Zanchin Automotive Group
Nearly half a century ago much of the economic and geographic landscape north of Toronto was still predominantly agricultural farmland, but it was also a time when creative visionaries began to realize that urban sprawl would be forthcoming. You can count businessman Joe Zanchin as one of those entrepreneurial visionaries that knew a great deal of economic potential was to be had, including within the burgeoning automotive industry.
Founded in 1973 by Joe Zanchin, Zanchin Automotive Group began with a single Honda store (Number 7 Honda) in Woodbridge, Ontario. Fast forward to today and the company’s expansive network continues to cultivate growth led by Zanchin as well as his daughters Laura and Andria Zanchin, who work alongside their father as Principals and Executive Vice Presidents.
The company takes pride in its transparent, pressure-free shopping experience throughout the entire process of researching and buying an automobile, new and pre-owned. Customers will find everything from Acura, Honda, BMW, Jaguar, Jeep, Land Rover, Lexus, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Toyota – and more – amongst the wide selection of brands sold under the Zanchin corporate banner.
The success story is truly incredible given that Joe Zanchin entered the country from Italy as a 19-year-old with little more than the clothes on his back and about $15 in his pocket. Equipped with a background in automotive bodywork he immediately began plying his trade as a body shop mechanic, but from the outset he had his sights set on far more prodigious opportunities.
“When my dad got enough money he was able to open his own body shop,” begins Laura Zanchin. “He realized that his true calling was not as a mechanic but rather it was in talking with people and satisfying their needs, which is when he opened up a used-car lot. That’s technically how Zanchin got its start.”
Upon saving enough money Zoe Zanchin became more determined to open his own automotive dealership. He pounded the pavement, meeting with the principals of many different corporate brands, mostly domestic, but they all turned him down. However, Japanese automaker Honda had just entered the Canadian marketplace a couple years earlier and was still laying the foundation of a presence in a new country. Initially Honda also refused Zanchin’s request to open a dealership until one day an executive, impressed by Zanchin’s persistence, said that if he was as serious as he claimed then he needed to prove it with a business plan of attack, including where the dealership would be located.
An ever-so-slight opportunity was all Joe Zanchin needed to gain that all-important foot in the door. Determined to succeed, he purchased a parcel of property on Highway 7 and Martin Grove Road in Woodbridge, which is now part of Vaughan north of Toronto. Upon returning to Honda, the executives recognized Zanchin’s tenacity and determined nature. Duly impressed, they offered him a licence to conduct business as an official Honda dealership.
The successful launch of the Zanchin Automotive Group was truly an all-encompassing family effort. Joe Zanchin met his wife Catherine here in Canada and it was she who was instrumental in spearheading the communications process, especially in those early years. Together they formed a secure 1-2 punch in getting the business off the ground.
“My mother has a background in finance and worked at a bank and she was able help him understand the process of obtaining loans and together they formed the foundation of what we have today,” recalls Laura.
“At that time my mother left her job at the bank,” continues Laura. “I was young and my sister Andria was just a baby, but we remember what it is to open up a store and the struggles you endure. When I had to answer a phone, I answered a phone. We did filing and all kinds of things.”
One store led to another and the network of dealerships continues to increase to this day thanks to the great vision held by Joe Zanchin, who has always surrounded himself with strong, supportive people with excellent business acumen. There is a network of 32 locations with two more being built, including a magnificent new Jaguar and Land Rover store in addition to existing co-partnerships on top of that.
As the Zanchin sisters got older they gravitated towards accounting and each wound up as controllers at different store locations and were both managing those locations from a young age.
“We have such a great staff. There are people that have been with us a long time and in fact some have retired. My dad outlasted them. We’re still here while others have retired,” laughs Laura.
Aside from responsible, strong leadership the success of any business can be directly attributed to the level of engagement and efficiency of its staff. At Zanchin Auto there is a commitment to hiring only the best people. Oftentimes it will be those individuals who are front and centre in representing the brand. First and foremost an employee must be respectful, trustworthy and have integrity, and that is not always necessarily those with the most experience, emphasizes Laura.
“Sometimes people that come in with the least experience turn out to be the best employees,” she confirms. “It’s encouraging and rewarding for us to see someone join our team and grow. If they succeed, it means we as a company are succeeding. We’re much stronger together.”
Both Laura and Andria Zanchin know that when people enjoy their work they are not only going to perform better but they’ll also establish roots and that in turn translates into great ongoing relationships with customers. This philosophy applies to service advisors, service managers, sales management and personnel on the floor. Establishing healthy, robust relationships with customers and guests is part and parcel to business longevity.
“We approach our employees and team members as valued members and really try and give them the autonomy they need to feel empowered while keeping a distance and monitoring the results,” explains Andria Zanchin. “We learn so much from our front-line employees and it is so important to listen to what they have to say and allow them to make the necessary changes in order to improve. Our door is always open and we encourage anyone at any given time to talk with us. We also try our best to be visible to all staff and get to know each and every one of them.”
As definitive proof Zanchin Automotive Group provides the optimal in-store experience for their clientele is the impressively high percentage of people that return to the stores as repeat customers.
“We have a very high customer retention rate in all of our stores and we do work on it, which is a testament to our employees. People enjoy working for us and we are able to keep turnover to a minimum,” remarks Laura.
Despite the fact he’s been at the helm of Zanchin Auto for more than 46 years, Joe Zanchin remains as active and enthusiastic about his daily business activities as ever. Maintaining that passion is what drives such a positive atmosphere.
“My dad is still the one you go to,” confirms Laura. “Andria and I are right there beside him and he makes a point of visiting the stores every day. He goes to at least 10 stores per day and that’s what he enjoys the most – talking with his people and providing insight into running the business.”
