U-Haul Dealer Pioneer Gary Dahlke

Gary Dahlke joined Team U-Haul in 1952, when a U-Haul representative stopped by the gas station run by Dahlke’s family, including his father, Clayton Dahlke, brother, John Dahlke, and cousin, Jim Reetz.

Jim Reetz, John Dahlke, Clayton Dahlke and Gary Dahlke 1977
(Left to right) Jim Reetz, John Dahlke, Clayton Dahlke and Gary Dahlke celebrate their 25th U-Haul anniversary in 1977.

“My father had no idea what U-Haul was at the time,” Gary Dahlke admitted in a recent interview. “But it sounded like a good business model, and we thought it’d be a good way to get in on the ground floor, because there were only two other U-Haul Dealers in Michigan at that time. We talked about it and decided it was something we could make money with.”

Though they had a good idea they could be successful, none of them realized they were embarking on a partnership that would end up lasting 52 years.

“No way did we think we would be involved in this 50 years later,” Gary Dahlke admitted in 2002, as his dealership celebrated its 50th anniversary with U-Haul. “Nor did we realize we would be involved in such a big organization like U-Haul has become. But when you are having fun doing something, you want to continue doing it.”

Success at a young age

Gary was just a teenager when the family added U-Haul rentals to their gas station, and he quickly took over the U-Haul operation.

“We had been in business about three weeks, and my father looked at me one day and said, ‘You are now the manager of this and you have to do all of the weekly reports,’” Gary reminisced.

That became quite a lucrative deal for Gary, who ended up paying his way through college with the money he made handling the U-Haul side of the business.

Gary and Connie Dahlke 2002
Gary and Connie Dahlke in 2002, when the dealership celebrated 50 years with U-Haul.

“U-Haul paid for my college tuition,” he proclaimed. “For one year, while I was at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, about 400 miles away, I’d come back every weekend to fill out the Monday Reports and be back at school on Monday morning.”

After earning his college degree, Gary came back to work at the dealership with his family. His father retired in 1970, and his brother and cousin followed suit later in the 1970s, leaving Gary as the only original owner to run the operation, which he did until 2004. He had a lot of success along the way, including being ranked as the #1 U.S. dealer in November 2001.

“Just think of all the customers and all the changes that he has seen,” declared Layton Baker, then-vice president of Dealer and AFM Operations Support, in 2002. “It’s the Gary Dahlkes of the world who have truly made U-Haul the most popular brand in the moving and storage industry.”

Loyalty

Gary Dahlke Retirement cake 2004
Gary Dahlke at his retirement celebration in 2004.

Dahlke worked with oil companies during many of his 52 years as a U-Haul Dealer, but he said U-Haul was the one company that “cut the mustard” for him. He admitted there were many opportunities to align himself with the competition, but he never gave those offers much thought.

“U-Haul was steady and consistent,” he declared. “I think every one of our rivals camped on our doorstep because they knew we were the force to be reckoned with in the moving industry in Marquette. That was because we had U-Haul, which was the premier do-it-yourself moving company.

“But we never seriously entertained any of these companies as a replacement for U-Haul, because we didn’t think anyone could meet what U-Haul offered.”

Gary Dahlke retired in 2004. As U-Haul celebrates its 70th anniversary, we thank him and his family for epitomizing the loyalty and longevity U-Haul Dealers have shown during the last 70 years.

What’s the farthest you’ve ever commuted to school and/or work? Tell us about your long drives in the comments section.

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