Printed in Automotive News Jan. 3, 2011
On a typical morning at Rick DeSilva's former Subaru dealership in northern New Jersey, cars would back up along the busy arterial road in front of his store while waiting to turn into the tiny lot.
The property, a stone's throw from the George Washington Bridge connecting New Jersey to Manhattan, was envisioned as a used-car lot when DeSilva bought it in 1977. He shoehorned a one-car showroom onto the half-acre lot, where customers jockeyed to claim a spot in one of the five service bays.
In May, that stress melted away when DeSilva moved his store, Liberty Subaru, less than two miles down the road to a 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 said. "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.
"It was a monumental struggle for Rick to keep that kind of volume going on that tiny footprint," said Don Hicks, a friend and president of Shortline Automotive Inc. in Denver, which sells Subaru, Hyundai, Kia, Suzuki and Porsche vehicles.
Some of his solutions have survived in the new location, although with a twist. For example, now DeSilva's "trailer guy," Kaleo Harrison, whose job used to be hauling vehicles back and forth between storage lots and the main site, uses a flatbed truck 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.
Liberty Subaru Quick Service Center had three bays for oil and filter changes, tire rotations and the occasional brake job. It was a relief valve to free space at the main store for bigger jobs.
Said Hicks: "His solutions weren't always the most efficient, but they kept him in business."