For this installment of Dealerships in Depth, we spoke with Victor Benitez, Vice-President and General Manager of Gus Machado Ford.

Victor is enjoying over 40 years in the auto industry. He has been Vice-President and General Manager of Gus Machado Ford since 1988. Under Victors Guidance, Gus Machado Ford has been recognized for seven years straight as one of the Top 100 Ford dealers in the nation.

Q. What do you think is your greatest strength as an auto dealer?

A. At Gus Machado Ford, what really sets us apart is that we are still a family owned operation, and we treat our employees and customers like family. In today’s environment the most important thing is, you have to earn the respect of the customer. We have been able to do that, not only from year to year, but from generation to generation. We are now serving the grandchildren of people who bought their first cars from Gus! Customer loyalty is very important. We are in a very competitive space, with some really big dealerships around us, such as AutoNation, and what lets us compete with the “big dogs” out there, is our very loyal customer base.

Q. What do you feel is your most significant accomplishment as an auto dealership/ auto industry professional?

A. We’re proud to have been chosen among the Top 100 Ford Dealers in the Nation for seven years running. Beyond that, we have also been recipients of the President’s award for two years. But our greatest rewards do not come from the recognition we get from the industry, it is the great feeling we get from giving back to our local community.

I don’t think there is a dealer in town that is more proactive in giving back to the community than Gus Machado. We are very involved in several charitable organizations. One of the most important of which is the American Cancer Society. Together with the South Florida Ford Dealers, we have donated over half-million dollars to the American Cancer Society. In addition, we do the “Back to School” every year where we give thousands of dollars to students to be able to go to school, and most recently Gus announced his donation of five million dollars to St. Thomas University, to create what will become the Gus Machado School for Business.

Q. What are the greatest challenges facing auto dealers right now, and how is your company responding to those challenges?

A. In my 45 years in the business, we have seen a lot of up times and a lot of down times. I can go through all of the different crisis I have been through, especially the meltdown in 2007 when I told everyone that basically the world stopped. However, with all of that being said, I think our biggest challenge today is digital. Our biggest challenge is gaining customers through the digital channels. The brick and mortar car dealer is always going to be necessary as a distribution point for vehicles, but we need to realize how to connect with customers in an increasingly digital world and digital sales channel.

The cornerstone for success of any car dealer is customer retention. If you can manage to retain a good percentage of your customers, you will be in business for life. The dealer that thinks it’s about selling one car to one customer, for as much money as you can, and then wait for the next buyer to come along, is not going to be in business for very long. Today, we do more for customers than we have ever done before. That means providing the customer with everything they need, even when they don’t have it coming. You know we spend a fair amount of money every month, covering things the warranty doesn’t cover, but it is worth it in terms of building customer loyalty. We try to always have loaners available for every customer who comes in, and we give you a car wash every time you bring your car in for service. The product is the same, we all sell the same cars. It is what you do beyond the sale of the car that keeps you in business for generations!

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 had a great relationship with MBAF for at least as long as I have been here since 1988, and I know that Gus and Tony Argiz go back longer than that. We have a great relationship, especially with Tony, who is like a brother to me. MBAF is the accounting firm we trust. They have been very helpful to us through every audit process, through consulting, through professional advice and recommendations to make sure we do what is best for our business.

Q. Where would you like, or expect your dealership to be 5, 10 years from now?

A.I have been working on this project which I call “Gus Machado Automotive Group.” We want to become known as “GMAG,” rather than GMAC, we all know who GMAC is!

The way that I see us grow our business is to become a Hispanic group, with the intention of growing the Hispanic auto buying business, not only across South Florida, but throughout the United States. Hispanics have a very different cultural relationship with automobiles than the general public, and they have to be approached in a special way. Family is very important to them. Having that family oriented feeling at every touchpoint of our dealership, is largely what has led to our success among the Hispanic car buyers in Miami. Now if we could take that model via the formation of the “Gus Machado Auto Group” to other parts of the US with large Hispanic populations, that will make us very successful over the next 10 years.