Special Report

Dealer 500

LAS VEGAS – Planet Hyundai is on a roll that has made the dealership here on Sahara Ave. the No. 1 Hyundai dealership in the U.S. for five straight years and a standing member of the Ward’s Dealer 500 club.

“This town loves their Hyundais,” says Planet Hyundai’s Chief Operating Officer Frank J. Maione, 45. He’s been with the Staluppi megadealer group, which owns the store, since 1980. Frank Staluppi Jr. is the dealer principal.

“We treat our owners and would-be owners like honored guests,” he says.

Ward’s interviewed Maione at the Planet Hyundai store after a “story idea” about the dealership came from Steve Wilhite, chief operating officer of Hyundai Motor America Inc.

“You won’t believe what they’re doing there to sell more cars and expand their customer base,” Wilhite says.

Planet Hyundai ranks No.135 on the Ward’s Dealer 500. Sister store, Planet Nissan in Las Vegas, is at No.132.

Ward’s: You are grossing more than $140 million in revenues. How do you do it?

Maione: Our 40 salespersons are carefully selected because they know how to cater to people, whether Hyundai owners or walk-ins. We give weekly spiffs, like the first guy selling four cars gets one; or monthly volume bonuses. Hyundai joins in the incentivizing on the back end. Our sales force is very well remunerated. So are the other 125 employes.

Ward’s: What’s the leasing penetration?

Maione: Mighty little. Mostly it’s loans going to HMA or cash. Las Vegans are pretty smart, realizing that the value of a lease goes down when you have to return it to the lessor. I think you sell more when you play down leasing, letting the customers have the full equity all the time.

Ward’s: Speaking of numbers, what were yours last year?

Maione: We sold 5,900 new vehicles, second in Las Vegas only to Findlay Toyota in the suburb of Henderson, NV. We enjoy competing against them and outsold them until three years ago. One of our goals is to top them again, sometime later.

Ward’s: What’s your 2007 target?

Maione: We can sell more than 6,000 vehicles if Hyundai supplies all the cars we order. Last year, they ran short on Accents. But they do respond and are doubling output on Accents to cope with the Toyota Yarises and Honda Fits.

Ward’s: What have been your best promotions?

Maione: We had a Vegas-style giveaway, $1,000 in bonus cash to 1,000 customers.

Ward’s: Word is you advertise like nobody else.

Maione: Planet Hyundai spent an average of $250,000 a month on advertising last year, plus another $135,000 at our Hyundai store in Henderson. Our latest tool, and it’s a big success, is The Daily Planet, a 16-page monthly magazine we mail to every owner, about 20,000 people, in Clark County.

Ward’s: What other ad methods do you like?

Maione: All but radio right now. TV, newspaper, direct mail, billboards, Internet.

Ward’s: What’s your approach to finance and insurance?

Maione: We have a 7-person F&I staff, including two women. Unfortunately, car saleswomen are hard to find in this town of so many casinos, but we are always looking. Hyundais appeal to a lot of women and selling them would be a great opportunity.

Ward’s: With Hyundai’s extended warranty, what’s selling in F&I?

Maione: A wrap plan that extends the basic powertrain warranty is quite popular. So is gap coverage.

Ward’s: What’s your background, covering 27 years?

Maione: I’m a native of Eltingville, NY, and joined Frank Staluppi Sr., now 60, when his son Frank Jr. was 11 years old, at his stores in Nassau and Suffolk counties on Long Island. I was assigned in 1989 to the new Staluppi Infiniti and Hyundai stores in southern Florida. When we opened for Hyundai here in May, 2001, I came to Vegas, with Frank Jr., now 38, as the chief financial officer.

Ward’s: What’s on the screen for further expansion?

Maione: We’re adding our third Nevada store in North Las Vegas, with a model Hyundai showroom building, like this one. It will cost a couple of million. On product, we have great hopes for the new Veracruz SUV, the fullsize Azera sedan. We’d love to have a pickup truck and could double our sales if we get one, which I think will be fairly soon.

Ward’s: Is Hyundai going to hit sales goals?

Maione: Absolutely, if the quality stays at the top. We run specials on bringing in used Toyotas and Hondas (for trade-ins). You’d be amazed how many Las Vegans do just that. We like to stir things up.

Ward’s: Is the Riviera Beach-FL-based Staluppi group on a roll like Planet Hyundai?

Maione: The group finished 13th on the latest Ward’s Mega Dealer 100 (with $1.87 billion revenues). Our Atlantic Hyundai, in West Islip, NY, is the second-largest Hyundai store. We’re never satisfied with being second or third in a market, and we are always looking for expansion opportunities.

Ward’s: What should Hyundai do in addition to improving product quality to increase sales?

Maione: Dedicated Hyundai stores sell far more vehicles than those with a number of duals franchises. Hyundai, and our sibling Kia (Motors America Inc.), for that matter, should stop accepting stepchild status.

Ward’s: How’s the family (wife and three daughters, ages 18 to 1 year) taking the long hours dealerships have to open in a 24-7 town like Las Vegas?

Maione: They’re fine. This is a great family town, full of optimism and dynamic people.