Buddy Espinosa joined the U.S. Marine Corps at age 17 and served in Kuwait during Desert Storm. When he left the Marines in 1991, at age 21, he returned to New Mexico and found a job washing cars at Sauter Toyota in Santa Fe, the automaker’s first point in the state.

Espinosa climbed the dealership ladder, advancing from the wash rack to certified technician to general sales manager. Today, at age 44, the newly minted National Automobile Dealers Assn.’s Dealer Academy graduate is general manager of the store, renamed Beaver Toyota in 2002.

Except for the Marines, the dealership is the only place Espinosa has ever worked. He credits his military service with teaching him valuable management lessons, like not allowing good people to be held back from advancement.

“It’s that kind of thinking that hurts an organization,” he says.   

Espinosa is “a remarkable young man, a natural leader,” says dealer principal Mike Beaver. “There’s no B.S. for me, his customers or for Toyota. He calls it like he sees it with no regard for consequences or reward. That’s how I like to look at any situation in the dealership. Let’s get the customer out of the loop as soon as possible.”

While getting customers out of the loop sounds dismissive, Beaver says the concept stems from a Harvard University study on customer satisfaction. It found 56% of shoppers who have a positive experience are likely to return to the place of purchase, while only 16% of those “jacked around,” in Beaver’s terms, will come back. However, if a complaint is handled in a fast and friendly manner, that customer can be expected to return 85% of the time.

Beaver applies this wisdom by empowering all employees, starting with the switchboard operator, to make decisions that result in happy customers who don’t get caught up in a web of bureaucracy.

Beaver Toyota ranks No.138 on the WardsAuto Dealer 500, with 2013 sales of 3,560 new and used units and $109.5 million in total revenue.

Beaver recently purchased 19 acres (7.6 ha) near his current store and plans to invest $10 million in a Toyota Image USA II facility that meets the automaker’s environmental initiatives under Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. The $650,000 LEED investment will pay for itself in less than 10 years, he says.