Pictured above: Derek DeBoer; Image by Cornelius Matteo
TC Chevy, locally-owned and operated since 1985, is part of a small auto group in Southern Oregon. Its a full-service dealership that offers a no-pressure, hassle-free shopping experience, selling both new and pre-owned vehicles.
Third-generation car dealer Derek DeBoer is the owner-operator of TC Chevy and serves as vice president of the auto group. Derek splits his time between running the dealership and racing professionally as a member of The Racers Group, one of the most celebrated sports car racing teams in North America.
Attracted to fast-action sports, Derek was a professional wakeboarder shortly after college, where he attended Oregon State University and earned a degree in business management. His wife, Brooke, is a filmmaker and has been chronicling their racing and dealership experiences in a show called FastLife, which is available for streaming on Amazon Prime and YouTube.
In the following interview, Derek talks about his passion for endurance racing and why he feels racing has made him a better dealer, discusses the importance of teamwork on the track and in the store, and shares his thoughts about pursuing ones dream.
Photos pictured above are courtesy of Derek DeBoer; Photos by Brian Cleary
Dealer Magazine: Thanks for agreeing to talk with us, Derek. Id like to start by setting some context. Youre part of a car family tradition in Oregon. As a third-generation car dealer, what attracted you to the family business, and how did you get your start?
Derek: I don’t remember how young I was, but it certainly all started in a wash stall at our Medford Chevrolet store. It might have involved a water fight or two with my cousins. I started in the business as a kid just being around the store visiting my dad and getting to know his team. Then washing cars soon led to pulling and delivering parts in the parts department. I went on to work as a service advisor and eventually drifted into the sales and management side of things. Now that I think about it, it was a pretty natural progression. I always felt a lot of pride being in the car business.
Dealer Magazine: What do you appreciate most about being a car dealer? In other words, what gets you up and running in the morning?
Derek: I absolutely love the team aspect of the business. I also like how each day can be different, even within an individual store. We try to have a real awareness of the different cultures in each dealership we run and let that culture thrive at each store. Its important to allow people to be who they are. Individuals within a store have different strengths, and we like to let those strengths shine. We have three dealerships: TC Chevrolet in Ashland, as well as Airport Chevrolet and Southern Oregon Subaru, both in Medford.
One of my favorite parts about our small auto group is that I can walk into each dealership and get a very different, almost unique feeling about the store. Each store has its own personality.
Perhaps the greatest lesson I learned from watching my dad was how he involved himself in the local community, and its one of the things I love about the car business.
Dealer Magazine: Racing runs in your family. Your grandfather was involved in the sport, and your father raced cars as well. During college, you were a competitive wakeboarder and later competed at the pro level. What was that like?
Derek: Family vacations usually involved being on the water somewhere, and I grew up involved with water sports. I was always just trying to see what I could do on the water, whether it was slalom skiing or barefoot skiing or surfing behind the boat. Then wakeboarding was introduced as a sport, and I kind of latched on to it and dropped the other disciplines.
I started to see what I could do on a wakeboard and began entering local competitions in the northwest. It was cool to be a part of because it was such a new sport that didn’t fully exist yet, and I got to be a part of it early on. From the very beginning, I ended up competing professionally for a brand called Liquid Force, and that took me touring across the U.S. I competed, became an instructor, and gave demonstrations. It was a pretty awesome time of life.
Dealer Magazine: Lets move from water to land. You started two decades ago racing cars at Laguna Seca in Formula Dodge and have competed professionally ever since. Today, you race cars as part of The Racers Group. Could you tell us more about TRG?
Derek: Absolutely. Racing started as my childhood dream. Racecar drivers were my superheroes as a kid. I got to tag along with my dad at the drag races and watch him do what he does. This means that if he tries to tell me that I’m crazy for being a racecar driver, well, he doesn’t really have much of a leg to stand on. Like father, like son.
Twenty years ago and very early in my marriage, my wife asked me what dream I had not realized yet. I told her I’d always wanted to be a professional racecar driver, and that’s really when my racing career started.
She signed me up for the Skip Barber Racing School at their Laguna Seca location, and it’s all been kind of a downhill run from there. One opportunity turned into another, and before I knew it, I was racing sports cars.
I interviewed with some teams and stumbled into The Racers Group. That was six years ago, and I’ve been driving for them at the professional level ever since.
