Dealer Discovery: Ramon Alvarez
If you know Ramon Alvarez, you know he’s a leader in both the dealership and the Hispanic community. He’s passionate about his dealership and loves getting people into their dream car. He understands that there are unique challenges associated with being Hispanic in the auto industry, but he’s used his heritage to better understand and serve his customers. When he’s not selling cars, he’s telling stories of his bullfighting days or enjoying a game of golf. We recently sat down with Ramon and discussed his experiences as a Hispanic dealer.
How did you get involved in the industry?
I actually started out selling motorcycles. Growing up, I used to ride them in Mexico, so I loved selling them. The General Manager from the local Ford store came into my motorcycle dealership wanting to buy a motorcycle. I was able to get him financed for the bike he wanted and after I got him approved, he kept mentioning that he actually had the best finance managers at his store. I threw it back to him and said “maybe you don’t have the best.” He then asked if I’d ever thought about financing cars instead of motorcycles and invited me to come to his dealership. My first Saturday, we sold 30 cars. I was hooked. That’s how I got into the car business. I love what I do, especially on the finance side. I love to help people get the car they’ve always dreamed of owning. Ford Credit has really helped me do that; they’re car people in the credit business, so they understand what a car means to people.
How did you go from financing cars to running two dealerships?
After a year in the store, I was selling cars and financing them myself. Once you know the finance business, you can sell a car to anyone because you know how to structure a deal. No one can tell me what a car deal is and what a car deal isn’t. I came up from the opposite side of most people, from the finance side instead of sales.
Tell me what you love about your job.
To this day, I sell about 10 cars a month. The whole sales process still fascinates me. I love the cars we sell and I love helping others get into the car they want. When people tell me “Ramon, I’m always dreamt of owning a Jaguar, and you’ve made it possible,” that’s it right there.
What are you most proud of?
My three little babies, though they’re not babies anymore. I’m so proud of them. I love my dealership, but they’re my world.
What challenges have you experienced?
Well the obvious one is this: I finished construction of one of my dealerships in 2007. In 2008, the market crashed. I was responsible for 72 employees, so I needed to do a lot of belt-tightening for my dealership to survive, but we did. And being Hispanic, I’m not going to lie, I have felt it. I was the youngest Lincoln dealer in the entire Ford Motor Company when I started, I was 35. I have faced obstacles because of being young and being Hispanic and Ford has been a great partner in supporting me.
How have you overcome some of those challenges?
The Ford Minority Dealer Association has provided great support facing challenges as a minority. When I first joined, it was originally only for African-Americans. A group of Hispanic dealers wanted inclusion in the programs, and though it wasn’t overnight, I’m proud to say we’re now partners in a true minority association. Finding unity in the dealer body has been extremely important to my success.
What about Hispanic shoppers? How do you connect to them?
I serve a predominately Hispanic area; about 65% of my customers are Hispanic. In general, we have to recognize where that market is and think about how to attend to it. I have to say the greatest key to connecting with Hispanic shoppers is to speak their language. I was fortunate enough to be raised in Tijuana, Mexico, but went to school in California, so I grew up speaking both English and Spanish. When you share a language and culture, there’s an automatic trust factor that comes into play. It makes it that much easier to sell a car.
Being Hispanic has been a distinct advantage for me as a car dealer. In California, the market demands that I speak a second language, because there are people who speak Spanish and want to buy a car, and if I speak their language, I’m the obvious choice.
We’re proud to work with inspirational Hispanic dealers like Ramon who have done so much for the industry. During Hispanic Heritage Month, we’ll be sharing more stories like his and more about how to connect with Hispanic shoppers.