The Graff name has been prominent in Flint, Michigan automobile circles for almost a century. Otto P. Graff, founder of the company which bore his name for most of that time, signed an agreement with the Ford Motor company in 1914 to sell 125 cars a year.
As the treasurer of Genesee County from 1910 until 1914, Mr. Graff was well known to the Flint banking fraternity. These contacts smoothed the way to his borrowing the necessary funds to finance his new dealership.
And so, with $900 which he and his wife Flora had saved, the borrowed money and high hopes, the new enterprise was launched as the Ford Sales Company. It was located on North Saginaw Street just north of the Flint River. The first year was encouraging with sales exceeding the 125 car quota and reaching the 150 mark before year's end.
Several important steps were taken in the following months. The name of the company was changed from Ford Sales Company to Otto P. Graff Motor Sales, and it was moved to the corner of Kearsley and Harrison Streets where it remained until 1918. That year the Fordson Tractor was added to the Ford line. Henry Ford bought Henry Leland's interests in the Lincoln car, and it too became a part of the Graff line which eventually included Ford, Ford truck, Lincoln-Mercury and Ford tractors.
The business continued to grow and in 1924 a new sales peak of 2,400 vehicles was reached. Three years later in 1927, the Model T was discontinued, and for 18 months there were no Fords available as the company converted to the Model A.
Also in 1927, Graffs built a new garage at 914 Harrison Street and a new sales department on Saginaw Street.
During this peak expansion, Mr. Graff added five sub dealers plus a variety of other holdings to his enterprise.
With the advent of the Model A, business looked good again. Then came the disaster - the Depression of 1929. Otto P. Graff lost everything he had worked so hard to earn.
But thanks to the Citizen's Bank and Mr. Edward Burroughs, Mr. Graff was able to weather the financial storm which devastated the country. The bank took all the stock in the corporation and held in until 1948 when the last of it was redeemed. All during that period, Mr. Graff was paid $85 a week with all profits going to the bank.
In 1936, Max H. Graff, fresh out of the University of Michigan, went to work for his father. He was no stranger to the business, having worked during vacations washing, servicing and selling cars - learning the business from the ground up. The following year he was assigned to manage the branch at Dort Highway and Davison Road.
Much to the chagrin of Mr. Graff, Ford decided to take Lincoln and Mercury away at the time when over 2,000 orders with deposits were on hand. During the entire year of 1946, Ford allocated only 176 cars and trucks leaving many customers very unhappy. It required another 2 and a half years to clean up the backlog.
When Otto's second son, Rex, a graduate of Ferris State College, returned from WWII, he was put in charge of the motor rebuilding department. New parts were very scarce so the rebuilding business prospered. It was sold in 1949, and Rex Graff took over the tractor franchise. A building was constructed on Davison Road. Rex made that business thrive, and it was eventually sold in 1969 after Otto's death. In 1948, Max was made General Manager.
Rex came back to the dealership in 1970 as general manager and retired in 1975 at which time he became the executive secretary of the Genesee County Dealers Association.
Max H. (Hank) Graff, Jr., Max's son, graduated from Michigan State University in 1969 and taught school in Flint for two years. Then in 1971, he left teaching to work full time at the dealership as a used car buyer. Actually, he had spent summers, while growing up, working at various jobs at the dealership. He became General Manager in 1975. At that time he hired Phil Goldman to assist him in management. About two years later, Hank became the Dealer and a stockholder when he purchased Rex Graff's stock.
In 1982, a drastic step had to be taken for two reasons. First, General Motors gave all of its employees the option to purchase any General Motors vehicle below dealer's cost. At that time, about 50% of the Fords sold in Graffs were to the United Auto Workers members. Obviously, Graff's could not be price competitive. Secondly, Ford had a problem keeping a second dealer in Flint and had been forced to buy and own that dealership, and it was obvious they would be forced to keep it.
The Graffs discovered that the Uptegraff Chevrolet agency was for sale in Davison, and within two weeks, they were able to consummate a deal. Ford was notified that Graffs would give up their franchise as of August 1, 1982, and Hank Graff signed a Chevrolet franchise on August 2, 1982.
As the Graff footprint grows, we continue to service more customers with a smile and attitude of "Making Friends Since 1914"