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The car lot is his field of dreams

He once dreamed of being a professional baseball player, but Gerald Vanderstyne Jr. opted instead to follow in his father’s footsteps and now satisfies his competitive drive leading one of the area’s top car dealerships.

It was not an incredibly tough decision to make. At Florida Southern College, Vanderstyne, known as Jay, was surrounded by baseball players being drafted by the majors, who would come back to school discouraged with their salaries and the 14-hour bus trips to and from games.

“You would see guys that I knew were much better baseball players than me and were waffling in the pros. So at that point I had a great opportunity that my father had developed for us, and that was the decision,” says the 47-year-old president and owner of Vanderstyne Motor Sales Inc. “What are my chances and opportunities as a baseball player versus working and having the opportunity to own your own business and create your own success?”

He has no regrets, he says. The dealership ranked 14th on the most recent Rochester Business Journal’s list of auto dealerships last year, posting $26 million in sales in 2006. The company employs some 39 people at its West Ridge Road facility and last year increased sales by roughly 1 percent.

Vanderstyne has the Toyota and Scion franchises, and sells used vehicles as well.

Gerald Vanderstyne Sr. got his start in the car business after serving in the Air Force and working for some time as a pipe cutter in the local steam fitters union. When he realized the fiberglass that was embedded in his skin likely was damaging his lungs, he took some friends’ advice and went to work for Koerner Ford of Syracuse Inc.

The elder Vanderstyne started as a salesman and worked his way up to used-car manager, new-car manager and eventually general manager of the dealership. After roughly eight years at Koerner Ford in Syracuse, Chrysler began courting Vanderstyne. In 1966, he left Koerner Ford and opened Transitowne Dodge in the Buffalo area.

The following year, Vanderstyne was drawn back to Ford when he was offered the opportunity to open a dealership in Rochester. That year he sold Transitowne Dodge and opened Vanderstyne Ford in Greece.

It was not long before his son started coming in on weekends, sweeping floors for a small allowance. During college he worked summers at the dealership in the parts department and as a service writer.

But the younger Vanderstyne’s first real job was as a bartender in college. That was where he learned the importance of keeping the customer happy, he says.

“I think the big thing there is customer service,” he recalls. “You want to keep your patrons happy, and they return.”

In 1982 Vanderstyne graduated from college and joined the car dealership full time as a salesman, something he had dabbled in the previous summer.

“It was very natural to go into the business,” Vanderstyne says, adding that through the years he had worked in many of the dealership’s departments.

Vanderstyne took over the dealership in the early 1990s when his father semi-retired. In 1992 he purchased Mt. Read Toyota Volkswagen and the following year moved the dealership to its current location on West Ridge Road.

In 1998, Vanderstyne and other area dealers sold their Ford franchises to Auto Nation Inc., a venture in which Ford owned 51 percent of the consolidated company, with the remainder being controlled locally. Eventually Ford sold the franchises back to interested dealers and the former Vanderstyne Ford location was purchased by Vision Automotive Group.

A single focus
Being a single-franchise dealer has its pros and cons, Vanderstyne says.

“It creates some problems because you are at a disadvantage based on product availability, and I think there’s a group of consumers out there that are more payment loyal rather than product or dealer loyal,” he explains, meaning that some customers are more likely to buy whatever vehicle is within their monthly payment range, rather than shop with a particular dealer or car in mind.

On the other hand, Vanderstyne says, he has one of the best-selling franchises available.

“You offer your customer base a great product and as long as you create a great experience for them, your chance of retaining the business is much higher,” he says. “The cornerstone of Toyota is the quality of the product, the long-term reliability of it and overall, it’s the affordability of the product. It’s in a class that most people can afford, but it’s not at the higher end of the customer’s ability.”

Despite his success with Toyota, Vanderstyne says long-terms goals for the company include being ready to add franchises should another dealer decide to downsize. Additionally, at least a couple of Vanderstyne’s three children have shown some interest in being a third-generation dealer, so he is preparing for that.

In the shorter term, Vanderstyne is looking at maintaining the business and a high level of customer service.

“That’s what we really pride ourselves on is our customer service,” he adds. “And you really need to have the right people in place, train them, give them the tools to be successful and then let them do their job.”

The company’s success is a product of its employees, Vanderstyne says.

“We have a great group of employees and they take their job seriously,” he adds. “It’s not just a 9-to-5, I’ll see you tomorrow, type of thing. They have a vested interest in the dealership and I think they really enjoy working with our customers.”

The Toyota approach
The dealership has implemented Toyota’s signature program, which looks at company processes and controls and helps the company stay on track in meeting its goals.

“It’s all about no defects, timeliness and caring with every customer that walks in. We make sure our process extends to even the person who walks in the door to use the rest room,” says Richard Nasiff, general sales manager. “It’s all about caring. And that’s what I think makes us a little bit different from anybody else.”

Though Vanderstyne is the only Toyota dealership in the Greece area, competition can be tough, particularly in recent years when car sales nationwide have been dismal. The dealership’s locations on the west side-in the general vicinity of the former Rochester Products and Delphi Corp.-can work against it.

“Some of the challenges that we face on this side of town is that it’s traditionally been a very domestic market,” Vanderstyne says. “On the other hand, Toyota is becoming more domestic every year. Most of their production is in the U.S.”

Additionally, the dealership and the Vanderstyne name have been around for four decades, he says.

