Dealer principal Tony Cuzzupi and the team at Wonthaggi Toyota is celebrating 25 years selling cars locally and this month, they’ll be spreading the cheer to all new car buyers.
THE Prime Minister was Bob Hawke, Steffi Graf was the new Australian Open champion, Melbourne’s evening newspaper ‘The Herald’ was published for the last time and shock horror, Collingwood broke through for its first premiership in 32 years, the first of the new AFL era.
The year was 1990, 25 years ago, but to Tony Cuzzupi, the dealer principal at Wonthaggi Toyota, it feels just like yesterday.
Tony had been working at one of the State’s most successful Toyota dealerships, Ferntree Gully Toyota, rising from apprentice motor mechanic to the role of manager of the workshop and spare parts when the opportunity came up to buy a promising dealership in regional Victoria, at Wonthaggi.
So with his wife Teresa and three children; Victoria, Joe and little Sarah aged 2, they all packed up and moved to the country, in January of that year.
Despite working for Toyota for 13 years and more than 20 years in the industry, Tony had never actually sold a car so it was a pretty challenging experience, taking over a new business on the Australia Day weekend and immediately hitting the showroom floor looking to make his first sale.
But with a wealth of knowledge about the reliability and quality of the Toyota product behind him, plus an already strong line-up of passenger cars, commercial vehicles and trend-setting 4WDs to sell; it was an experience that he soon grew to enjoy.
“It was a big decision for us but it’s been a great ride so far,” said Tony this week, admittedly a little distracted by the impending arrival of his latest grandchild, to daughter Sarah and son-in-law Michael.
“We started out in Murray Street, where the Wonthaggi Library is now, but soon out-grew that location and within three years we had moved out here to the Bass Highway.
“Teresa and I started out in a tin shed with an office attached until we could build our first showroom but the product range was good, we put a lot of effort into customer service and we had an excellent staff – we still do.”
In 2000, Tony added Wonthaggi Holden to the business, continuing to operate it on the site where Aldi is today, before moving out to co-locate with Toyota five years later, after they’d built a new Holden showroom.
“We built a new workshop and followed up by re-building the Toyota showroom which meant that we had completely redeveloped the site.”
The circle was complete when Sarah came on board as a Toyota salesperson, rising to sales manager over the five years that followed.
“It’s all gone so quickly you hardly realise it’s been 25 years.
“I guess the biggest change over that time has been the safety standards in the cars.
“When I started here there was no such thing as airbags or ABS brakes but gradually those things started coming in; the ABS brakes, the stability control steering, the airbags, curtain airbags and all the rest to the point now where you have cars that will actually warn you when they think you might have an accident and even to start applying the brakes when it senses an emergency.
“The pace of safety development over the past couple of years has been nothing short of spectacular.”
Tony puts the success of the business down to three things, the consistently high quality and extensive range offered by Toyota, excellent staff growing in number from three to 30 and a great relationship with customers.
“In the time I’ve been with Toyota, they’ve gone from fourth or fifth position to market leader in every sector. Right from the beginning with the Corollas, then the new Camry coming in, the Hiluxes, Landcruisers and all the rest, the quality, improvements and reliability has been excellent.
“Having excellent products across a broad range has been a huge benefit but it doesn’t matter how good the cars are, it’s the people that really count.
“We’ve stressed high standards of customer service from the very beginning and in the independent surveys that Toyota conducts, we’re always up in the top 10 in Australia, maintaining a five-star customer satisfaction rating.
“And we couldn’t do it without an excellent staff. They do it all, not me. I’m really proud of the work they do and what we’ve been able to achieve together.”
Mr Cuzzupi said staff members were constantly away on training courses, focusing on product knowledge, service standards and customer relations which helped keep the dealership on its toes.
“Bringing in Holden has also been a really good thing as well, with a healthy level of competition between what are now the leading brands on the market.”
Changes in the market have been constant, the latest being the popularity of SUVs as the vehicle of choice across all buyers from the traditional farm and off-road buyers to families, young couples and individual male and female drivers.
“It’s not just the four-wheel drive and all-wheel drive SUVs that are selling well, it’s all SUVs.
“People love the versatility they offer, the ease of access in and out and the fact that you have a good driving position and visibility on the road. You’ve got the space to take passengers and the power you need as well.
“I guess the other great development has been the incredible advancements in fuel efficiency, quite impossible to even imagine 25 years ago.”
Two other things worthy of note is the fact cars don’t actually cost a great deal more than they did in 1990, while improvements in technology and competition has also driven down the cost of service to the point now where firms are even offering capped price servicing for the life of the car.
For example, in 1993, a new Toyota Corolla Sedan would have cost around $16,000 where today, you can buy a smart Corolla Ascent Sport Hatch for $23,990 or a Yaris Ascent five-door for less than what a Corolla cost back in 1990.
To mark the 25th anniversary of Wonthaggi Toyota, under the Cuzzupi family ownership, Tony will include a special edition, 25th anniversary bottle of champers with every car sold for the next month, on top of the best deal available.