In honor of JM&A Group’s 35th anniversary, we would like to pay tribute to all of our loyal dealership customers in this special anniversary edition of our customary “Dealer Spotlight” article. The key to our success has been, and will always be, the commitment and success of our 3,200+ dealer clients. In particular, we would like to thank the faithful group of 25 dealers who have been with us since the company was founded in 1978. These special dealers helped jumpstart JM&A Group into the thriving business it is today, and words can’t express our gratitude for their steadfast loyalty. On the following page, you will find each of our 35-year dealers listed in the sidebar. We also had the opportunity to sit down and speak with three of them in depth for this article. Read below for profiles on three powerhouse stores in the Southeast: Rice Toyota, Ralph Hayes Toyota and Deluca Toyota.
Like most dealership owner’s children, Garson Rice Jr. spent his childhood performing odd jobs around his father’s dealership. The son of the late Garson Rice Sr., former owner of Rice Toyota in Greensboro, NC, Garson Jr. remembers mowing the grass, washing cars and even helping out as needed in the service and parts department. As he got older, these jobs became more substantial. During college breaks, he began selling cars. After college, as one of Rice Toyota’s new car salesmen, he found himself spending more time in the F&I department. He took on the role of F&I manager for several years, eventually moving up the ladder to new car manager.
Although he was the son of the owner, Garson carried his own weight just like the rest of the staff. “Every dealer’s son feels like he has a job, but he knows that he is being looked at very closely,” Garson says. “There was no mistake that it was my father’s dealership. Everyone knew he was the boss.” In an effort to prove himself, Garson presented some ideas to his father that he felt would grow the business. “I started going to auto auctions,” he said. “This helped increase our used car business.” He also suggested selling more trucks and treating this segment of the inventory as if it were its own franchise rather than a compliment to the existing inventory. His inventive spirit paid off: In 1998, after many successful years under his father’s watchful eye, Garson Rice Jr. bought the Rice Toyota dealership from his father.
Over the years, he has kept the business growing in more ways than one. It’s expanded – literally – to include a larger service department and showroom on the existing store’s adjacent lot. He also purchased a warehouse down the street and transformed it into a profitable wholesale parts and collision center. Rice Toyota has strengthened financially as well – currently selling approximately 200 new cars and 140 used cars on average a month. Perhaps most importantly, the dealership has also grown to include other members of his family. His daughter, Mary Curry, and her husband, Chris, are the store’s general manager and Internet manager respectively. Reminiscent of a younger Garson Rice Jr., Mary’s innovative ideas have helped keep sales steady, particularly during the last several years, which were marked by a flagging economy, decreased consumer demand and persistent recalls. “When the recession hit, I needed some help,” Garson says. “I asked her to give me a hand with social media.” Mary created a Facebook and Twitter account for the store and started to send out regular email blasts to customers. Garson indicates that the dealership’s service business, Internet sales and overall profitability improved rapidly. “Everyone is such an integral part of the process,” Garson says. “Each person has their own role, and that is very important.”
His relationship with JM&A Group – which dates back to 1978 when his father was at the helm – has also helped Rice Toyota during tough times. “The folks at JM&A offer new training and give us fresh ideas,” Rice says. “It’s like having a golf coach come in and tweak your swing. They make sure you do things right.” Over the course of their 35-year partnership, Rice explains that JM&A’s strong business ethics have remain unchanged – which have allowed him to maintain a solid relationship with the F&I provider after so many years.
Garson’s own firm code of business ethics – passed down from his father – includes an enhanced emphasis on customer relations. Whether it’s on the new car lot, in the F&I office or at the collision center, Garson mandates that improving customer service takes top priority. “It’s important that the employees who are in direct contact with customers are empowered to make the customer happy,” Garson says. “It is my experience that the best way to handle a customer’s concern is in the customer’s favor and as quickly as possible.”
Ralph Hayes Toyota
The town of Anderson, South Carolina is a small but growing community with a population of just 35,000. Located about 25 miles south of Greenville, it’s gaining popularity as a residential suburb of the automotive city, yet has managed to retain its southern, small town appeal. Ralph Hayes Motors, which was established in 1951, is situated on Anderson’s “motor mile,” a strip close to Interstate I-85 that is peppered with car dealerships. Of all the new car dealers that have cropped up in Anderson over the years – Ralph Hayes Toyota is the only store that is operated by born-and-raised Andersonians. And in a place like Anderson, being a native has its benefits.
Randolph Hayes is the second generation in the Hayes family to bear the title of president and owner at Ralph Hayes Toyota. His father, Ralph, passed away in 1976, leaving the store in the very capable hands of Randolph. Randolph’s son, Robert, started working there full time in 1996 after his college graduation and has worked his way through all the departments to his current title of part owner and general manager. Robert’s son, nine-year-old Harrison, recently recorded a radio spot for the dealership and is already calling himself a “car guy.” If you haven’t already guessed, Ralph Hayes Toyota is the kind of place where good old-fashioned family values prevail, and employees and customers alike are treated like next of kin.
The biggest challenge that Randolph has encountered over the years is adjusting to dealership life without his father. “I still miss him and think about him everyday,” Randolph says. He carries on Ralph’s legacy by following the same moral standards that were put in place by his father.
