In the 1990s, Arnaldo Bomnin was selling lobsters out of the back of a truck. Today, he's selling more Chevrolets than any other dealership in the U.S.
Bomnin, who fled Cuba after earning a medical degree and trading his dream of becoming a doctor for a career as a car dealer, got to No. 1 in the midst of a pandemic the same way he has approached everything in life: "You always need to be different to succeed," he said.
In early April, when many U.S. dealerships shut down to comply with government orders or voluntarily reduced hours, Bomnin, 49, told his employees that — other than implementing additional safety procedures — they would stay business as usual and spend more on advertising as competitors cut back.
"In the last two months, we have spent more money on TV ads than we have spent in the last 10 years," he told Automotive News. "I knew people would be at home. I knew that people would be watching TV."
Bomnin has three General Motors dealerships near Miami and one near Washington, D.C. His two biggest Miami stores, just 8 miles apart, rank first and third nationally in Chevy sales this year through May. Each has experienced less than a 10 percent decline year-to-date in a market forecast to be down at least double that.
If inventory wasn't strained because of GM's two-month production shutdown and he could count sales of loaner vehicles toward the stores' volume, they would rank first and second, Bomnin said.
In the second half of March, two of Bomnin's stores went from being on track for a record month to having their worst two weeks in the last decade. "The feeling was like a train impacting a concrete wall," he said.
Starting April 4, as the coronavirus continued to sweep through the country, Bomnin limited all of his showrooms to 10 employees and shortened their hours, with most staffers working every few days.
But he couldn't sleep that weekend because he felt he was "getting on the same train" as everyone else. So Bomnin asked his leadership team what they would want to tell future generations they did during the pandemic. Most wanted to be able to say they worked harder than ever to provide for their family, he recalled.