Dealer Magazine: What have been your most memorable races and wins?
Derek: Some of the most memorable moments probably happened early on. Im the type of person who doesnt like to watch. I like to participate and at the highest level.
Before joining TRG, I was a Formula Dodge racer. I joined the team (TRG) around the time they made a switch to Aston Martin. I made the jump into a much faster, more sophisticated car. Best of all, I got to drive and test a new Aston Martin race car with one of the most storied and successful teams in the sports car world. Ill never forget the first time I tested an Aston Martin. I kept going faster, even with butterflies in my stomach.
I think that some of those early experiences are what led to the success that I found later in endurance sports car racing. Since joining TRG, Ive had 23 podium finishes including a win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans Aston Martin Festival race, among other victories and my first professional overall win at Road America in 2016. Its been one amazing experience after another.
Dealer Magazine: Competing for a spot on the TRG team sounds intimidating.
Derek: Perhaps a little. I mean it’s pretty intimidating to walk into that, but for some reason, it didn’t feel that way at the time, and it went really well.
It comes down to what I like about the car business. And that’s one thing my wife, Brooke, and I really try to do, which is to bring together the two passions of being in the car business and competing as a racer. What makes my dealership and my racing work is the teamwork and camaraderie supporting my efforts. It’s the people on the team that really make the difference.
Dealer Magazine: Your wife is a filmmaker and has been filming your exploits over the years. Are these films available for public viewing?
Derek: Yes, of course. Among her many talents, Brooke is an amazing filmmaker. Her short films about our family and my racing life are available on Amazon Prime under the title of Fastlife. Its not just about my racing or me. Its a wonderful behind-the-scenes look at what we do, challenges, failures, successes, the ups and downs with chasing our dreams. Mine is to race cars; hers is to make movies. My entire family is involved in the story, and our daughters are kind of involuntarily along for the ride. The first two seasons are included with Amazon Prime, with more current episodes and clips on YouTube. Its been fun. You can check it out at
Dealer Magazine: Are there any similarities between racing cars and managing a dealership?
Derek: There are definitely a lot of similarities. I honestly think my role at the dealership is better because of what Ive learned from racing. Ive learned so much about managing a team, teamwork, camaraderie, and communication. For me to be able to devote part of my time to racing, I had to surround myself with car people who, quite frankly, and I dont mind admitting, were better at my job than I was.
Ive been able to empower a really great team and follow a model my dad used when he started the auto group back in 1981. He brought in three other partners to the group. They all had a stake in the store they were running, and that relationship lasted until the three guys were ready to retire, which was two years ago.
Im now in my second year with a fresh team, and Im following the same business model. I have partners, and those partners each have a stake in their store. That is what allows me to go racing. Im lucky my partners and I see eye-to-eye about running a dealership. Im very proud of the way we run our stores.
Dealer Magazine: What separates TC Chevy from the competition?
Derek: Without sounding too redundant, I’d like to say it’s the team, as well as the family culture we have created here and thrive on. We have a concept of putting our employees first with the belief that, that means they’re going to put their customers first. Happy employees are more likely to take care of the customer no matter what. With that goal in mind, we provide a very low-pressure environment. Customers can visit our store and feel like they are part of the family.
Dealer Magazine: Are your sales compensation plans based on commission, salary or a combination?
Derek: My home base is in our Ashland store, T.C. Chevy. Quite often, Ill use that store as a guinea pig to test new ideas. For instance, I always hated the feeling that a customer would have on the sales floor when they worked with, Jerry, as an example, the day before and return the next day to discover Jerry’s off and nobody really wants to help them because they know they’re not going to get a full commission.
We have a different kind of commission structure at the Ashland store. Salespeople all work together and share in the pooled commission at the end of the month. At the time we started our shared commission plan, lots of people told me it wouldnt work. But with the right team in place, its been part of the stores success. It creates a sales environment where everyone focuses on the customer and takes care of them.
As a result, Ive seen some unique behavior from salespeople, where theyre working together and have each others back. People are willing to cover for other people so they can have family time. They know its all going toward the same goal. Its been pretty cool.
Dealer Magazine: As an owner-operator, do you see yourself as more of a delegator type or hands-on type?
