Amid a revolutionary change in the automobile industry, the father-and-son team of Lombardo Perez, Sr. and Jr. are behind the wheel of one of Miami's most successful dealerships.
Lombardo Perez, Sr. opened Metro Ford in Miami more than 25 years ago and he quickly turned the company profitable, growing the showroom into a dazzling, multimillion-dollar, 9,000-square-foot facility featuring Ford's hottest brands.
But in recent years, times have been bumpy. The automobile industry is undergoing a seismic shift.
"By far, there's nothing that can compare to what we have seen in the last 18-24 months," said Mr. Perez, Sr., reflecting on his years as a dealership owner. "Nothing." Still, the company is showing signs of recovery and a willingness to change its strategy and business model.
From Detroit to local dealerships, manufacturers and sales dealerships are reinventing business models and 2010 presents both challenges and opportunities.
Along with a near credit freeze and economic slowdown, the market is experiencing movement toward more fuel-efficient cars and factors that are dramatically altering the landscape of the industry.
The elder Perez runs the company along with his son, who handles most of the day-to-day operations. With possibly the worst year behind them, the enthusiastic father-and-son team is focused on the new year and the feasible recovery of the automobile market.
They are hopeful that vehicles popular among Hispanic buyers, such as the Ford F150, the Ford Focus and the Escape, continue to sell well in 2010. As gas prices go up, Hispanics are increasingly interested in more fuel-efficient cars, such as the Ford Fusion, Perez, Sr. said.
"The interest goes up when the price of gasoline goes up," he said. "You notice an immediate flow of traffic from people wanting smaller cars and smaller engines."
Hybrids are increasingly popular among the newest products being rolled out for consumers. As people get more educated about fuel-efficiency, the attraction to hybrids is growing.
Mr. Perez, Sr. said that Hispanic consumers in particular are turning toward hybrids for one of their family cars.
"Hispanics, because they normally have larger families, are concerned about the gas prices. Sometimes they have two or three cars. We have seen in the past few years a little bit of movement from high-priced SUVs and trucks to smaller SUVs and vehicles like the Ford Flex."
With 97 employees and more than $51 million in revenues in 2008, Metro Ford has emerged as one of Florida's top dealerships. Last year the company purchased Lincoln Mercury in Miami, a sign of its growing influence in Miami-Dade County.
The company has about 220 new vehicles available for sale on any given day, and another 130 used cars in its showrooms.
Metro Ford's most popular vehicle is the F-150, a full-size pickup truck.
"It is the No. 1 vehicle we sell and it is still the best-selling vehicle in the nation," Perez Sr. said.
There's another car the dealership is excited to talk about: The fresh-off-the-assembly-line Lincoln MKT. The luxury four-door crossover utility vehicle (CUV) retails at a starting price of about $44,200.
"It seems like it is going to be a hit," Perez remarked. "We got the first ones last week. It is a brand new model that has a very good potential in this market."
Like many of the dealerships interviewed by HispanicBusiness Magazine, Perez Sr. said the two biggest mysteries of 2010 when it comes to selling new cars will be whether there's a return in consumer confidence and if there's some thawing of the credit markets.
"We are going to see a very depressed market and a very difficult situation in front of us unless credit loosens up and unless things get back to normal in the banking industry," he said.
Around Miami, Perez Sr. has watched many friends and competitors close their doors because of the recessed economy.
"It has been a big struggle and I am very sorry to see a lot of good dealers, my colleagues and competitors, close down," he said. "Some of them have been shut down by the factories. It's a really sad situation that I hope will change soon."
One positive sign on the horizon is Ford itself. Perez Sr. said that Ford has made a stronger effort to market vehicles by increasing local advertising, in a greater push to launch product into new markets. With car sales on the decline, Ford has increased marketing of lease options, an option historically popular among consumers on a budget.
In 2010, the Perez family expects to continue its tradition of success. Its winning formula is to remember the most important parts of doing business.
"Customers are always No. 1, but so are the employees," the elder Perez said said. "Both are identical and important ingredients to the success of any business, and the car business is no exception."
His son said an optimistic attitude goes a long way.
"We have to be positive, otherwise just don't get out of bed in the morning," Lombardo Perez, Jr. said. "It's hard work, but you just have to make it happen."
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