Hey Andrew! Thanks for agreeing to share some time with us today. How did you get into the automotive industry?
Well, you could say gasoline is in my blood! My grandfather, Sam DiFeo, kicked things off in Jersey City, New Jersey, back in 1948. He began by selling one used car, then reinvested to sell two, doubling up from there. By the late 40s or early 50s, he opened a Chrysler dealership, marking the start of our family's legacy in the car business.
As the business blossomed, my father, two uncles, and an aunt all joined the family dealership. Growing up, I was no stranger to any job there - from amusing the staff by cleaning the service department bathrooms to driving a parts truck with no windshield wipers, much to my mother's dismay.
Our grandfather was a community rockstar. He could've been mayor if he wanted – that's how loved he was. To him, family and employees were everything.
I graduated college and, humorously, came out with what we jestingly call a "PhD" – "Papa Has Dealership." But instead of jumping straight into the family trade, I ventured to California, working for Toyota Motor Corporation. Those five years with Toyota? Priceless. I learned from the best, surrounded by a brilliant team.
Though I cherished my time in California, when a door opened back in the family business in Florida, I decided to step through. I began with Mitsubishi, which was an excellent starting point. Later, I had the opportunity to open a Hyundai dealership in St. Augustine, Florida, in 2008. My brother, after making waves in North Carolina, joined the scene in Florida, helming our Volkswagen dealership.
Today, our family proudly manages about 15 stores across New Jersey, Connecticut, and Florida. Most are run by trusted family members or partners. Remembering my grandfather, who passed away just over a decade ago, he remained passionate about the business till his final days. His love for people, cars, and ensuring the business ran efficiently was unmatched. I owe so much to him, my dad, and my uncle.
Wow, that's an impressive story. I love that you grew up close to the business and still ended up working in it. Some kids see their parents' profession and vow to never work there.
Titles aside, what do you do, and how do you do it?
In essence, I see myself as the "head cheerleader" of the team. Together with my executive management team, we carve out a vision that we truly believe in. While I provide guidance and direction, I trust and have confidence in the team I've brought together. Whether they are new hires or those who've shifted from our other dealerships, I believe they understand and resonate with our vision. They know what's expected and I'm certain they'll achieve it. My role is to constantly boost their spirits and motivate them.
During the COVID period, the business sort of ran itself, given the strange market dynamics. I jokingly say that even my tuxedo cat, Frankie, could have managed the dealership as effectively as I did! While we did well as an industry, it was largely due to unusual market circumstances. Some dealers, of course, outdid themselves with initiatives like remote transactions and services.
Currently, the challenges are mounting with rising interest rates and vehicle affordability, an issue that's exacerbated post-COVID. We need to go back to the fundamentals of offering an honest, transparent experience to our customers. Even though consumers are acclimatizing to high prices, we should focus on selling experiences rather than just cars, interest rates, or incentives. It's about making the customers feel they're making a choice to buy from us, rather than being sold something.
In your experience, in the lives of your team, or in your community, how have you seen that this industry is indeed about more than cars?
Well, beyond the daily operations and selling cars, the automotive industry has deeply influenced our local community. When I served as the chairman of the Hyundai National Dealer Council, I got an intimate view of the impact. Throughout my tenure, I've interacted with people from different age groups and backgrounds. Our industry needs to cater to a wide audience, from young first-time buyers to immigrants getting their first car in a new country, to senior citizens.
Having a diverse workforce is crucial as it allows us to serve this varied customer base effectively. Initiatives from various organizations highlight the industry's broader role in society, emphasizing that mobility is more than just a commodity—it’s an essential part of life. While the prospect of automated vehicles looms on the horizon, the human touch in our industry will remain invaluable for the foreseeable future.
Community involvement is another significant aspect. Many new manufacturers offer great products, but they may not be as involved in local community efforts. For us, it's not about the mere act of selling but giving back to the community. While there are numerous charities out there, I have a particular affinity for local ones, where we can see the direct impact. From supporting animal rescues and shelters to addressing mental health issues among the youth, our involvement is extensive. One notable initiative is "Brave", a program by our local hospital system focusing on the mental well-being of young people, aimed at de-stigmatizing seeking mental health assistance.
Growing up in today's digital age brings challenges, with issues like cyberbullying becoming more prevalent. Efforts like Brave are crucial in addressing these challenges, providing support, and fostering a sense of community.
This industry isn't just about numbers or transactions. Brands like Hyundai and Subaru have demonstrated their commitment to societal causes, donating millions towards curing childhood cancer or championing pet adoption. These initiatives underline the industry's broader purpose, showing that it's not just about the transaction but about building and nurturing communities. The automotive world is about more than cars; it's about people, connections, and making a difference.