“I learned early on from my dad that, to be successful, you have to take good care of your employees and your customers,” Randolph says. “If you take good care of them and treat them right, they will take care of you. I also learned to surround myself with the best managers and employees I could find. This is a people business. It doesn’t matter how good your product is, if you don’t have quality people working for you, it is difficult to succeed.”
If treating his employees and customers as family members is Randolph’s secret to success – then it has paid off in spades. In 2012, Ralph Hayes Toyota sold 1,100 new vehicles and 550 used vehicles. “The store has grown a lot,” says Randolph. “We have 55 full-time employees. The Internet has now given us the ability to expand our market and sell more cars. My dad would be shocked to see how dependent we are on computer technology in operating our store today.”
Ralph Hayes Toyota was one of the first dealers to start selling JM&A Group’s products, and the partnership has flourished ever since. “Mr. Moran was a brilliant innovator, leader and a good friend who could see the future of the automobile industry,” Randolph says. “So it was just natural for us to sign up with JM&A when it was formed 35 years ago. We were a 100-percent supporter of Jim Moran and still are today.” Randolph also adds that the company’s warranty and maintenance programs have been integral to their store’s success. He cites the mechanical breakdown plan specifically as an exceptional customer retention tool.
What’s up next for the 62-year old dealership? Randolph says that he is currently in the process of turning over Ralph Hayes Toyota to his son Robert: “He is buying stock from me now. There is a plan in place for him.” He is more than confident about the future of the dealership under Robert’s experienced eye – but he admits it is hard to slowly step back from his duties as president. “I’m trying to cut back. I’m still very attached to my employees,” he says. “I’m still very much a part of the store, and I hope to remain that way.”
In September of 1978, Frank DeLuca, then 31, took a chance on Toyota. It was a big risk for the budding car dealer, given that the Japanese import was essentially unknown at that time. Additionally, DeLuca only had about eight years of automotive experience under his belt, no family in the business and little money. Most up-and-coming entrepreneurs might have waited for a more proven investment, but something about the brand intrigued DeLuca. He was up for the challenge.
“What I did with $100,000 thirty-five years ago would take millions today,” DeLuca explains. “At the time, no one knew Toyota. Volkswagen was the big import.” Admittedly, Deluca didn’t realize how much of a risk it was back then, but rather focused on the opportunity. During the early years, his store, DeLuca Toyota in Ocala, FL, retailed approximately 25 new cars and 15 used cars a month and employed 20 individuals. He worked as both general manager and dealer owner for several years – and stepped into whatever other role he was needed in to make ends meet. “I worked seven days bell to bell,” he says. “Some days, I was even the janitor!”
He learned early on from a friend, mentor and former owner of JM Family Enterprises, Inc., Jim Moran, that if he treated his customers right, they would keep coming back. He built his store around the belief that one should regard his or her customers as honored guests and cultivated a large customer base with a high percentage of repeat business in the process. Through 35 years of ups and downs, he has held steadfast to that focus.
His little Toyota dealership that could now sells upwards of 250 new cars and 130 used cars a month. In October of 2012, it ranked #10 in year-to-date profitability out of the 175 Toyota dealers in the Southeast. And he is currently in the process of building a new 75,000-square-foot facility to house DeLuca Toyota, which is slated for completion in 2013.
His high regard for customer service is immediately apparent throughout DeLuca Toyota’s operations. Coffee, fresh fruit, donuts and other snacks are set out each morning for early customers. Rather than wait, DeLuca Toyota patrons can hop on one of three service vans that travel a constant route back and forth to the mall from the dealership’s service department. For his older clientele, DeLuca offers transportation to the movies for free while their vehicles are being serviced. Customers can even indulge in a free manicure while they wait. His service retention is booming, so much so that the new facility calls for 42 service bays in comparison with the 18 in place at his current operations. “I constantly have customers approach me and tell me that they just came in for a regular oil change and left with a brand new Toyota,” DeLuca says. “We are fortunate to have a great service department that retains these customers.”
DeLuca also credits JM&A Group’s vehicle protection and complimentary two-year maintenance plans as effective customer retention tools. He has offered JM&A products since the day he opened his dealership in 1978 and has seen great results from both the products and training. “I’ve only ever sold JM&A Group products. I’ve been approached by many other companies, but I would never switch,” he says. “The support team is second to none. A week doesn’t go by where a JM&A Group representative isn’t in house giving personalized training.”
Much has changed since DeLuca took a big chance on Toyota 35 years ago – and he hasn’t regretted his business decision for an instant. Recently, he was nominated by the Central Florida Auto Dealers Association for the “Time Dealer of the Year Award,” which honors outstanding new-car dealers across America and their unyielding commitment to improving their communities. The winner will be announced next month at the National Automobile Dealers’ Association in Orlando, Florida.
Winning such a prestigious award would be a huge honor for Frank DeLuca, but his greatest reward is keeping his customers satisfied every day. “On Monday, I had a customer approach me and tell me it was the eighth Toyota he had purchased from me,” DeLuca says. “To me, that is the greatest success.”
Jan 1, 2013