Despite the early business challenges of a high overhead, a limited talent pool and a competitive auto sales market, Kelowna’s local Toyota dealership has flourished throughout its 45-year tenure.
Jack Kofoed remembers the early days of the Kelowna Toyota dealership, when the company offered five models of cars and was struggling to give domestic-friendly buyers a reason to choose an imported car.
Back in 1970, it wasn’t easy to reach buyers in town given the dealership’s location amidst orchards and farming gardens.
But just a few years later, when the 1973 oil crisis was in full swing, suddenly Kelownians were looking for small, economical cars—like those Toyota would become known for.
“The shop itself had enjoyed a great service business through the previous owner,” says Jack Kofoed, Kelowna Toyota’s dealer principal.
“We also offered very competitive prices. Our big break came in 1973, when the oil embargo became very apparent in North America.
“There was interest in economical cars, so people started looking to Toyota.”
Kofoed also credits a winning bid with the City of Kelowna as kickstarting the dealership’s success.
“The City of Kelowna puts out bids for little cars. We’d never before been successful in getting bids. But in 1973, we won a bid for 15 of our little Corollas. Suddenly 15 white Corollas were driving around town. That was great visibility for us.”
Combined with a spirited print advertising strategy and shifting attitudes toward Japanese goods, winning the city contract helped the dealership to access new markets.
And when development expanded north, increased visibility further boosted the dealership’s profile.
“That’s when the culture changed,” Kofoed says. “People realized that the Japanese make high quality items.
“With Japanese manufacturers being very innovative, we found that we were up-to-date when it came to introducing new features like power steering, fuel injection, and sunroofs.”
As this wave of Japanese products hit Kelowna, and as the city’s population continued to expand, the dealership had to act quickly to serve its growing customer base.
Kelowna Toyota expanded their first building three separate times, and ultimately ended up building a newer, larger dealership in 1994, one that would accommodate up to 15 floor models.
Kofoed says that there’s a large demand for new cars in Kelowna. Lots of businesses are buying commercial vehicles, he says, and with the average Kelowna car being nine years old, there’s a steady demand for replacement vehicles.
Plus, with Kelowna acting as a hub city, the dealership sees a number of new customers coming from smaller towns.
But with changing times for the dealership also came a new set of challenges. High property taxes and licensing fees contributed to large overheads, while a small talent pool—especially for managerial positions—was putting strain on the dealership.
The solution, Kofoed says, is the people.
“This is very much a people business,” Kofoed says. “Without the right people, businesses falter.
“We work very hard to earn client loyalty. People still appreciate a sincere, friendly sales experience.
“You need that welcoming attitude.”