David Noël-Romas: Welcome to the Manitoba Business Podcast, featuring interviews with business leaders and entrepreneurs based right here in Manitoba. I’m David Noël-Romas.
This episode is brought to you by my small business, Black Chair Consulting. We use social media to help businesses sell more. To find out about Black Chair, visit www.blackchair.net.
Today’s guest is pretty impressive. Having worked his way up through the ranks at various car dealerships, he eventually started his own small used car dealership. Ten years later, business is booming, and his name is synonymous with pre-owned luxury vehicles in Winnipeg. And one visit to his showroom will tell you why: the space is perfectly thought out, and the staff are exceptional. Anyway, I really enjoyed our time together, and I hope you do too.
If you do, please tell your friends about the show. The show is available on all your favourite podcast platforms, including iTunes, and a transcript of every episode is also available on our website at www.manitobabusinesspodcast.com
Now, without further ado, here is Trevor Nott:
[to Trevor] Well, Trevor, thanks so much for taking your time.
Trevor Nott: Great to be here and great to meet you.
David: Could we have you start by telling us a little bit about who you are and what you do?
Trevor: My name is Trevor Nott. I am the founder and owner of Nott Autocorp and Luxuries in Canada, and most recently, the co-owner of Exotic Driver’s Club, which is a new fractional ownership, car ownership, venture. And yeah, we’ve been in business for about 10 years. We just celebrated our 10-year anniversary.
David: Yeah, I saw that on the way in. Very cool. Congratulations.
Trevor: Yeah. So I guess aside from that, I’m a husband and father of three, plus Nash here is with us today.
David: Awesome. So what’s your personal background, and how did you get into it?
Trevor: When I was 16 I got a job at Holiday Chev on [inaudible] Avenue. I was a lot boy, and I was washing cars, driving cars around, that sort of thing. My Uncle Cliff Nott had worked there, sales, for many years and it’s always good to have somebody who works there to help you get a job when you’re a kid, and give you a chance. So he put in a good word with the boss and then they hired me, and so…I was always kind of drawn to cars. My father sold cars on and off as well when I was younger, but he’s primarily…he was a baker. So yeah, just from there I started going…you know, obviously I was going to school and then I went into sales, originally, at Terra [SP] Ford, which is now the Royal Sports on Pembina. And I was 18 and I started it and I did it between…I was going to University of Manitoba and I was in phys ed and I was playing football, the Bisons, and then I started selling cars in the off-season, and I really liked it.
And from there, at the time, I stayed in student loans and really couldn’t afford to be going to school to begin with, but somehow I was making it happen. So I just stuck with the cars and I bounced around from a couple dealerships just trying to find my way, and I remember I was let go from this one dealer, and it’s funny because I deal with this person now who owned a dealership at the time. He’s now a sales rep for a different company that is a vendor of ours, and so we have a longstanding relationship, but he fired me. And then so I called…at the time, it was McPhillips Ford Lincoln. One of the salesmen there said, “Hey, if you find your way out here…” You know, you had to turn in your demo. I jumped on my bike, and he goes, “On your way out here you should go see my friends, the Vandee [SP] brothers, they run this Ford store on McPhillips.”
So I called Dennis Vandee, there, and I said, “Hey, I was referred to you by so-and-so. I just got fired. I need a job.” And he said, “Well…” He asked me a few questions and then he said, “Well, why don’t you come on down and we’ll meet you.” And I said, “Well I don’t have a [inaudible]. All I’ve got is my bike.” And he said, “Well, get on that two-wheeler and get down here.” So I got, you know, dressed up as much as I could on my bike and wheeled in there, and they hired me, and really that’s where I kind of cut my teeth, so to speak, in the car business, in the sales side, because that’s where I kind of grew some roots, and prior to that I was at a couple of stores, you know, it just didn’t work out. But there, I guess I kind of opened my eyes and grew up and…
David: What was the difference, or what do you think, like why did that click there?
Trevor: I think it really had this…you know, the dealership, it was part of the Chipman Group. So it was family run and then the brothers that ran it were from Stonewall so it had this country kind of feel about it, which I liked. And also, not only the dealership and the people there, which I was drawn to…out of pure necessity, you know, I had to pay rent. You know, you can learn a lot when you’re selling cars on commission and it’s the 27th of the month and you’ve sold two cars, and you gotta walk by the landlord, right? So that’s a huge motivator, and from there just, you know, you’re working six days a week and you’re working, you know, long, long hours and you’re doing whatever you need to do just to kinda get the job done.
