If it worked for Volkswagen, it probably would work for Toyota, too.
That was the conclusion of auto retailer Jim Moran in 1969 when he started to create a Toyota dealer network in the Southeast.
Moran, one of the country's best-known auto dealers, had retired to southern Florida, thinking he was about to die of cancer. He not only beat the cancer but also managed to get his hands on the exclusive rights to distribute a fairly new Japanese import brand — called Toyota — in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina and South Carolina.
But being a distributor meant Moran had to get dealerships up and running.
The biggest import brand of the day was Volkswagen. VW had turned America's craze for its bug-shaped Beetle in the 1960s into a bona fide car brand. Small towns across the country that knew nothing about automakers other than those in Detroit had mechanics who worked on Beetles.
If there were enough customers there to support one import brand, Moran reasoned, there were enough to support two of them.
Better still, recalls Al Hendrickson Sr., one of his managers from the 1970s, who could argue with VW's success?
"He figured that Volkswagen had already done all the research," says Hendrickson, who now runs a Toyota dealership with his son in Coconut Creek, Fla.
Moran obtained a list of every VW dealership in his five-state territory. He put a large map up on the wall of his small office and inserted a blue pushpin into every VW store location. Each pin would become a Toyota store site, Hendrickson says.
The plan worked. Moran has died, but his Southeast Toyota Distributors Inc. now wholesales Toyotas to 169 stores in five states — many of them in Moran's original blue pushpin location.
— Lindsay Chappell