Joe Street knew he would have to be a little hard-hearted when he set out to fix his underperforming Toyota dealership in Amarillo, Texas, eight years ago. He had to change the culture at a store that was full of friendly, easygoing, longtime employees who simply weren't cutting it.
Fixing that kind of problem is tough duty, but Street did it -- coming up with what he calls his "heart of a servant" philosophy; introducing a concierge service that produced a surge in sales volume, margins and customer satisfaction; and replacing most of his employees over three years.
Street Toyota has been the brand's outpost in the northern Texas panhandle since Street opened it in 1982. On the high plains -- so flat you can see your dog run away for two days, local lore has it -- his sales territory stretches south toward Lubbock 120 miles, west into New Mexico, and north through the Oklahoma panhandle into bits of Kansas and Colorado.
But in Amarillo, a crossroads city of 183,000 people along Interstate 40, automotive competition is fierce. Street counts 18 local new- and used-vehicle competitors.
Back in 2003, Street Toyota, with its 37 employees, had lost its edge. It wasn't benefiting from new Toyota models that were intended to make the brand more competitive in north Texas -- vehicles such as the Tundra pickup and the Highlander and 4Runner SUVs.
In 20 years, Street Toyota never sold more than 650 new vehicles a year, and by 2002, the dealership's market share in its sales area was less than two-thirds of Toyota's national share.
"It was disappointing," said Street, now 62. "We dealers all tend to feel we're doing better than we really are."