Coupal family reflects on success

Scott R. Coupal and his father, Real C. "Frenchie" Coupal, in their renovated and modernized Ford dealership in Massena. Photo by Melanie Kimbler-Lago.

By Kyle R. Hayes
NNY Business

For the Frenchie’s automotive dealerships, and the Coupal family that owns and operates them, success involves two things: Hard work and cheese.

Real C. “Frenchie” Coupal, founder of the Frenchie’s brand, is a self-made man who bought the former John’s Chevrolet in Massena in 1982. He and his wife, Thelma, son, Scott, daughter, Beth, and their dog, Bear, moved to Massena from St. Albans, Vt., to buy the dealership almost sight unseen.

“I worked for Handy Cadillac GMC for 19 years and GM knew I was looking to buy a dealership. They called and said they had one for me to look at,” Mr. Coupal said. “The old owner wanted out, we wanted in, so we bought it. Ninety days later we were a dealer.”

However, beginnings for Frenchie’s Chevrolet, 255 E. Orvis St., were not so simple.

“There was nothing here, no used cars, no new cars, my bookkeeper decided not to show up on the first day and we were living at the old Flanders Inn, eating at Ponderosa every Friday night,” Mr. Coupal said. “But we paid our bills, we went to work every day and we made it happen.”

Making things happen is the unofficial secret to success for Mr. Coupal and his family.

“Nothing came easy,” Mr. Coupal said. “I have an eighth-grade education, grew up delivering newspapers when I was 7 years old, cleaning movie theaters top to bottom, working at an IGA grocery store. But you will never have money in your pocket if you don’t work for it. I’ve never been broke in my life.”

Despite the economic downturn that hit the U.S. and Northern New York in 2008, Mr. Coupal notes that Frenchie’s never had to lay off an employee and they kept the doors open for business.

And they’re growing.

“We finished the Ford store modernization last year and this year we’re working on the modernization of the Chevy store,” Mr. Coupal said.

In an effort to boost consistency and consumer experience between Chevrolet stores, General Motors is requiring existing stores to modernize facades, furnishings and store layouts.

“We are changing everything,” Mr. Coupal said. “We can’t even use the same desks or the same floor tiles as we had before. It all has to go.”

During construction, which should be complete by mid-September, the Chevrolet store will relocate to another parcel of land Mr. Coupal owns in Massena to keep customers out of the dirt and dust.

In December 2010, the Frenchie’s family grew with the addition of a Ford dealership at 216 E. Orvis St. The Coupals bought the former C&M Ford and immediately began remodeling it. Frenchie’s Ford is the third dealership the family owns, having opened Frenchie’s Select, a used car dealership, five years ago. The three stores combine to employ 74 people, Mr. Coupal said. Mr. Coupal’s son, Scott R., is the general manager of the Ford store.

“We renovated the facilities top to bottom and we have had a fantastic welcoming from the community from day one,” Scott said. “Being new to the Ford family, we were really trying to get into the nuts and bolts of it, especially since I bled blue growing up selling GM vehicles. I love the Ford brand now. I never thought I’d see a Coupal name on a Ford registration.”

Scott’s sales goal for the first year at the Ford store was lofty, according to Ford; however, in keeping with his father’s advice, he knew any goal was attainable.

“We moved 214 retail units in our first year,” Scott said. “When we took control we had 10 vehicles, six were 2010 leftovers and two were demos. For 75 days we didn’t have much to sell. After we got things moving we were pre-selling so much that we were getting shipments of vehicles that were already sold. Stocking the lot took some time.”

Scott’s goal for 2012 is to sell 400 vehicles. The store has 102 new vehicles on the ground and another 45 coming in the spring.

“Massena has never seen an inventory like this,” he said. “We have the selection and the service for the entire Ford brand.”

As for the cheese, Mr. Coupal takes many situations and applies them to the 1998 motivational book by Spencer Johnson, “Who Moved My Cheese?” The “cheese” is what you look for to make your business successful.

“I love my job, I love being here. When you run out of cheese, go find more cheese,” Mr. Coupal said. “I have to keep people pumped and going after more cheese. It’s fun.”