how A Franchise Background Led To Success For This Independent Dealer

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When Tony Harb started working with his dad after completing high school, he had no idea it was going to lead to a lifelong career, “I started in the automotive industry when I was 18 years old, right out of high school. I didn’t have any plans at the time, but since my father was already working at a dealership, that’s how I got started which turned into a lifelong venture for me.”

Harb found that he enjoyed the industry and started to slowly work his way up the ranks. “I started working on the franchise side as a salesperson, then as a sales and general manager at different dealerships. A few years later, a friend of mine from high school called me up and said he knew about a dealership available for sale which piqued my interest because if I bought it, I would be able to both run and own a dealership. So, in early 2017 I opened Just Better Cars in Rosedale, CA and along with my 15 employees, we’ve slowly been able to grow the dealership. We currently average about 80 vehicles in our inventory each month.”

Even though he didn’t have any previous experience with a floor plan, Harb knew he wanted to use one from the start. “The main reason I wanted to get a floor plan was to make sure I had the capital I needed to be flexible. I chose NextGear Capital because the previous owner of the dealership I purchased already had a relationship with them and they offered me some good term plans, so it was an easy decision. When you’re running a dealership, especially one as large as ours, there are a lot of moving parts, so I wanted to work with a company that was going to make the process easy. Sometimes, I need to make quick adjustments to my inventory based on things like seasonality, market changes and now COVID, and my floor plan provides me with the functionality and support I need.”

Harb says that he’s also been impressed with how simple it’s been to manage his floor plan. “NextGear Capital has created an easy platform that’s simple to manage. If you understand the concept of money management, asset deprecation and how a floor plan plays into that, you won’t have any headaches or heavy lifting. The ability to delegate certain functions out of Account Portal has been a win for us too, because I have people in my office manage it. They’re the ones who keep the ball rolling and they’ve had absolutely no issues. It’s not something I have to worry about keeping my eyes on.”

Like a lot of other independent dealerships, Just Better Cars is surrounded by competitors on the same street, but Harb says that he’s found a way to set himself apart. “We work hard to provide our customers with a really good product that stands out over other independent dealers. They come to us because of our reputation and they say that our cars are always in excellent shape. We run our independent dealership like a franchise dealership in the sense that we have salespeople who answer leads, and managers that help them follow up on them. It is a complex system of making sure that our leads get handled, and we follow-up and form relationships. We know that the market is probably going to be very different in five years and one of our goals is focused on slowly growing our dealership so that we can still be a viable player and own more market share in the future.”

Harb says one of the biggest challenges he’s faced as an independent dealer is finding the right inventory. “I think buying inventory for dealers is a lot like fishing. When you go to the pond and everyone is standing there with their pole in the water, you have to be flexible and find another pond. We widen our search by looking for inventory at different auctions so we’re not in competition with the same dealerships. That’s why I’ve always done a lot of buying online. I’ve learned to rely on the condition reports that are provided by the online auctions and I trust the grade system because I know the vehicles have been inspected before getting a green light. I know some other dealers are struggling with buying digitally but I think it’s the way we’ll be buying cars in the future.”

While just like other dealerships, the pandemic caused Harb to make some changes, but he wasn’t as heavily impacted as other dealers. “We haven’t been effected as much by COVID restrictions like dealerships in other parts of the country have, so we still have quite a bit of our customers who want to come into the dealership. However, we still try to make it a quick and easy process when they come in. We’re also fortunate because we have a large showroom since our building used to be an old BMW dealership in the 70’s, which allows us to practice social distancing easily. We’ve put a lot of protocols and procedures in place, and I think our customers feel safe because of that. The main challenge we faced was a lack of inventory just like everyone else, but that’s when we leaned into online buying and just went wherever the cars and pricing made the most sense.”

Harb is also involved in his community through EveryONE Matter Ministry. “They’re a faith-based group who help single mothers and families who are homeless or are facing a homeless situation. We help by donating cars to the organization on a quarterly basis so those people can secure long-term housing. The car is a critical component, and they have an 87 percent success rate of people who graduate from their program and are able to get back on their feet again and move on to bigger things. We feel lucky to play a part in supporting this organization.”

Now Senior Vice President of the Independent Automobile Dealers Association in California, when asked if he had any advice to other dealers who’re just getting started, Harb said it’s really very simple. “My advice would be to make sure you understand how cash flow works at your dealership. If you don’t, and aren’t able to manage, it could be your worst enemy. However, if you understand cash flow and take on a floor plan, it gives you a great opportunity to grow your footprint. It gives you the flexibility to make sure you have the capital you need to set yourself up for success. I feel confident using NextGear Capital as my floor plan provider. They make the process easy and there are no surprises.”