For this installment of Dealerships in Depth, we spoke with Roger Tovar.
Roger has been involved with Auto Dealerships for nearly 30 years, first as an auditor for PWC, (then Pricewaterhouse), and later as an owner/operator himself. Today, Roger owns Palmetto57 Nissan, and Palmetto57 Volkswagen, both in Miami, and each is one of the largest dealers in the country, of their respective brands. Roger is also a partner in Albany Auto Management, which operates an Audi, BMW and Toyota dealership in Albany, NY.
Q. What do you think is your greatest strength as an auto dealer?
A. I think my greatest strengths are the ability to identify businesses that are financially underperforming, and source opportunities upon which we can affect change — making additional investments to deliver an exceptional return on invested capital. Another strength would be my ability to identify good people and people that can grow with us. That is how we have built one of the largest Nissan and Volkswagen dealerships in the country, in Palmetto57 Nissan and Palmetto57 Volkswagen.
Q. Tell us a little about your personal background Roger, how did you get started in the industry, and build this Auto Group?
A. I got my first taste of the industry almost 30 years ago when I was an auditor for PWC. My first client for them was a “buy-here/pay-here,” which gave me quite a unique introduction to the industry. From that point forward, I became the “automotive specialist” in the office and was assigned additional automotive clients. Eventually, I left PWC to work for one of our clients in the beverage business. During my 15 years with that organization, we grew the business from approximately $70 million in annual revenues to over $800 million. When I left this group, I thought I was done and was retired. However, when my daughters started asking me what I did for a living, and I struggled with an answer, it made me think that I was not setting a good example for them. I needed to go back to work and started looking for what to do or what I could buy. Then, through a partner in MBAF, in fact, I found out that two dealerships in the Miami were for sale. I was able to finalize the acquisition on December 12, 2012, and have never regretted it a day since!
Q. What do you feel is your most significant accomplishment as an auto dealership/ auto industry professional?
A. I think our biggest accomplishment as an auto dealership is our ability to provide our customers with the best possible experience in our stores, and being recognized annually by our Brand partners for doing just that! I constantly remind our team that I want everyone to leave with a smile on their faces. I also believe it is a tremendous accomplishment to have developed an environment where our employees enjoy coming to work and feel as if they are part of the team, which is evidenced by our vast roster of tenured employees. In addition, we are pleased to have consistently increased our sales volume. We are also proud to represent our manufacturer partners well, and to deliver positive financial returns to our lending partners and to the ownership group.
Q. What are the greatest challenges facing auto dealers right now, and how is your company responding to those challenges?
A. The challenge is always to find great people, engage them in what we do, and make sure that every department operates effectively. Obviously, grosses are always a challenge, and as such we need to make sure that all of our people see themselves as stakeholders in our business, and do the jobs efficiently and effectively at every touchpoint with our clients, to ensure that nothing falls through the cracks.
Q. As we enter the New Year, what do you think 2017 holds for the industry in general, and your dealership specifically?
A. We are looking forward to a good 2017. In Miami, we have recently acquired some additional real estate to expand our Palmetto57 footprint and we are in the process of planning major improvements to our existing site. We will be reconfiguring the entire Palmetto57 campus to improve traffic flow, renovating and expanding our Volkswagen facility and building a brand-new Nissan facility, all in an effort to better serve our customers. In Albany, we will complete construction of our new Audi facility this spring and will be breaking ground on a new Toyota building by mid-year. As such, we look forward to being better able to serve our customers and to continue to increase our sales and return on investment.
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. I have been with MBAF since early 2012. Although I did not close on our first purchase until December of 2012, MBAF assisted me in identifying the opportunity and the due diligence leading up to the acquisition. They have continued to help in our evaluation and identification of new acquisition opportunities, and they perform our audit and tax work annually. Ed Blum and his entire support system at MBAF are very helpful throughout the year.
Q. Where would you like, or expect your dealership to be 5, 10 years from now?
A. I look to continue to grow the brands and locations that we currently have. We also will continue to look for other opportunities that may avail themselves, and expect MBAF to help us along the way, as they always have!