And then from there you just, you know, you grind it out and you find your way. And I found a home there, and I was there for nine years, and they promoted me from sales, I think after about four, five years with the Bershire [SP] Group, and I became their finance manager, and I did that for another four years there. And the Chipman, Bob Chipman and Mark Chipman in particular, were very good to me. I played sports for Team Canada and they’d sponsor me, so I’d go away and compete and they’d, you know, help me with some sponsorship dollars and so on. So I was also feel very indebted and respect them very much for what they did for me. So from there I went to McNott [SP], I had an offer there.
And at that point, Mark Chipman was kind of leaving the auto group. He was more into the moose at that time, and that was one of my main connections there, along with Nicolette Ping [SP] as well, but I went to McNott as their finance manager knowing that they’re coming to the South Auto Mall eventually, but I started at their downtown location, and went there. And I had a very good relationship with them. At that time, they weren’t publicly traded. They were…Gordon McNott was the owner/operator, and again, all of his family’s working there, so again, a family type of atmosphere. And I had a great time there, and from there, I guess I had a bit of an epiphany because I had a great thing going there as well, but one of my big things is going to the lake.
And so I’m at the lake with my family and it was a long weekend, and in the car business you gotta work every Saturday and long weekends if it’s a holiday Monday and there’s a sale. So that that has always been the real tough part of the car business for me, but I dealt with it. It’s one of those things you just kinda get used to over 20 years or whatever it was. So I’m at the lake, driving in at 7:00 in the morning by myself, and it’s a glorious summer day, and I have two hours to think about what do I have to do to never do this drive again? So from there, I just found myself, you know, middle of the workday, I’d get in my car at lunch or whatever and I’d start driving around, looking for properties, not knowing what I was gonna do or how I was gonna do it or how I was gonna pay for it. But I just started doing that, and I did it almost daily, and I’d be looking and so on.
Then my wife’s parents lived in East St. Paul, so I would drive from the south up 59 to East St. Paul to visit her and her parents, and then I found this building in North Perimeter that was for sale. It was really run down at the time and it was is a steal. It really was a price of a house, but it was lots of…you know, I think it was around 14,000, 15,000 square feet and on an acre-and-a-half. And fortunately, this was the miracle of all this, there was a residence above what, at the time, was a body shop. So I convinced my pregnant wife, at the time, to sell our house in Westwood…because we couldn’t afford two mortgages…sell our house in Westwood, move above the body shop, which was great for sleeping when you’re pregnant.
And so from there, that was the only way, really, we can buy a commercial property. It just happened to have a house on it. So I rallied all of Amber’s family and sisters and said, “Hey, come on, help me out. Help me close her on this idea.” And she was great about it. You know, I joke but she accepted it and she knew that it had to be done, the only way we could do it. And then from there, before I quit McNott, I went to one of my buddies who worked at a bank, you know, he’ll go unnamed, but he was moving to Calgary and I said to him, “I need you to give me the biggest line of credit you can without getting fired.” Right? Like, I don’t want you to get yourself in trouble here. So he set me up with two $50,000 lines of credit because $50,000 was his cap that he could do. So one was in my wife’s name and one in my name, and off we went.
So from there, we just, literally, just started buying a couple cars. You know, I told Gordon McNott that I was gonna do this. I told him why I was doing it and they were great to me. At the time I had offered…because I didn’t have an operating line, I did offer a couple dealers in town the opportunity to…or of they’d give me the opportunity to partner in some way so I could get an instant inventory, but no biters. So I had a private investor that wanted to, but I decided against it and I figured I’d just try and grind it out myself with these lines and kinda go from there.
David: How did you make that work? I mean a hundred grand is a lot of money, but for cars…
Trevor: Yeah, so I got lucky again. At the time, there was are a couple of empty spaces within the commercial space I added at the time, which was Open Lane, which is now part of Odessa [SP]. They ended up renting an office from me there, and they had six or eight staff in there working, and they were selling cars all over the place. Just virtually, right? So I had income coming from them. I had another tenant in the service station. I did some improvements around there.
David: Interesting. So you found some ways to increase cash flow, basically.
Trevor: Exactly. And on top of that, then I approached [inaudible] Credit Union who set me up with the mortgage and I said,” Hey, look, I got this monthly income.” Until now, they reassessed the value of the property and said, “Oh, it’s worth this. Here you go. We can give you some money.” And that really was off to the races from there, and it wasn’t a huge amount but it was, you know, another 250 grand with [crosstalk]…
David: [Crosstalk] enough to get some credit and the lot?
Trevor: Yeah, yeah, but initially, it was literally a hundred grand and it was very selective in buying the car I like. So I remember, another bit of an evolution in our business, you know, when we first opened…I’ll rewind a little bit…we went three weeks without selling a car.
David: Oh, boy.
