My father is a visionary. He can literally see things years down the road. I don't know how he does it, but he just has an uncanny sense of it."

Turner, 40, studied broadcast communications at Finger Lakes Community College, graduating in 1994. He flirted with the idea of a career in radio but joined the family business instead. His role in the firm has evolved with the growth of the Internet, which has extended the business' reach from local to global.

The Corvette is Chevrolet's 57-year-old contribution to the muscular sports car arena. Like most car buffs, Corvette fans gather at conventions and casual meetups or, these days, in online chat rooms.

Turner Automotive sees no need to advertise beyond listings on eBay, its own website, social media and word of mouth.

"My dad has been doing this for 39 years, and he's built up a great reputation," Turner says. "You're going to spend a little more for a good car, but there's a reason for that. And the reason is that we are going to absolutely smother you with service.

"We put a 90-day guarantee on everything, and we'll stand behind it. We ride right in the passenger seat with you."

Born with spina bifida, Turner is paralyzed from the waist down. His life has been filled with health challenges and doctor visits, but he takes it in stride. He says his mother, father and sister are "the world."

"When I was born, they were put in a pretty precarious position," Turner says of his parents. "The doctor didn't know if I would live past the age of 3."

Doctors gave the Turners the option of placing their son in a group home for children with disabilities. His parents thought otherwise.

"My mother and father said, 'We want him.' Because of that, you and I are having this conversation. 'Thank you' just doesn't cover it."

Today Turner is head of sales support and e-commerce. It turns out that the iconic American car is popular around the world. Online orders for Corvettes and car parts represent 50 percent of the business, and they come from all over the globe-Iraq, the Netherlands, England, Italy. Staff members are readying a car for shipment to Belgium this month.

Turner says the best part of his job is interacting with customers in other parts of the world.

"A lot of our customers have become very dear friends."

Business volume varies depending on consumer tastes, trends in the industry and the economy. The future of the business and his own role in it are hard to predict, Turner says. His father has no immediate plans to retire, and Turner doesn't see himself at the helm. But he says he feels a great deal of responsibility to extend his father's vision and to protect the family bond shared by those who work there.

"People say, 'Oh God, he's got such a cool job,' and that's true. But I tell you, it's a lot of work on everybody's part. Our reputation is as good as our last deal. That's been ingrained into my mind. That's my father's favorite saying," he says.

"I hope it stays a family business, and that includes the folks that work with us. I hope that legacy continues."

1/7/11 (c) 2011 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or e-mail

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