April Ancira prepares to follow in her dad's footsteps
Photo credit: BRADFORD WERNLE
Family comes first at Ancira Enterprises in San Antonio.
Ernesto Ancira Jr. (pronounced an-SEE-rah), who grew up in Mexico City, bought into his first dealership in 1972 as a minority applicant. He built his company into the nation's 82nd-largest dealership group, with sales of $461 million in 2010 on retail sales of 6,607 new units. Now Ernesto, 67, is grooming his daughter April, 30, to take the reins. Father and daughter met with Staff Reporter Bradford Wernle.
Q: How did you get started as a dealer?
A: Ernesto: There was an old dealership in downtown San Antonio. The owner had passed away. They were putting some pressure on General Motors to pick a Hispanic person for that dealership, so I applied for it. I was like number 85 on the list of applicants.
I did a couple of things that I think put me up ahead of everybody else. I asked the guy who had been the general manager for about 11 years if he would be my partner. So that took care of whatever objections they might have had about the expertise I might have been missing.
The estate was being contested by five or six parties, so I got all the attorneys together and worked out a buy-sell agreement with them. I took the risk. I paid all the legal fees. I had sold my house. I sold my car, gave up my job. I said, "Here we go."
Are you profitable in all nine of your stores?
Ernesto: Last year was our most profitable year ever since we started. A lot of it is a result of what most dealers have done. We've combined Chrysler-Jeep with Dodge stores. We went down from 800 employees to 600 or less around 2008-09.
Was it tough?
Ernesto: In the 39 years I've been a car dealer, the toughest thing I've ever had to do was let people go. You can always rationalize it and say you've got to think of the whole instead of the part. But it's still something that keeps you from sleeping at night.
How do you keep good employees?
Ernesto: Communications is key. Most of the time when you interview somebody that's leaving, it's because no one approached them or gave them an opportunity to share their experience, their ideas, their objectives, their growth plans so that maybe you can tailor a program that gives everybody an opportunity for growth. As we acquire more stores, we're able to provide more opportunities. All our general managers have virtually come through the ranks.
Your dealerships survived the Chrysler and GM bankruptcies. How do you feel about those companies now?
Ernesto: There's no question that the restructuring they went through had to happen. They were not competitive worldwide. They had gotten stale in their creativeness. They weren't developing the products that needed to be developed.
Have you ever seen so much pressure from the manufacturers to improve facilities?
Ernesto: No. Truthfully, the last two or three years have been the most aggressive the manufacturers have ever been. They've taken away any creative initiative the dealer might have in terms of how to design and how to build. They're pretty well telling you specifications down to the type and color of the tile, to the color of the grouting on the tile. A lot of the things they're suggesting are being developed by architectural firms that we as dealers don't think have the background or the experience to build this. Like white countertops in the parts department. Why would you have white countertops? Those things are really going to look bad. Can you imagine driving cars over white grout? Your facility is going to look very, very dirty.
How do you make money from new-car sales?
April: Our stores focus on dealer cash or hitting their objective number from the factory. I've got one manager who, every time he sells a car, he puts the floorplan credits into the bank as what he made. He doesn't make any other profit. That's the way you look at new-car profit now. You no longer look at it as the difference between your sale and the cost of the vehicle.
You emphasize family in your commercials.
April: All of our commercials are family oriented since the day my dad started the dealership. He was in the commercials himself. Now he essentially does the Chevy store. Myself and my son do the Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge store. My mom does the Nissan store. My husband does the Kia store. So when folks also see us on Facebook, it's a tie-in to the people.
Photo credit: BRADFORD WERNLE
Your 13-month-old son is in your commercials? What's his name?
Ernesto: He's the rock star. I can't go anywhere without somebody talking about him.
April: I did the commercial when I was nine months pregnant. And then I did the commercial with Gunnar when he was two months old.
Ernesto: It's kind of like a reality TV show.
How many kids do you have?
Ernesto: I had five daughters, but I lost one. She got cancer. She was 25 years old. It certainly changed my perspective on life. All the money and power, nothing helped when it came to that. If there's anything positive, it made me realize I'd better maximize my life with my surviving daughters.
How many daughters are involved in the business?
Ernesto: Just April.
When did you realize April might have a knack for the business?
Ernesto: Truthfully, I didn't think that she was the one that was going to end up there. She was really a very introverted person, very shy. But early on she wanted to come work in all the different departments. She worked in parts, she worked in service, she did clerical work. She got more and more into it. Then she actually went to work for Chili's as a waitress because we wouldn't pay her enough.
April: He was paying me minimum wage! I cleared more on a Friday night at Chili's than in a week for you!
Ernesto (laughs): We're airing it all out now! That worked out well because Chili's was a fantastic experience. Everything that you do in life is really human relations and communications. You're exposed to so many different types of personalities -- some angry, some happy. She had to deal with them all and she got a real good feel for dealing with people. It made her more outgoing.
So it wasn't like you were 10 years old and said, "I want to be in the car business?"
April: I went to Trinity University and majored in marketing and finance.
Ernesto: I did push my daughters to get into business. If you're going to be a doctor, if you're going to be a painter, whatever, you need a business background.
April: He told me I couldn't just major in marketing, I had to also pick finance or accounting. So I picked finance. I ended up in this student-managed fund which managed half a million dollars from the Trinity endowment.
What made you fall in love with the car business?
April: It wasn't until I sold my first car. I got a high.
What did you like most about the business?
April: I would get some people who had come in and they would already be upset about their car-buying experience. They were hesitant. They were ready to be taken in, lied to, abused. To take that person and change their entire perspective was a high.
How long was it before you knew you could hand the business off to April?
Ernesto: Once I saw her getting in the different activities, even when she was in the university, I knew she had the ability to do it. She learned to get away from that introverted person that she was, that self confidence she lacked, because she learned to accept herself for who she is. She almost has a self deprecating manner about her. Where she falls short, she actually laughs about it.
So April has become the outward face of the dealership?
Ernesto: She and her son.
Is that your succession plan, to hand off to your daughter?
Ernesto: The sooner the better.
April (laughs): Whatever. He's never going to retire!
You can reach Bradford Wernle at email@example.com.