The direct, hands-on approach shown by each member of the Zanchin family is a big part of company’s overall success. It’s a winning philosophy that Laura and Andria have mastered from their father.
“I don’t know how other businesses operate, and it’s not fair to comment, but this is how we do it and it’s been successful for us,” notes Laura.
Zanchin Automotive Group has a large assortment brands available for the public to select from. In wanting to expand the number of locations within the company it made the most sense to offer a wide selection of vehicles as part of the network’s development process.
“Obviously it makes no sense to have two Honda stores right beside each other or two Toyota stores right beside each other and that’s a big reason why we ventured out into different brands,” Laura points out. “At the same time I don’t think there are many families that are buying vehicles with a loyalty to just one brand. Everyone has an array of different vehicles in their driveway.”
At Zanchin Auto, the comforts and needs of the customer are paramount. Each location has been created with a wonderful atmosphere, which results in a satisfied consumer who drives off with their dream car and/or the one that is most practical for their lifestyle. And the relationship doesn’t end there. Zanchin Auto is equipped with collision repair, servicing centres, access to rental vehicles and customer service shuttles, which truly makes it one-stop shopping.
There are many key elements that help to create a successful, sustainable business in this industry. But as Andria Zanchin points out it goes beyond providing excellent customer service with attentive, informed and polite staff.
“If you deliver all of the customer service expectations plus build a foundation with your guests, and they like and trust you, then that is what keeps them coming back. They will always remember how you made them feel,” she states.
“We want to make it as easy and practical for people to come in and do business because we know how valuable time is to them,” adds Laura.
Many locations within the Zanchin Automotive Group network are set up with children’s play areas to keep them occupied while the adults look at the inventory in the showroom. There are also food stations and refreshments available to those who prefer to spend extra time in the stores, perhaps discussing the latest models on the market. Providing a comfortable, inclusive atmosphere helps to create a family-friendly environment.
“I believe it’s really learning what each guest wants and anticipating it before they come in. Some guests just need a courtesy vehicle when dropping off their vehicle for service, and they are happy when it is waiting for them and they can be on their way,” notes Andria.
Success for the Zanchin Automotive Group goes beyond the selling and services of automobiles. The company has been recognized throughout the industry as a trendsetting visionary in technological and environmental efficiencies. A direct example was a major initiative launched about 14 years ago at the Maple Honda store where it’s believed Zanchin Auto was the only dealership in the world to erect a wind turbine on the premises for energy efficiency purposes. Sadly, the windmill had to be dismantled just recently. The makers of the windmill are no longer in business to provide servicing and maintenance and so it was decided that the most responsible decision was to take it down with an inability to have it properly insured.
Further to the technology aspect, the advent of the internet and online browsing has changed the way some customers purchase their automobiles. According to Andria, information to the consumer has to include three main points: be easily accessible, transparent and immediate.
“Guests want all of the information upfront and pricing or dealer feedback has to be quick and delivered in the manner that the consumer feels the most comfortable,” she says. “Some guests want to deal by email; some are calling into the dealership. The internet has provided guests with the tools to make the decision on whether your brand and your dealership is worthy of a visit. It is basically your interview and if the guest is given the right information in the right way you may be considered in their shopping journey.”
“I can honestly say most of the customers that come in will already know about the vehicle they want having researched it so much,” mentions Laura. “That makes our job easier. From there it usually comes down to a test drive and your pick of colour.”
Maintaining a close watch on the technological advancements in electric and autonomous vehicles also doesn’t escape the watchful eye of the executives at Zanchin.
“This is an exciting time to be in the automotive space,” says Andria. “We stay on top of all of the information and technology that is available to us both through the manufacturers we represent but also the industry news. No one really knows exactly how our industry will be affected. There are a lot of assumptions made on how the role of dealerships will change. One thing we know for sure is we have to be adaptable and ready to make changes when they present themselves.”
“You would be silly not to try and understand what’s coming down the pike,” notes Laura. “We are watching to see what may be new coming on the horizon. Everyone is getting into electrification and we’re ready for it but I think we may be a ways away from autonomous vehicles.”
Joe Zanchin, his wife Catherine and daughters Laura and Andria know what it’s like to start out with nothing but a dream and then build upon that dream with hard work and dedication in creating a successful enterprise, in large part through assistance from others within the community at large. With that in mind, the company is exceptionally generous in giving back both time and financial resources to a great number of organizations and charities that are making a difference in people’s lives including the likes of SickKids Hospital, William Osler in Etobicoke in the west end of Toronto and the incredibly generous $2 million donation recently provided for the new hospital in Vaughan.
“It was a very emotional day, especially for my father, where he was able to reflect on his successes and as such be able to contribute to the betterment of other vital needs in society. Vaughan was the start of our success at Zanchin Auto Group and we felt it was a great way to show our respect and gratitude to the community,” says Laura.
“As a company serving the communities you conduct business in, it should be a given. To participate and give back as much as possible in any way you can. What I love the most about the Zanchin Automotive Group is that we help local events, team sponsorships or galas, mayors events, retirement centres etc., but we also contribute on a larger scale such as our donation to the Ronald McDonald House, St. Michael’s Hospital or the new Mackenzie Vaughan Hospital,” remarks Andria.
Both Laura and Andria Zanchin are expecting much the same in terms of growth development for the company over the next few years.
“What we hope for in the future is to provide the best environment for our employees and for our customers and guests. That is the focus of our business, and based on that we can continue to grow. What does that mean? It could be new stores. Wherever the market takes us – that is where we are going to go. We are very much concentrated on growth,” says Laura.
“For me, I would feel very proud to know that we are able to continue business with the same philosophy and hands on approach as my father,” concludes Andria. “This is what differentiates our automotive group from the rest – both with our guests and our employees.”