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Wadena GM owner looking to build on the strength of his business

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WADENA - Roger Dondelinger plans to keep the parts and service departments of his Wadena GM dealership in business.

Dondelinger was forced to close the sales department at Wadena GM in May and dismiss his sales staff. The business, which will now be known as Wadena Auto Mall, may sell used cars in the future, but Dondelinger is not in a position to say when.

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"We could very possibly," Dondelinger said. "If we could find the right help, the right people, in the right place, if the service is going the way we think it will, I would consider it. But right now with what is going on with General Motors and our stores with consolidation it's a little bit more than I have time for."

The work done by service manager Jim Mench and his department is Dondelinger's chief reason for not closing the doors.

"You're only as good as your personnel," Dondelinger said Monday as he made a business trip to the Wadena dealership. "I am not looking, I am not interviewing, I'm not doing anything today. That would be down the road maybe 30-60 days. First we are going to see how the parts and service do. If that's successful we will look to expand it into used car sales."

Dondelinger, who owns the GM franchised dealership in Brainerd, has closed his dealership in Little Falls. His dealership in Pine River, which sells used cars, remains in business, but will not carry a GM franchise after June 1.

"I'm optimistic with the team that we have in the service department," Dondelinger said. "Jim is real optimistic. I don't know any place it has ever been done. I was just on the phone with Denny Hecker now, he has had to close 20-some stores and his advice to me today was 'just lock the door.'"

Dondelinger's faith in Mench and the 12-man service department is founded on what the five-year employee and his people have done.

"What you worry about is taking good care of your customers so you get repeats and referrals and Jim has managed to do that over the years," Dondelinger said. "He runs the best service department of any of the small stores. Now whether it can survive on its own, it's going to take a lot of support from the local community. As we go along and cut costs hopefully it will work."

General Motors filed for bankruptcy protection Monday. The U.S. auto giant has $172.81 billion in debt and $82.29 billion in assets according to the Associated Press. The Obama administration is planning to reduce the automaker to a sustainable size in return for federal funding help. As part of the belt-tightening, GM is planning to close 1,100 dealerships in the United States by the end of 2010.

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