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Define Your Legacy

by Mike Esposito

As published in the August issue of AutoSuccess magazine

By the time you read this, I’ll be retired after working in the retail auto industry for more than 25 years. I started as a general manager at a large auto dealership in New York, then moved to Auto/Mate as a salesperson, and eventually became president and CEO.

When people retire, the question of legacy frequently arises. It’s usually defined after you depart and by how others perceive the decisions you made and the actions you took. As you can imagine, the legacy I tried to carve out for myself has been top of mind of late.

When Auto/Mate entered the market in the late 1990’s, our team decided then what we wanted our legacy would be. And it’s one that I believe we successfully wrote and I now leave behind.

In those days there were three large DMS providers. Together, this oligopoly held 99% of the market. Breaking in was difficult, but not because we didn’t have good software. Our challenge was credibility, both with dealers and vehicle OEMs and their certification programs.

Auto/Mate wasn’t the only new DMS vendor knocking on doors in those days. For years, we “second-tier” providers could only sell to smaller, mom-and-pop operations that couldn’t afford the higher fees from the big boys. With tremendous persistence, however, we began to chip away at market share.

We believed whole-heartedly that dealers wanted faster, easy-to-use software at an affordable price, and backed by excellent customer support. We also believed that in any market, customers benefit from competition.

Eventually, tired of their big monthly bills and long-term contracts, more dealers gave us a shot. And they became our best advocates with the OEMs, calling on them to open up their certification programs to DMS providers other than “the Big Three.” That’s when the OEMs started taking our calls, allowing us to pick up a few more dealers with every certification.

Still, the momentum was about as slow as maneuvering an aircraft carrier — that is, until the Great Recession. That’s when dealers looked for ways to cut expenses, creating a snowball effect for us so-called “second-tier” providers.

(By the way, I never liked the term “second tier.” It seems to imply that our solutions are inferior or second best, which is the furthest from the truth.)

From the get-go, my mission was always to help dealers. And the best way I knew how was to create competition. Competition breeds innovation, as every vendor wants to be the first to market with a new solution. It also raises the bar in terms of customer and technical support.

And I believe that’s the legacy I leave behind; my role in creating this competitive environment to the benefit of dealers and the industry.

I’d also like to believe that growing a successful company from 20 to more than 250 employees is part of my legacy, as is winning the loyalty of thousands of customers. Hey, running a business is difficult, so if I’ve done my part by making it just a little easier for dealers, then my legacy is a success.

Of course, I couldn’t have done it without my Auto/Mate ‘Ohana, or family. And I feel entirely comfortable at the thought of leaving our customers in the hands of the team at DealerSocket, which shares the same dealer-focused mentality as Auto/Mate.

The great philosopher Winnie the Pooh once said: “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” As I hang up my spikes for good, I know what he felt. Mahalo everyone.

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