In May, that stress melted away when DeSilva moved his store, Liberty Subaru, less than two miles down the road to a gleaming, former Lincoln-Mercury store. It's five times bigger than the old one.
Yet DeSilva's three-decade experience juggling a hodgepodge of seven small properties taught him how to do more with less. Managing the headaches created by the space constraints -- he began extended service hours and off-site quick lubes more than a decade ago -- has ingrained a customer-service ethos that's carried over to his new store.
"With the place being so small, they're truly going out of their way to come to you to get their car serviced," he says. "We became very close with our customers."
Another key to making it work: the longevity of his managers. DeSilva's sales, service and parts managers have worked for him for more than 30 years.
His old store, in Oradell, N.J., held about 60 new vehicles. Another 100 or so were scattered across three skimpy storage facilities in surrounding towns. The used-car lot was four miles away.
A white magnet board in the showroom allowed sales staff to track inventory. Each vehicle was assigned a magnet, color coded by year and grouped by location.
"If you wanted a blue Outback, we'd walk over to the board," DeSilva recalls. "OK, that car's in Hackensack."
The salesperson would pinpoint the car and dispatch DeSilva's "trailer guy," Kaleo Harrison, whose job was to haul vehicles back and forth between the storage lots and the main site on a flatbed truck.
"It was a monumental struggle for Rick to keep that kind of volume going on that tiny footprint," says Don Hicks, a friend and president of Shortline Automotive Inc. in Denver, which sells Subaru, Hyundai, Kia, Suzuki and Porsche vehicles. Hicks has been to DeSilva's store many times and has served alongside him on the board of the American International Automobile Dealers Association, where DeSilva is now chairman.
"His solutions weren't always the most efficient, but they kept him in business," Hicks says.
Some of those solutions have survived in the new location, although with a twist. For example, now Harrison uses the flatbed to deliver new vehicles to Internet customers.
Service capacity always was a major problem. In the mid-1990s, DeSilva extended service hours to open more slots for customers. He kept his technicians on duty until 8 p.m. on Tuesdays and was open Saturday mornings.
Still, the limited space made it tough to offer appointments for oil changes and other routine maintenance at the expense of bigger, more profitable jobs. So in 2000, DeSilva bought a shuttered gas station a quarter-mile away and converted it into a quick lube.