“We have some client base that’ll do business with us no matter what car we’re selling,” he explains.

In recent years, many dealers have had to look for ways to supplement stalled car sales. Vanderstyne is no exception.

“I think our big push recently has been that we want to take the customer from the sales part of it and offer them a great value in our service department so when they need their oil and filter changed, when they need a battery, when they need tires, we can offer it to them at a very competitive price,” Vanderstyne says.

The dealership has extended its service hours and Toyota has made a push at tire sales and maintenance items.

And while it is far removed from Andy Griffith’s Mayberry, Vanderstyne service manager Timothy Gaspar says it is that homey, personal atmosphere-both on the showroom floor and in the service department-that makes the dealership stand out.

“What we try to do is keep the small-town atmosphere. Do the hustle and bustle behind the scenes and not let it be shown,” he explains.

Vanderstyne adds: “We want to be the little corner garage that you feel comfortable going to.”

Company atmosphere
Vanderstyne notes his employees are equipped to make decisions and there is a fair degree of individuality at the dealership.

“We let them be themselves,” he says. “There’s a certain job that needs to be done and you let them be themselves.”

Sales Manager Nasiff notes Vanderstyne’s relaxed attitude and leadership style.
“He gives you all the latitude you need,” he says. “The only thing he wants to see is a smile on his managers’ faces. It’s a positive attitude. Really an inspirational guy.”
Vanderstyne says he tries to coach his employees.

“I think you’re developing your people. And then I’m around to have them come to me with questions,” he says. “You try to give them as much information for them to be successful and then let them do their job. Because that’s how the dealership becomes more successful: Your key people and your employees develop professionally.”

Vanderstyne pitches in when needed, adds Anne Schutz, office manager.

“Not only is he the dealer principal, he’s also our lot guy. He’ll do anything. He doesn’t just make other people do it. He’s not better than anyone else,” she says.
“That’s impressive. He doesn’t go, ‘Hey, go get me a file.’ He’ll go get the file himself.”

Vanderstyne is focused and expects his managers to do their job, Gaspar adds.
“The best part about Jay is if you’re doing your job you don’t have anything to worry about. We know what’s expected of us and we have to deliver,” Gaspar explains. “He’s not one of those guys that come down every day and beat you over the head.”

He is much like his father, Gaspar adds.

“He’s not going to ask you to do something he hasn’t done,” he says. “You could drive to every dealership in this city and I’ll bet you wouldn’t see the dealer/owner plowing snow or helping you move cars. His dad was the same way.”

Indeed, his father was his role model and mentor, Vanderstyne says, and he still stops by now and then to see the employees and customers.

“He started in the business, worked his way through it, was very successful. And I think what I admire most about him is that his friends he went to high school with were still his friends 35 or 40 years later when he was very successful,” Vanderstyne notes. “I’ve seen a lot of guys in this business where success and money has changed their personalities.”

And while other dealers may be on the job 24 hours a day, seven days a week, that is not for him, he says.

“Everybody’s different and they’re very successful at what they do because of that,” he adds. “But what I’ve found out is there’s a lot of different ways to get a job done.”

Vanderstyne says his greatest strength is his temperament.

“I have kind of an even-keel personality,” he explains. “I’m consistent for my employees. They know what to expect.”

Schutz, who has been with the company roughly four years, says another strength is his patience.

“I am new to this position and the time he’s taken to help me understand things or understand it himself … I’ve never met anyone else like that,” she adds.

The best part of his job, Vanderstyne says, is the interaction with the customers.
“I still enjoy sitting down and selling a car,” he says.

At home
When he is not at work, Vanderstyne enjoys spending time with his family . The Victor resident and his wife, Julie, have a son, J.J., and two daughters, Carra and Je?ee.

“All three of my kids have been involved in athletics, which takes a lot of time,” Vanderstyne says of his down time.

Joseph Regan, who has known Vanderstyne nearly 15 years, describes his friend as a family man who also values his friendships.

“He’s a very family-oriented, very reliable, trustworthy person,” Regan says. “You really couldn’t ask for a better friend, somebody who, if you need him, there he is.”

Vanderstyne also enjoys golf and baseball. His office is filled with baseball memorabilia and he holds season tickets and a suite for the Rochester Red Wings. He has been known to hand those tickets to an employee if he was unable to use them.

When Vanderstyne found out Schutz was coaching her son’s baseball team, he offered her his suite at a Red Wings game so she could take the team to see a real game.

“The kids thought they were royalty,” Schutz recalls. “It was one of those priceless moments because my son got on my lap and said, ‘Mom, this is the best night ever.’

“His kindness is overwhelming,” she says of her employer.

Gaspar echoes that, adding Vanderstyne coordinates holiday parties and each employee receives a Christmas bonus every year, whether they have been with the company 20 years or 20 days.

“He’s definitely not a greedy, demanding person. He’s unique,” Gaspar says. “To put it in perspective, I’ve worked for him for 20 years and I think I’ve missed one day. And I’ve never not looked forward to coming to work.”

Though Vanderstyne has no real regrets, he says in recent years he has given a lot of thought to becoming more involved in the community.

“Whether it would be donating my time somewhere, whether it would be mentoring some young businesspeople or things of that nature,” he says. “Once my business doesn’t need me here every day-and I’m sure it doesn’t need me on a regular basis-I would like to be able to do some things of that nature.”

vspicer@rbj.net / 585-546-8303

01/11/08 (C) Rochester Business Journal

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