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Bev Smith VP Frank Gonzalez embraces role of being the face of Toyota and Kia stores
Spend a few minutes with Frank Gonzalez inside the music-infused upbeat Bev Smith Toyota showroom on South U.S. 1 in Fort Pierce and you’ll soon be introduced to the “Bev Smith Difference.’’
“We try hard. We try to keep everyone motivated,’’ said Gonzalez, vice president of the Bev Smith Automotive Group. “We want to create a good atmosphere out there.’’
It’s been like that for more than 25 years.
Nick Smith, who helped his father, Bev, make Bev Smith Ford of West Palm Beach one of the top Ford dealerships in the country, bought Fort Pierce Toyota in 1992. Three years later, he broke ground on a new dealership.
Gonzalez, who “got hooked’’ on the business in the mid-1980s when he sold three vehicles his first day on the sales floor at Seminole Toyota in Tallahassee, was hired by Smith as general manager in 1997; he became a partner in the company in 2001. They opened Bev Smith Kia in 2006 on South U.S. 1 in White City.
Gonzalez, a 1980 letterman with the 34-time national champion Oklahoma State wrestling program, is literally the face of the automotive group’s marketing. He embraces the role of pitchman in commercials and print advertising.
“I’m representing this organization,’’ Gonzalez said. “I’ve been with Nick Smith for 25 years. He is a solid, solid individual — only knows how to do things the right way. Only knows how to treat the customer the right way. He’s really helped me, to groom me.’’
It’s a solid relationship, Gonzalez said.
“It’s been a wonderful partnership,’’ Gonzalez said. “You know, a lot of partnerships don’t work. But ours is special. And together, that name means a lot. That reputation means a lot.
“When I walk out in the showroom and customers recognize me, they come up to me and I want them to come up to me,’’ Gonzalez said. “And it’s important that my face is out there because if I am seen out there and there’s a problem, they’re going to come talk to me. I want to know.’’
Gonzalez is a firm believer in accountability and a commitment to excellence by his team in delivering a positive experience for customers.
“We have managers who have to talk to the customers before they leave,’’ said Gonzalez, a native of Kingsville, Texas. “It’s accountability. We hold people accountable. And then we look at the numbers. Did we succeed or did we fail? Numbers don’t lie. That’s how we do it.
“And then we want to be No. 1; we don’t accept anything else,’’ Gonzalez stressed. “And, we just go.’’
It’s the “Bev Smith Difference.’’
TWO HIGHLY RELIABLE BRANDS
Selling two highly reliable and sought-after brands on the market surely helps attain such sales goals. Consumers will find all market segments — from subcompacts to full-size trucks and EVs — in one or both brands sold by the Bev Smith stores.
According to carscoops.com, Toyota had five of the top 12 models sold in the United States last year — RAV4, fourth; Camry, fifth; Highlander, 10th; Corolla, 11th; and Tacoma, 12th. Overall, Toyota finished second only to General Motors in U.S. new-vehicle sales in 2022 with 2,108,458 units sold.
Consumer Reports, meanwhile, has Toyota on top of its 2023 reliability survey rankings of 24 brands; Kia moved up six spots to No. 9. The two brands are ranked No. 1 in seven of the 18 segments: compact cars, Toyota Corolla; subcompact SUVs, Toyota Corolla Cross; mid-size 3-Row SUVs, Toyota Highlander; electric vehicles, Kia EV6; hybrid cars, Corolla Hybrid; minivans, Kia Carnival; and mid-size pickups, Toyota Tacoma.
“This [the rankings] is all good,’’ Gonzalez said when shown the rankings. “The products are great and everything, but the only thing we have left to do is how do we perform against everybody else.’’
The Kia store is in the top 100 in the country in performance, Gonzalez said. There are more than 700 Kia dealerships nationwide.
“For the money at Kia, for what you get, and with the warranty, I get approached every time one comes out,’’ he said. “Go look in the inside; look at the lines; look at the quality of the car. It stacks up with cars that are $30,000 more than them. It’s just a fine automobile. It looks good, it drives good.’’
And, finding one could soon be getting easier after two years of semiconductor shortages and supply problems.
“We’re beginning to see the start of a change,’’ Gonzalez said. “I don’t believe it will ever go back to what it was — manufacturers pumping a lot of cars to dealers. I think dealers now know that you’re better off carrying a more balanced inventory than putting too many cars on the ground.’’
EXPANDING FOR FUTURE GROWTH
As for the automotive group’s future, a major renovation and expansion project at Bev Smith Toyota will get underway this spring to accommodate continued business growth.
Gonzalez said the building will be completely gutted and then expanded.
Business will not be interrupted during the dealership’s transformation. Modular office space is already in place, and will serve as temporary homes for various departments, including management, sales team, service writers, service management, parts, body shop, trucks and rental. In addition, there will be a customer waiting area in the trailers as well.
Plans call for the Kia dealership to receive a new building once the Toyota project is done, according to Gonzalez.
“It’s going to be very modern,’’ he said. “We’re going to expand the service area in the back. And bring used-car sales across U.S. 1 to the 10-acre property we own.’’
These expansion plans are the result of longstanding relationships and effective teamwork.
“I’m so appreciative of all the customers that have come in and made us successful; it means a lot to me,’’ Gonzalez said. “It’s so important to me that they know that I’m here for them.’’
And, he’s there for his employees, too.
“When you deal with employees, you do the best that you can to eliminate [problems]; you coach,’’ he said. “I don’t believe in blowing my people out. I’m trying to develop them, try to make them do the right things. I think we’ve done a good job.
“We have a lot of employees who have been with us many, many years — 20 years, 15 years, 10 years,’’ he added. “Loyalty is important to me. I really care and I’m thankful for everybody.’’
It’s the “Bev Smith Difference.’’
March 3, 2023