WARM, genuine and generous, Tony and Teresa Cuzzupi have shown how successful a business can be when it embraces and is embraced by the community.
After almost 28 years, Tony and Teresa have handed the keys of the Wonthaggi Toyota and Wonthaggi Holden garage to new owners and are in the first fortnight of their retirement.
Tony said he will be forever grateful for the support his family and the business have received from the community.
He also paid tribute to the many staff members who’ve driven the success of the business.
The Cuzzupis arrived in Wonthaggi in 1990 after purchasing Wonthaggi Toyota when it was located where the library is now.
They had three young children; Victoria, Joe and Sarah, who was only two, and they didn’t know anyone in the area.
“We came specifically for the kids,” Tony said.
“We thought we’d give the family a country change, and I wanted to buy my own business which was probably out of reach in the city.
“It was still very scary though because just after a few months starting out we went into a recession supposably we had to have.”
Tony was born in Italy, but was raised on a market garden at Seville, east of Melbourne.
He began as an apprentice mechanic in the industry and worked his way up.
It was when he was employed at a Toyota dealership in Ferntree Gully that the opportunity to return to the country presented itself.
“We started on Australia Day weekend in 1990 with three employees, and ended with 30,” Tony said.
The Murray Street site was outgrown within three years and the business was moved to its current site, which at the time was just a car yard and a tin shed and a small office at the front.
Three years later, a new showroom was built out the front of the workshop.
In May 2000, the Cuzzupis purchased the Wonthaggi Holden dealership, which was where Aldi is now.
“By 2006, we had outgrown our building again, so we rebuilt a new, larger workshop and showroom. The Wonthaggi Toyota team now consists of over 30 staff members.
“Unfortunately we’ve seen other dealerships disappear. We’ve grown because of the staff and the customer service they provide.
“We’ve won many awards over the years for sales and customer satisfaction. I didn’t realise how many until I had to pack them all up!”
Tony said he was proud that all of his family members have been a part of the business at some stage.
Victoria’s husband James Chetcuti has won sales awards for Holden for 10 consecutive years. Both Victoria and James will continue with the new owners.
Daughter Sarah was sales manager until recently, departing to start her own family.
The strong sales correlated with the community support.
There wouldn’t be a football/netball club in Bass Coast that has not received support from Wonthaggi Toyota, from Inverloch/Kongwak to Phillip Island and Kilcunda-Bass.
The most recent campaign helped the Bass Coast Specialist School buy a new purpose built van.
“We tried to plough as much sponsorship and support into the community as we could.
“A few years ago we tallied it up and it was well over $250,000, but you get it all back in customer loyalty.”
The business changed hands officially on August 14, on a day of mixed emotions – combination of sadness and relief.
“It’s not a normal style of business that’s easy to hand over. There are lots of aspects – new and used cars, parts, licensing authorities and manufacturers to deal with.
“It was a stressful process and a relief when it was all done, but it was also a sad day, letting it all go in one respect.
“At the end of it all, though, you look back and appreciate the support from customers and staff.
“We’d love to personally thank each and every one of them – staff, past and present and their families.”
Warren Stewart is the new dealer principal in partnership with the Preston Motor Group.
“We wish them well and hope they enjoy continued success,” Tony said.
What about the future for Tony and Teresa?
“We’re sorting that all out. The main thing will be to kick back and relax, maybe take the odd holiday and spend more time with the grandchildren.
“We’re not moving away though. You’ll see us around the town and we’ll still be involved in the community.”