Harshal Patel, 34
General manager, Prestige Toyota of Ramsey
When he was just out of high school at age 17, Harshal Patel's life was laid out before him: He was heading to college as a pre-med student, he had a plan and he had just gotten a pretty good gig selling Hondas at a dealership in Paramas, N.J.
"I wanted to go into medicine — Paramas Honda was just a job," recalled Patel.
After the last 18 months — with a pandemic that wreaked havoc on both his intended field and the one he eventually chose, and those two industries' respective recoveries — "I definitely think I made the right choice by going into the car business."
Patel started his sales career in 2004 and can still recall the first vehicle he sold, a Honda Pilot in Dark Cherry Pearl.
Seven years later, as his sales acumen continued to grow and after a conversation with his mentor, Brian Lamb, that convinced him he was in the right career, he became a manager.
Finally, in January 2020, he got the chance to take over his own store for Lithia Motors, as general manager of Prestige Toyota of Ramsey in New Jersey, "just in time for COVID."
The pandemic — and the operations restrictions imposed by state authorities to combat the spread of the coronavirus, forced Patel and his team to improvise to keep the business moving.
"The state said you couldn't sell from your showroom, but you could still sell from your service lane. The problem was that, at the time, our service facility was in another building nearly two miles away," Patel explained. "We just had to improvise, I guess, so we set up a sales office in the service drive, with four or five salespeople, and we got through it by sheer teamwork."
As keeping inventory on hand became a growing issue, Patel said he altered the store's traditional 2:1 stock mix between new and used to a 1:1 strategy, and refocused his sales force to ensure a steady supply of used vehicles while they sold deeper into their new-vehicle supply pipeline. It has worked, he said, leading the store to post its first-ever million-dollar profit month in May.
"At any given point, we have 50 or 60 cars in transit, and now 90 percent of them are coming in pre-sold, with a name on them already," Patel said.
— Larry P. Vellequette