Joe Cardinale’s philosophy of business is a simple one: Give the customers what they want. Train your people to be the best. And if one car brand isn’t enough, add another. And another.
The Cardinale family has come to be a major force not just in Monterey County, Calif., car sales, but throughout the West.
It all started when the Cardinales established their business in Monterey, Calif., in 1979, in the old Toyota store in downtown Monterey, selling used cars. In 1989, they made the jump to the Seaside Auto Center, buying the GMC dealership there.
Eighteen years later, the newest CardinaleWay is poised to open later this month in Corona, Calif., making a grand total of 13 stores with the Cardinale name.
The Cardinales plan to build a new Audi store in Seaside later this year.
Other Cardinale dealerships can be found in Mesa and Scottsdale, Ariz., South Lake Tahoe, Salinas and San Luis Obispo. In all, the stores sell close to 700 cars each month, and employ about 600 people in all.
The Cardinale Automotive Group is a family-owned and operated company that has grown and thrived over the years, in part, president Joe Cardinale believes, because of the principles that guide his business.
“As a Christian organization we believe that our responsibility to our customers and our employees alike is to treat everyone with the utmost respect and integrity; in short, people do business with us because we make it easy,” says the Cardinale Web site, www.cardinaleway.com. The Cardinales claim more than 20,000 satisfied customers.
Joe spends a lot of time on the road these days, tending to all the different locations, while his son, Tom, oversees day-to-day operations. Other members of the Cardinale family work at the various stores.
The Cardinales plan to keep expanding and opening new stores, with the ultimate goal of having 25.
Tom is proud of the fact that the Seaside GMC dealership is No. 1 in the state for penetration, meaning that they consistently exceed sales goals set by GMC.
“That’s a distinction that should belong to a dealership in a big city, not in Seaside,” said Tom.
And to think that the Cardinales weren’t expected to make it after they bought the business.
“In 1989, they said we weren’t going to last 90 days. They were probably right, we weren’t smart enough,” said Joe with a smile. But hey dug in and persevered.
The Cardinale story began in the early 1900s, when Joe’s grandfather immigrated from Italy at the tender age of 12. He landed in Monterey, “because that’s where the fishing was,” said Joe.
Years later, Joe and his parents owned a restaurant called Jolly Joe’s in Monterey. But the restaurant business wasn’t paying off like he wanted – “I couldn’t make a living cooking” is how Joe puts it – and he went to work for Sam Matar selling cars.
He switched to Monterey Motor Cars, and at age 21, was its general manager. A year later, he owned the Fiat dealership in Salinas, and brought it from No. 734 in the nation to No. 3. He established a used car business in Monterey before moving to the GMC dealership in Seaside.
Since then, Joe and Tom have seen major changes in the automotive business – a lot of them just in the past two to three years. For one thing, cars have become much more intricate and complicated; for another, customers are expecting more, because they depend on their cars so much.
At the Seaside Auto Center, both sales and service are offered, as well as parts.
“We have the ability to go to work,” said Joe. “When things get tough, we do whatever it takes in the ebb and flow of business.”
With that in mind, the Cardinales have added a variety of brands. They represent 15 different brands in all, including GMC, Buick, Pontiac, Mitsubishi, Suzuki, BMW, Audi, Toyota, Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, VW, Mazda, Nissan and others, plus a yet-to-be-introduced high-speed electric car.
The electric car, due to be released sometime in 2008, will be the first on the market. Manufactured in China, it’s called Miles, and will be the first all-electric, highway-capable sedan.
“Our feeling is that this is a world-changing event,” said Tom. “It uses no gasoline at all, and there are no emissions.”
Changing with changing times has been key to the Cardinales’ success. Their stores are selling a fair number of hybrid cars, but Joe points out that Yukons and Denalis are still in demand, and “get so much better gas mileage now than they used to.”
Tom is also proud of the fact that they sell cars of quality. He tells a story about his parts and service manager, whose GMC truck recently was hit in an accident. Although the man was injured, he came back to work within two weeks. His injuries would have been more severe, Tom says, if he weren’t in such a well-made vehicle.
In addition to the variety and quality of the cars sold at CardinaleWay, customers respond to the package offered by the Cardinales, which includes free car washes and free oil changes for the life of the car, as well as other discounts.
In order to keep offering excellent customer service, the Cardinales make sure their staff gets proper training on a consistent basis. For instance, the whole staff this year has received a book called “It’s Your Ship,” emphasizing how employees can take responsibility in improving business, and last year, it was “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” Car technicians receive constant training to keep up to date on what’s under the hood.
The training and attention has paid off. A number of Cardinale employees have been there since the beginning.
“Employees are the biggest asset to a business. We’re a Christian organization, and those are the values we use as we do business every day,” said Joe. “I believe that if you make your people better, it makes the business better.”