Derek: First, Id like to mention that Ralph Emerson fills the general manager role at TC Chevy. The other two stores in our group have separate GMs as well. Steve Miller is the general manager and partner at our Airport Chevrolet Buick GMC Cadillac store; Randy Nidalmia is the general manager and partner at Southern Oregon Subaru. Its an incredible team. Im the owner-operator of our Ashland store, as well as vice president of the three-store operation.
To answer your question, Im very hands-on in many aspects of the business. We focus on finding the strength each person brings to their job and allowing them to shine in a position that works best for them. As in any business, there are parts of the job that are dull and boring and other parts that are exciting. Im fortunate to be able to create my job around the parts that motivate me the most.
I enjoy making sure we have the right talent in the right spot and helping those people to develop their careers. I also enjoy the advertising, marketing and social media side of things. Between the dealerships and racing, I believe Ive found a core recipe for success. At least thats my hope.
Dealer Magazine: What do you look for when hiring new talent?
Derek: A lot of it is by intuition based on personality and how a person carries himself. Mostly, the biggest attribute I look for in a new hire is someone who has the right attitude. We can always train for the job.
I’m always super impressed with our staff and what they’re able to learn and grow themselves into. Especially when you start talking about social media and digital marketing and all that. We have people running those departments who may not have had any experience in that field before and are now masters of it.
Our comptroller (Jessi Moore), for example, started with us 17 years ago answering phones. She stands in for me when I am not here and becomes my eyes and ears. Shes a very important and integral part of my team.
Dealer Magazine: Which software tools do you use?
Derek: For inventory management, we use FirstLook. Our DMS is CDK, and thats across all three stores. Its one area where we like to ensure everyones on the same page and using the same basic platforms. There may be times where someone has to bounce from one store to the other, and it’s helpful for the new store to not be a foreign environment.
Dealer Magazine: How do you utilize social media to drive more traffic to your store?
Derek: Social media is a totally moving target. I feel the racing side of our story is kind of low-hanging fruit in the social media world. My racing makes it easier to make an impact and get a lot of likes and get a lot of attention. Brookes FastLife videos serve as kind of a conduit between running a dealership and racing cars.
Like for many dealers, our digital strategy has meandered over the last ten years. We were early adopters of using the Internet as a sales tool. The truth is, there are so many shiny objects out therethis widget is better than that widgetthat it is sometimes hard to know what to focus on.
For the last several years, weve tried to emphasize our own website and focus on driving people there. Thats where AutoLeadStar helps, especially their Connect product. Were very reliant on that solution because it connects our sites to customers and provides our best leads and highest closing ratio leads. They put our data into a format that helps us to make good, timely decisions. They’ve become the one partner that we couldn’t live without at this point.
Dealer Magazine: Are you doing anything special to bring more millennials into your store as either new hires or new customers?
Derek: On the employee side, I believe our reputation as a community-involved local business is something that resonates with millennials. We do a lot of non-profit and charity work, which helps keep our name out there. We also foster a family-first culture in our stores. I like the idea that employees can attend their kids dance recital or Little League game. We try to create an environment where employees can enjoy some of the luxuries, benefits, and flexibility that I’ve been able to enjoy as the store owner.
Attracting millennials as customers means staying relevant on social media. Even the type of advertising we do on television is catered to not push away millennials and also, at the same time, to not push away some of our traditional customer base. We don’t do a lot of typical in-your-face price product stuff. Our ads promote our stores as a warm, supportive place for customers, a place where theyll be taken care of. I think that speaks more to millennials than traditional automotive advertising.
Dealer Magazine: How does TC Chevy ensure customer satisfaction?
Derek: The willingness to go above and beyond. One of the lessons I learned from a former partner (Dave Mills) who ran the Chevrolet store in Medford was to never look at the price first before making a decision. Just do the right thing for the customer no matter what it’s going to cost.
It takes a lot of money, time, and effort to get a potential customer to even look at us and then experience us. You can’t afford to lose that. Once you get them inside your door, you have to make sure they leave a customer.
Dealer Magazine: What are the greatest challenges facing your dealership group?
Derek: Hiring. We’re lucky that we’ve got a pretty stable employee base and lots of people that have been here for a very long time. But in the same breath, it is the car business, and there is turnover here and there. It’s hard to find good people willing to put in the type of work and dedication it takes to be successful in our business.
Dealer Magazine: What one word or expression best describes you?
Honesty is the number one driver in our store. We require and expect the highest level of integrity and honesty in dealing with customers, vendors, and each other.