Owner, Bellingham Nissan, Cortes Auto Group
Last June, just weeks after U.S. auto factories gradually resumed production following global shutdowns triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, Xavier Cortes did something bold: He bought a franchised dealership.
"The opportunity arose in the middle of all the noise," said Cortes, who paid cash for the Nissan dealership in Bellingham, Wash. "I'm pretty confident of what I do, and I'm a risk taker as well."
Despite having to navigate COVID-19 health and safety protocols as well as state and federal rules and restrictions, he says the store has been a "huge blessing."
Before Cortes' ownership, Bellingham Nissan was averaging about 35 retail sales a month. Now, the store averages between 115 and 120 sales a month, he said.
To achieve those improvements, Cortes said he simply stuck to his formula of having a strong inventory, a team that can execute his strategy and a reputation that keeps customers coming back, while fine-tuning the approach to address each day's new challenges and COVID-19 protocols.
"I'm a fast learner and adjuster, but I had to get my whole staff to walk through the fire with me through those moments, and that wasn't easy," he said.
Cortes isn't new to the car business. In 2016, he bought his first dealership: Northwest Chevrolet of Bellingham, a store he manages alongside majority owner Tony Grover. The business partners also own Northwest Autohub, a used-vehicle dealership in Mount Vernon, Wash.
Northwest Chevrolet was averaging 30 to 40 vehicle sales a month and has grown to achieve about 200 a month, he said.
Cortes, who came to the U.S. from Puerto Rico, has more than a decade of experience working in auto retail, moving up through leadership roles such as sales manager and general manager.
As an owner, Cortes said he prefers to "manage with love," supporting his 121 employees across the three stores by helping them grow into different positions and income levels.
"The majority of the car business is managed under fear, and I'm just allergic to that," he said.
In the next five years, he hopes to acquire two or three more stores and provide the opportunity for some of his longtime employees to become minority owners and "get their own shot."
"I love the car business in general," Cortes said, "but having such a good team of people working under me allows me to sleep at night and be able to walk through town with my head up, feeling good."
— Audrey LaForest