At James Toyota in Moscow, Idaho, success has several facets.
First, says owner Jim Hill, 61, it takes a reliable product that sells itself.
'Toyota offers that,' he says. 'It's always ranked really high on Consumer Reports' lists.'
Hill says it was Toyota's reputation that lured him into business as a single-line, single-store dealer in this small college town a decade ago. A former marketing representative for General Motors, he also ran an Oldsmobile and GMC dealership in Napa, Idaho, for 13 years.
For the past 10 years, Hill says he has reaped the rewards of a successful business thanks to a good product, a supportive relationship with the factory, technology and business sense that includes the ability to be flexible.
He says the Internet has been responsible for an increase in business from the neighboring states of Oregon and Washington.
He is certain that as more people discover online shopping, small-town dealerships such as his will be able to compete with larger dealerships merely by offering 'reliability, dependability and competitive prices.'
'With the college atmosphere here, the Internet is a big source,' he says. 'For us, it means being able to compete with the large markets, especially Spokane and Portland.'
For most of James Toyota's customers - mainly students from nearby Washington State University and the University of Idaho - dependability, not price, is the prime lure, Hill says. Knowing the vehicle they purchase has good value retention doesn't hurt, he adds.
But after 35 years in the auto industry, he knows that it takes a lot more than a good car to make people want to buy from him.
He knows his salespeople are dealing with consumers who are smart, savvy and passionate about getting what they want without compromise, so he makes sure they are prepared.
That means salespeople must be very knowledgeable about their product as well as being fair and honest.
Kudos all around
'I think the first thing we want to do is keep our people educated on technology,' he says. That includes having the answers to customers' questions about everything from telematics to voice recognition to the latest and loudest sound systems.
Hill has received the Toyota President's Award nine of the last 10 years. He feels that that says a lot about the kind of business he runs. 'Being in a small town, we think people really pay attention to these things,' he says.
Hill also is proud of the service department, and believes that it plays a big role in getting repeat business.
'We received the highest customer satisfaction rating in our region,' he says. 'And we've won the Service Excellence Award eight years in a row.'
He thinks the future is very bright for James Toyota as a single-line, single-store dealership.
The company's business has grown 8 percent to 10 percent a year for the past five years, and Hill says he expects similar numbers in the future. He is working on an expansion plan that he hopes will make those numbers grow even more.
Of course, he added, one of the key factors to succeeding in this business is paying attention to changes in the market as well as changes in the economy.
'To be successful, you have to be flexible,' he says. Even when that means downsizing during tough times.
Hill has no desire to merge or add franchises, but he does want to find a bigger lot to display more new and used vehicles. His present challenge is finding an adequately priced piece of land in the same vicinity.
Thanks to his son and general manager, Jeff Hill, who shares his philosophy that a single-line dealership is the way to go, he expects James Toyota to be around for many years.
'My son will succeed me,' he says, adding that his 3-year-old granddaughter may find selling Toyotas in her destiny as well. 'I just hope we will continue to run as a family business.'