Lomberto L. Perez's creative use of computer technology and the Internet dramatically turned around a failing South Florida dealership.
That's earned Perez and his Autocity Buick-Pontiac-GMC in Homestead a coveted Dealer Innovation Award from the National Automobile Dealers Association. The award goes to franchised car dealers who've improved their businesses through technology.
Autocity had been through two owners in nine years and sustained devastating losses before Perez took over the franchise in 1999.
Under his leadership, the store has gone from losing hundreds of thousands of dollars to being in the black by the end of 2001. That transformation also earned Perez an "Award of Excellence" from GM's investment arm, Motors Holding Division, for "a significant turnaround in sales effectiveness."
Autocity's success story is Perez's second in only seven years. A 1995 graduate of General Motors' Minority Dealer Development Program, he began his career as a dealer in 1996 at the helm of another troubled GM franchise in Pomona, CA.
In three years there, Perez also turned that business around by becoming one of the first auto dealers in the state to embrace Internet sales.
"In today's environment, it is virtually impossible to survive in marketing without the Internet, which allows us to answer leads within 15 minutes, seven days a week," Perez says. "Forty percent of all our sales are a direct result of the Web. Through it, we receive about 250 prospects monthly, of which 20 to 25 result in new-vehicle sales."
Yet when Perez took over the failing Homestead dealership three years ago, computer literacy and use there were virtually non-existent.
The previous ownership had installed a Dealer Management System (DMS), but it was being used at less than 10% of its potential. The franchise's Customer Satisfaction Index was the lowest of all area Buick-Pontiac-GMC dealerships.
The result was evident in the bottom line: New vehicle sales averaged a mere 30 per month, used vehicle sales, 17.
After re-naming the dealership, one of the first things Perez did was to launch a first-rate, user-friendly web site, www.auto-citygm.com. It quickly became a money-making machine.
By promoting the site through every conceivable media, from the traditional to the unorthodox, and instituting a company-wide computer literacy campaign, by October 2001 the franchise's sales CSI score was at 81%, ranking second among all Miami-area dealers of the same kind.
Perez also infused the entire sales and service team with a hunger for knowledge and a commitment to computer technology, spanning the entire gamut of the business, from showroom control to inventory control to parts inventory, service control, F&I, accounting and payroll.
He switched the store's DMS from the old, less efficient and under-used system to state-of-the-art. He set up separate log-ons for managers to access services and track customers' service warranty and maintenance.
He also invested in several PCs, two laptops and three Palm pilots for his management staff, and then connected them to DSL.
He established a unique database management system for sending customers monthly reminders to service their vehicles, which included scan-able coupons for them to provide direct feedback on the quality of their service.
He put daughter Tammy Perez Abreu in charge of all Internet Sales.
The rest, as they say, is history. Autocity's new-vehicle sales are up 72%, used-vehicle sales, 95%. New-vehicle net sales rose by 53%. New-vehicle gross profit rose 108%. Total dealership sales rose 45%, from $19.3 million to $28 million. Total dealership gross profit doubled from $1.5 million to $3 million.
The Cuban-born Perez attributes his seemingly natural knack for turning bad situations into successes to having been a "Peter Pan" child.
That's the term commonly used to describe thousands of exiled children who arrived alone from Communist-ruled Cuba during the early 1960's as part of a Catholic Church-sponsored refugee program titled, "Operation Peter Pan."
At age 14, Perez deplaned at Miami International Airport, with two siblings in tow. Four years passed before he was reunited with his parents. By then, he was a young adult marked by inordinate hardship at the hands of oftentimes insensitive foster caretakers in various parts of the country.
Rather than make him bitter, those bad years helped prove to Perez early on that he could do anything he set his mind to. Perez's life from then on, and Autocity's extraordinary turnaround in record time are examples of that.
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