Brian Jessel, the eponymous founder of Brian Jessel BMW, always dreamed of owning his own dealership. Brian grew up in Ontario and worked in Toronto as a car broker. In the early ’70s, he made his move to Vancouver, where there were more opportunities for owning the dealership he envisioned. He continued his career as a broker in Vancouver -“the job he knew”, and one, he says, that “you do when you have no money.” He laughs. Eventually, he found the chance to start a used car dealership. He had managed to accumulate “six used cars at once, and so there you go – a dealership,” he says. He found space to lease at Burrard and 1st, and thus began Brian’s storied career as a car dealer.
Having been taught everything there was to know about buying and selling automobiles by his father, Bernie Jessel, Brian Jessel began his career in the automotive industry at the age of 19.
In 1972, Brian moved to beautiful British Columbia, where he owned several different dealerships over the years, but was determined to fulfill his dream of owning a BMW dealership.
FINDING THE GAP
Brian transformed his first used car lot at Burrard and 1st into a Fiat dealership, along with continuing to sell pre-owned vehicles, specializing in imports. This was a bold move in the mid-70s when everyone else was selling domestic vehicles. But Brian saw how European import cars were slowly entering the market, and how much attention they garnered. “These were days when if a Jag went down the road, people stopped and looked,” he remembers.
So. with a killer location right on dealership row, a niche product, and now he was building a service department, Brian continued to grow his reputation for precision and service. He describes himself as “detail-oriented”, which is perhaps an understatement. “I trained my people that everything had to be perfect.”
Brian rode high through the rest of the 70s and sold his location for $3 million in ’81. He then opened a Toyota dealership in Langley, once again sniffing out a rising trend – the new interest in Japanese models. He continued acquiring dealerships and had six under his name when the 80s recession hit hard. That forced him to sell everything – everything, that is, except his beloved BMW dealership.
MAKING THE MOVE
Brian Jessel BMW was in Langley, and Brian longed for a location closer to his customer base in the city. He did everything he could to draw buyers away from his competitors – his service department was legendary for driving into Vancouver, to custom- ers’ homes and offices, to valet vehicles. No one offered valet service in the 80s.
When he heard that Mercedes-Benz was planning to locate in Coquitlam in a proposed auto mall (where Ikea is now), Brian used that as leverage with the BMW head office. He had a great relationship with the president, an enlightened leader who supported Brian’s desire to move to Coquitlam, despite the noise from competing BMW dealers.
While the proposed auto mall never moved forward, Brian did and found a two-acre location for his new Coquitlam dealership. Within a year, he was the number three dealer in Western Canada, the lowest sales mark Brian Jessel BMW has ever hit. Five years in, the dealership was number one in all of Canada, a distinction it’s held in all years except one from 2003 to the present. Now, at 5000 vehicles sold annually, no other dealer even comes close.
Brian explains the continuing business model: “Always do the right thing for your customer. They might walk away from one car, but they’ll come back for ten more in their lifetime.”
THE SWEET SPOT
In 2004, Brian Jessel BMW was finally established in a coveted location in Vancouver itself. Customers come from all over the Lower Mainland and are still treated to valet service, plus many other perks that make buying and servicing a vehicle at the dealership seamless.
Brian credits his success with building business one relationship at a time and old-fashioned hard work, just like his dad taught him, plus having the pluck to take a chance when opportunity knocks. But while his father was old school, Brian considers himself a bridge between the past and the present. Now his dealership is run by his protégé, Managing Partner Jim Murray, whom Brian says is definitely on the pulse. It means that Brian, the self-confessed “control freak,” can kick back, enjoying the assurance that his dealership is overseen by someone with the same exacting standards as his own who is also spearheading a vision for the future.
Known for its thousands of loyal customers, committed staff, and thriving sales, service, and pre-owned departments, Brian Jessel BMW is now one of Vancouver’s most recognized brands. Brian paraphrases Winston Churchill: “I’m easily satisfied – just give me the best.” And that’s what Brian Jessel BMW has done for its customers, and continues to do to this day.