Trevor: And I remember I had hired my friend, Barry Swain, and that morning I said, “Okay, Barry, we’re gonna try something different today. We’re gonna sell a car today.” And sure enough, we did, and kind of another after that, after that. But early on, this gentleman walks and we’re like, “A human being. Look at this, we got a human on the lot,” right? So we were like all hands on deck and he says, “I’m looking for,” something like, “a red Chevy Cavalier, around this range here,” so on. And you know, we probably had five, six cars on the lot, so I said. “Come on in,” and I pulled up the desk. I showed him that there’s a red one running at Thursday at Odessa Winnipeg. “Here’s the condition report, the mileage, everything. It should be in around this price range. I won’t buy it unless we can get a very good deal on it.”
And, “Oh yeah, sounds great. Okay.” So I go to the auction, I buy that car for him, I bring it back, clean it all up, run it through shop, certify it, say, “Here it is.” I’m thinking, yeah, this is gonna be great. We had no car and now we’re turning this, you know, into a new customer and so on. And he looked around it. You know, has his coffee and he’s walking around, “Okay, yeah, yeah. Okay, thanks.” So, sorry, “Thanks?” Do you wanna take it home now or what do you want to do? And he’s like, “No, no, I’m just gonna keep looking. That’s not exactly what I want.” Yeah, “It’s not exactly what I want, but…” I said, ‘Okay.” So I guess we got another car on the lot.
But you know, you also learn from everything, right? What we took from that, for us, it was okay, so where if we were going to do a custom order, is essentially what we name that now, we type that. And over the years, we did different things to modify it to make sure it was more clear for the customers and for us, and it really tightened the process. From there, because out of necessity that we didn’t have a large inventory, we developed custom order process. And then a couple years later the Canadian dollar strengthened verses the U.S. and we started doing that on the American side, custom ordering, and saving clients, you know, thousands and thousands of dollars.
So that’s evolved into that, and so on. So our business has just kinda organically grown that way. It’s been usually of necessity that we fall into a new, you know, side of our business. And you know, I believe everything happens for a reason, and that gentleman not taking that Cavalier that day was a blessing. That’s when, you know, then we looked in the mirror, “Okay, so we’re onto something here, but where’d we go wrong?” Right? And then I guess from there, we just literally hired…you know, go get some gas at co-op down the street…you know, we hired one of the guys. He was always in, you know, a nice car or whatever, and then he was our first lot guy. He said, “Oh, are you guys hiring?” And so we hired this kid from co-op, and what turned into, probably, our best ever lot guy. And from there, we hired, you know, a receptionist.
But the first couple of cars, I was washing them. I was doing everything. [Crosstalk] Yeah, like back to my 16-year-old days. So at the time I was my mid 30s, and I was living at the dealership so the upside of that is you are hands on, you’re everything, you’re its security…you’re everything, right? So you couldn’t be any more hands on because you’re actually living there. So it was pretty intense because, you know, you’ve got a newborn, you got a business you’re trying to run, you’re trying to pay your rent, but you have tenants there, so you’re able to manage it all. Really, there was no escape other than the odd jaunt to the lake for just a Sunday because we were just setting up, right? So the intention, how this all started, was freedom and to get to the lake, and I had to give all that up for quite a while. And it took probably four or five years before I got to the point where I got back to the freedom and the lake and taking weekends off and so on. But believe me, it was well worth it.
David: When you first started, what was kind of the key to getting people on the lot?
Trevor: You know, I was on the Dealers Association board and we’re in a round table kind of meeting, we were talking about different things. The words out of my mouth, at the time, my motto was “fake it until you make it.” And I still don’t feel like I’ve made it, but…in those first couple of years, so we did sell a few cars, and say we made an X amount of profit. So then I’d look at that profit and I’d say, “Okay, what are we gonna do with this? Are we going to just put it all into inventory, or we pull a little bit out here and do an ad in the Free Press, or do this…?” So the marketing side of it, we had to be very creative because we didn’t have a lot of revenue to throw out there, so we did a lot of what I call front lines marketing. You know, different events like golf tournaments, and car shows, and just really, you know, out in the public meeting people and spreading the word.
And you know, Winnipeg is a huge car culture and we just kinda made sure we were part of it wherever it was. So I guess the front lines of marketing is what we were trying to deal with, and we just did it as efficiently as we could with the limited funds that we had. So it was a risk because we probably, at the time during when we were doing these, that probably should have put other places but I said, “Hey. Let’s fake it until we make it.” And at the time, I know that people come out there and they say, “Oh, wow. I thought you guys…” because we had commercials running, and friends of Jennifer Jones, the curler, and so on. So, “I thought you guys would be much bigger based on the commercial and everything else.” I said, “Oh, well, you’re here. Let’s go.” Yeah, we’ve got you in the door now…perfect.
