With an investment of only $500, Kitty founded her first used car dealership in her front yard in 1985, lining up the cars in front of her small house in Victor, NY. She applied the experience she had gained as sales manager for John Holtz's Mercedes Benz/BMW dealership to her own enterprise, moving to a three-acre lot in 1990 and quickly gaining momentum until it was time to choose a brand and move into new car sales. It was only natural that she became attracted to Subaru because of their sturdy construction, excellent design, and focus on safety, reliability and comfort. She built a 6,000-square- foot facility in Victor to house Van Bortel Subaru, and opened the doors in 1991.
Kitty approached new car sales with a unique philosophy; She instinctively became the kind-hearted dealer. "I trust people, and I always have," she said in a recent keynote speech to the Greater Rochester Chapter of the National Association of Woman Business Owners. "And when you trust people, people will trust you. That's why we give our customers a fair price, and all the information they need to make a sound decision, and then we allow them to take the time to make that decision. No tricks, no games."
Customers of Van Bortel Subaru, Van Bortel Ford and Van Bortel Chevrolet are offered a no-dicker price for each car, with full disclosure of the vehicle's base price, the cost of the options chosen by the customer, the manufacturer's suggested retail price, and the price offered by Van Bortel, including a clear statement of the dealership's profit on the sale. By removing the negotiation process from the purchase, Kitty Van Bortel takes the fear out of buying the car. The customer knows without a doubt that he or she has paid a fair price for the vehicle.
In just one year after opening Van Bortel Subaru, Kitty was inducted into the Subaru Chairman's Roundtable-a select organization of the top 20 dealers in the nation who display excellence in sales and customer satisfaction. She has remained a member every year since 1992, and today Van Bortel Subaru maintains a 77% or more market share in Subaru sales in the Rochester area, an achievement that dates back to 1997. In 1999, Van Bortel Subaru became the largest Subaru dealership in the nation, receiving Subaru Stellar Performer certification every year since 2001.
With this exemplary record of success, it was only natural for Ford Motor Company to select Kitty to become a Ford dealer in 2001. She opened Van Bortel Ford just a short drive down the road from the Subaru dealership in Victor, NY, and by 2002 the new dealership became Blue Oval Certified, an indication of Van Bortel Ford's immediate and consistent success. Van Bortel Ford quickly rose to become the highest volume selling Ford dealer in the market-beating 10 other Rochester area Ford dealers. In 2003 and 2004, Van Bortel Ford received Ford's annual Top 20 Sales Achievement Award and in 2005-2009 Van Bortel Ford received Ford's Annual Top 40 Sales Achievement Award in the Pittsburgh region, which includes dealerships from several states. Van Bortel Ford has also been the recipient of the prestigious Ford President's Award for the last 5 consecutive years for delivering exceptional sales, service, and vehicle ownership experiences.
Kitty is more than a smart, successful business owner. She is also a well-recognized role model for businesswomen in the greater Rochester area and throughout the nation. Working Woman magazine selected Van Bortel Subaru as a Top 500 Woman-Owned Business for four years running. Kitty has been honored as a Wells College Alumni of the Year, and she received the Alfred University College of Business Galanis Award for Excellence in Family Business in 2003. In 2005 Kitty was recognized as one of the 100 Leading Women in the North American Auto Industry by Automotive News and recognized by the Rochester Business Journal as "One of Rochester's Most Influential Women". In 2006 Kitty was nominated as the Rochester Small Business Council's "Business Person of the Year". 2009 was a busy year for Kitty as she was the recipient of the Herbert W. Vanden Brul Entrepreneurial Award from RIT's Business School, she was inducted into the Junior Achievement Business Hall of Fame and the recipient of the Rochester Women's Network "W" Woman of the Year Award. Kitty was the recipient of the Woman Business Owner of the Year in 2010 from the Victor Local Development Corporation and in 2011 she was the winner of the Rochester Women's Council Athena Leadership Award. In 2016, Kitty was selected as the Time Magazine Dealer of the Year.
Kitty's commitment to the community she calls home is evident in the many non-profit organizations she and her automotive group support. She conducts a Car Buying Seminar for pediatric interns at the University of Rochester. The Van Bortel dealerships sponsor Camp Good Days and Special Times, the Susan B. Anthony House, Rochester Women's Foundation, the local chapter of the National Liver Foundation, AIDS of Rochester, Quad A for Kids, American Heart Association, Pluta Cancer Center, local Rotary and Kiwanis clubs, Pet Pride of New York, and Mercy Flight.
What's next for Kitty and the Van Bortel dealerships? In February of 2010, Kitty purchased Fairport Ford and moved her entire Ford operation to 71 Marsh Road in Fairport, which is a larger, more modern facility allowing her to better serve Van Bortel customers. The Victor dealership on Route 96 is now used for housing and tracking Van Bortel Ford and Chevrolet's extensive fleet business inventory. By growing three businesses to region-wide leadership while never compromising her principles-and always giving the customer a fair deal and a satisfying car buying and maintenance experience-Kitty Van Bortel turned a $500 investment into one of the most successful and respected enterprises in the area, emerging as a leader in business, in commitment to the community, and in treating every customer the way she herself would want to be treated, every day.