Ed Kenley built a business that honors his customers, and his legacy continues through his wife Jewel Lee and son Brett’s management.
Out of work and looking for a job, Ed Kenley took a job at a car dealership in Ogden working for his father in-law. Jewel Lee Kenley, his wife, was not excited. She knew the long hours her father had worked her entire life and wasn’t sure she wanted her husband to follow him into the business. Her resistance was futile, because Ed fell in love with the car business and knew he was there to stay. He quickly moved into management and eventually he started looking to purchase a car dealership. He found a Ford dealership in Florida and was doing his due diligence regarding a purchase and considering a move to Florida. While he was looking, the Layton Ford Dealership came up for sale. Ed was so excited! Layton is where he grew up and he wanted to stay home and be part of his own community.
Originally located in the building where Hertz Auto Sales is currently located, Ed Kenley Ford found success. Most people thought the Kenleys were crazy to mortgage everything they had to buy a car dealership in the middle of the worst possible economy. It was the early 80’s and the economy was not only in the tank, but interest rates were astronomical. However, the Kenleys found their own success through good old-fashioned hard work and treating people right. They made it a mission to treat everyone as a lifetime customer. Today they have many loyal customers who consistently return and purchase vehicles from them. They even have one customer that has purchased over 100 vehicles from them over the years.
Ed Kenley Ford is an atypical car dealership because they are not pushy nor do they try to maximize each individual deal. They want to sell a vehicle to a customer just like any other dealer, but they actually want people to come back. If you buy a vehicle from Ed Kenley Ford, the owner will call you personally to find out if you were happy with your purchase. It has become a badge of honor for Jewel Lee to feature a Kenley Kudos in the company’s monthly newsletter, highlighting when a customer compliments the people they worked with when purchasing their vehicle. This treatment of customers carries over to their employees as well. They have six employees who have been at the dealership for over 35 years, with many other long-term employees. When you work with people that long, they become family.
This isn’t just corporate messaging either, it shows in their results. They have one of the highest retention rates in Utah. The service department has a 90% Fix it Right the First Time recognition by Ford, also one of the highest in the state. They have 12 technicians, nine of which are Master Certified, and six of those are Senior Master Certified. Many of their technicians have been with Ed Kenley Ford for over 20 years.
Although the dealership has had much success, the Kenley family has passed through tragedy. In 1990, their daughter Anya passed away from cancer at the young age of 16. Three years later, Ed and Jewel Lee were in a vehicle accident. Ed was killed, and Jewel Lee was injured. Jewel Lee and her son Brett were left with a life torn to pieces. When Jewel Lee recovered from her injuries, she had to decide what to do with her husband’s business that employed over 80 people. The decision was made to honor her husband’s legacy by continuing the business. Eventually, Brett was able to step in and today runs the day to day of the company. Jewel Lee says she makes sure the taxes are paid and that the kitchen stays clean.
Today Ed Kenley Ford sits on 10 acres of land on the corner of Antelope Dr. and Main Street. They also own EKF Custom Marine and Motorsports dealership across the road. One of Jewel Lee’s favorite properties is the Ed Kenley Car Barn used car lot. They have had such a great reputation with Ford Credit that they are able to offer financing to those with challenged credit without “ripping customers’ heads off.” Jewel Lee talks about how frustrated she gets when she sees purchase contracts for people with bad credit who have been taken advantage of. The Car Barn’s mission is to get people approved and work with them for the next couple of years until they can get into a better car and a better loan. They love helping people with new or poor credit get on the right track.
After Ed’s death in 1993, Jewel Lee decided to honor her husband and her daughter by starting a scholarship fund for Weber State University. She has given at least two awards every year and today it has been awarded 64 times. One of the first recipients is Dr. Ryan Stewart, who currently practices medicine at the Tanner Clinic in Syracuse. This award has been a huge help to many students and a fitting honor to both Anya and Ed.
Another project that is very important to the Kenleys is The Kenley Amphitheater. Partnering with the Davis Arts Council and Layton City, they were able to build a venue for thousands of people to enjoy outdoor concerts and performances over the years. Jewel Lee remembers Ed commenting on how he felt like people limited their exposure to the arts and especially limited their music consumption. The Kenley, as it is called, is a tribute to that open-minded way of thinking that Ed was famous for. The Kenley has hosted hundreds of acts, both big and small, over the years that have entertained thousands of people.
Another favorite of the Kenleys is the Drive One 4UR School program co-sponsored with Ford. They help local high schools raise needed funds of up to $6,000, twice a year. Syracuse High is one of their favorite places to run the scholarship because the students work really hard to pull off a great fundraiser. They have earned a lot of money over the years because of this program.
Syracuse is home to eight of Ed Kenley Ford employees: Jeron Affleck in the detail shop, Julie Bennett in the office, Kevin Doane and Crew Kenley (grandson) at EKF Marine, Michael Vaughan at EKF Customs, Burke Smith in financing and his wife Megan Smith in Business Development Center, Andrew Taylor in Used Cars and Brett Kenley.
We love how the Kenleys provide many opportunities to their employees and other members of the community as they strive to perform a service well. We are also grateful that they sponsor our Syracuse City magazine.