For this installment of Dealerships in Depth, we spoke with Mario JT Benedetti, of South Dade Toyota.
Mario has been involved with Auto Dealerships for over 30 years. He describes his proudest moment of that career as when he was finally given the Letter of “Dealer Approval” from Toyota Motors Sales and Southeast Toyota on Dec.11, 2009, to be the dealer principal and GM of South Dade Toyota.
Q. What do you think is your greatest strength as an auto dealer?
A. I think our greatest strength comes from our unique business model and “open door policy” that creates a sense of ownership among all of our employees. We empower all of our employees to make their own decisions and we encourage them to embrace our core values and commitment to the “Toyota Way” philosophy every day with every customer that comes in.
To me the most valuable asset in a company are the employees, so we apply the consciousness of capitalism, or “capitalism of opportunity” as I like to call it. We bet on the success of everyone in the dealership, because if they are successful under my watch, I will be successful as a leader.
We have an internal career program where you literally can work your way to the top. A perfect example is, we had a porter who started washing cars, but, he knew he wanted to be a salesperson and we sent him to training. He became a successful salesperson. He then asked to go into F&I, we sent him to training, and now, he is a successful F&I manager. He went from a minimum wage employee, to making over $230K a year in a 2 and half years period!
Q. What do you feel is your most significant accomplishment as an auto dealership/ auto industry professional?
A. I think the biggest accomplishment, certainly the one I am most proud of, is what I did to turn this dealership around. I purchased a failing Toyota dealership that had lost $2.2 Million by December 14, 2009, the date of our closing. Sales in February of 2010 were only 13 cars in total, new and used. That same month, we faced a major Toyota Recall, all while dealing with the tough transition from the old administration to the new, without a DMS system, no significant customer data base, bad inventory with cars over 300 days in inventory, full scale renovations to update to the Toyota Image and all the IT network and hardware changing from R&R to ADP. As if all of that were not challenging enough we were also dealing with training and replacing employees that were not interested in embracing the new philosophy, or learning to deal with differences between the Japanese (standard used in my dealership in Venezuela) and the U.S. Standard operational way. And then merely a year later, we had to deal with the impact of the tsunami in Japan! However, despite all of that, working together as a team, took the operation from being under the Dealer Review Program to the Toyota Presidents Award and SET Elite Award in only 3 years! We went from selling only 13 cars in Feb 2010 to selling over 684 in April 2016, rising from the last position in the nation (TMS Dealership National network) to one of the top 400 in the nation, ranking #63 today.
Q. What are the greatest challenges facing auto dealers right now, and how is your company responding to those challenges?
A. I think the biggest challenge we face as owners is not to let your “ego” get in the way and succumb to the temptation of doing whatever it takes to pump up the numbers and achieve a wall plaque.
I have seen the competition among dealers go overboard. But, there is no reason to “declare war,” and submit to unprofessional, or worse yet, unethical behaviors, just to make up for slagging sales or non-growth.
Now, do not get me wrong, of course competition is necessary and good, because it forces you to improve in all areas and to create a window of opportunities within your own operations, and to evaluate yourself every month and correct any issue that contributes to be ineffective and inefficient in the operation and the finances. The challenge is to do all of that, while staying on the high road.
We apply the aikido philosophy of Japanese martial arts into our operations in regards to the competition, by using the force of our competitors in our operational benefit and always being in balance and harmony at all times.
In life, the greatest success is to be in balance at all times, personally and spiritually.
Q. How long have you been a client with MBAF, how has that relationship helped you face those challenges, and otherwise helped you to reach your goals as a dealer?
A. We have been partners with MBAF since day one, even before the closing took place. It’s been a great relationship, especially Mark Thaw who has been a wonderful advisor and a very good personal friend to me. We have tackled many issues together, and Mark has gone way beyond his professional advice and counsel, to help me personally in other areas outside the dealership.
Q. Where would you like, or expect your dealership to be 5, 10 years from now?
A. I expect to keep raising the bar every day in quality, efficiency, ethics and commitment to bring the best experience and joy to our customers. We will keep implementing the “Kaizen” philosophy as to continuous improvement, to keep striving to be better and to keep the Team together in harmony. That way I expect this business to be strong and sustainable, not for another 5 or 10 years, but for at least the next 93 years! That is technically how long that my dealership has been in operation, since my grandfather first founded it in Venezuela in May 14, 1924. Just like I’m the third generation in my company (Prosperi Cumana CA) in Venezuela, and as the first Generation in the company in the U.S., I’m aiming to have my sons and grandchildren in the future taking South Dade Toyota into the next century!