The cold snowy weather of Illinois and Wisconsin were doing nothing for Frank Bolea when he decided to head out to California to help his sister Maria sell cars in Sunnyvale in 1980.
Bolea’s impeccable tan and wildly successful Gilroy Toyota dealership that celebrated its 25th anniversary Monday suggest his move to the Golden State is one of myriad correct calls he’s made in his 45-year automotive career.
At the anniversary celebration, Bolea was presented with an award by Dan Swartz – General Manager of Toyota’s San Francisco sales region – for his service to the company. Mayor Don Gage and members of the Gilroy Chamber of Commerce were also present.
“Toyota said it was a gamble,” said Bolea, 69, recalling how the Japanese automotive giant viewed setting up shop in the Garlic Capital.
The fact that Bolea sold 150 new cars in his first month when there were only 450 Toyotas registered to drivers in Gilroy, Morgan Hill, Hollister and San Martin is testament to his skills as a salesman. He has gone on to sell a total of 48,000 new and used cars since then.
“I’m just so aggressive and hands-on,” Bolea laughed. “Even at this age.”
It’s hard not to be impressed, walking into Bolea’s Gilroy Toyota-Scion showroom located at 6800 Chestnut St. on the south side of Gilroy. The music is pumping, well-groomed men in flattering suits are attentive while not being pushy and there are even massage chairs to help customers relax.
“You’re supposed to have fun when you buy a car,” Bolea beamed. “I want people to be happy.”
This Taj Mahal of car dealerships didn’t happen overnight, however. It also had to roll with some tougher times during the Great Recession.
As other car dealerships including Ford and Buick shut their doors and left Gilroy, Bolea streamlined his expenses and stayed put in the Garlic Capital.
“I said this (the Great Recession of 2007) isn’t going to be a one-year thing,” said Bolea as he recalled how he dealt with dwindling revenues. “I cut my overhead by a third.”
He saved money by becoming the dealership’s janitor as well as its owner. He changed light bulbs, shampooed carpets and took garbage to the dump.
“We hired no outside companies,” Bolea said. “We couldn’t afford it.”
He presented employees with vacuum cleaners and told them to clean for 10 minutes when they had finished their day of selling cars. Anyone who wasn’t game for pitching in was presented with an ultimatum:
“If you’re too big for that,” Bolea told employees, “then you can’t work for me.”
Operations Director Derek Aguillon has worked at Gilroy Toyota for 11 years and witnessed first-hand Bolea’s passion for keeping Gilroy’s automotive heartbeat firing on six.
“He really cares,” Aguillon, 34, said. “He’s about keeping this community thriving.”
For Bolea, caring about his customers involves treating them with the respect they deserve.
“A big sign in the conference room says ‘sell with integrity,’” Bolea said. “That means a lot to me.”
If a salesperson is dishonest with customers, that employee “will not be here the next day,” Bolea added.
Gilroy Toyota-Scion, which employs roughly 50 people, gives back to the community by donating cars to school raffles and helping out with football equipment. Pacific West Christian Academy and Gilroy High School are two local schools to directly benefit from Bolea’s desire to pay it forward.
“I’m big into my customers, I really love people,” Bolea laughed. “I can go anywhere and not have to worry about hiding from anyone in town.”