David: Did you set out to build it to be like a luxury car brand, or is that something that came later?
Trevor: That was always the goal and the intention, but financially it was tough. I felt that, one, I was like always kind of drawn to nice cars. So I worked at the Ford Lincoln store, so I saw some Lincolns. I worked at the Cadillac store, at McNott, so I had that experience, and then just being around cars. So I felt that there was a segment, and especially in Winnipeg, where there’s an opportunity because the depreciation on a brand new luxury car versus a used one is the greatest area for value, right? So $100,000 Escalade, two, three years later, is worth $50,000. To me, the way I was born and raised is that’s a smart buy. So we’d advise our customers to buy smart and buy it at the right time, and then resell it at the right time.
And we would want to be a part of all those transactions and guide them through that process. And that’s really our hands on relationship that we had with our customers, that’s what we’d offer to them. You know, we wouldn’t wanna sell a car that we wouldn’t wanna take back in a couple years. So we were very selective in the cars we picked because we knew that we were telling this customer, “Here, this is a smart buy, you should buy it for this.” And then we would tell them when the best time to resell it based on their mileage, the market, you know, the condition of the car, their needs, and so on. So then that evolved into our consignment process, which say you had that, in that scenario, that Escalade that you bought for $50,000, not $100,000. You drove it. So then say maybe you had 50,000 kilometers, now you’re up to 80,000.
Sell it just before it hits a hundred thousand, has a little better value, and then depending how many cars on the market and so on. So we would call that customer, knowing that there are vehicles out there, we’d have other clients come around and say, “I’m looking for this sort of vehicle.” We call our other customers, “Hey, we have a customer looking for exactly your Escalade that you have.” And now we know the history, we’ve serviced the car, we’ve done all that, so for the buyer that’s now buying that car they get a good story, local vehicle, so on. And for the seller, they’re gonna get more for their trade because we already have a retail buyer for the vehicle. And then we get to sell the original customer a replacement vehicle.
So really, it turns into another customer, so we’re adding another customer, and we’re adding, you know, another sale to…well, to both individuals. So it’s really how we’ve built our business and when you do that with a customer, it shows that you care and you’re involved in the selection of the vehicle and you’re not just, “Hey, I got a row of these. Here, let’s try and jam you into of these cars.” That’s just never been the way we’ve operated, and our customers…our loyalty and the amount of referrals we get are really amazing. It’s unlike anything I’ve seen at any other dealerships I’ve worked or bought from.
David: That’s true, actually. Just anecdotally, I know when buy cars from you because they tell me. We’re almost out of time. I’ve got three more questions I wanna hit really quick. First of all, what do you see as the biggest challenges and opportunities for Nott Autocorp in the next five years?
Trevor: Challenges and opportunities? I would say that now that we’ve opened up here on Waverly, our traffic has been phenomenal. Our space now, our capacity’s much greater because we were limited. That’s why we moved from the last location. But now, we’ve just opened up, in the last year, our service department here. We have a separate building here next door. And just, I think, managing that whole new customer base, influx of customers, and growing that business, you know, naturally, as we have in previous years to match the need, I think is gonna be the biggest challenge because technicians and all the software upgrades and everything else that’s involved in that side of the business, you need to act really quickly but also efficiently because of the costs associated.
You know, the technicians are that, they’re no longer, you know, mechanics or technicians. Really, they’re working on computers now more than they are, you know, changing tires. So that part of it evolving with technology and the growth of the business, I think, is one of our biggest challenges, and we feel like we’re keeping ahead in some of that aspects with our relationship with Tesla. We offer leasing through our luxury leasing division. We lease brand new cars, all makes and models, but they’re fleet wholesale discounts. But on the Tesla side, we already have a bunch of orders banked for the Model 3 coming out, which is really exciting, so we feel like we’re kind of…I don’t wanna say hip with the technology side of it, but we’ve been dealing with the Tesla…I’m a national appraiser for Tesla across Canada.
So if you’re in Vancouver and you have a Porsche you’re trading in on a Tesla, I appraise it. And then, at that point, I get all the photos, condition, history report, and then I’ll either remarket it, you know, that vehicle in that province or I’ll ship it here if I feel it’s a piece of inventory that we want to sell locally. So we’ve kind of positioned ourselves nicely to be a part of that movement because there’s no denying that the auto industry is going through its, you know, most massive change in its history. And we’re excited for it and we feel like because we’re not linked to just one franchise, we can adapt as the other manufacturers make their advances with the electric and some green energy and hydrogen, or whatnot, we can just adapt naturally as those cars succeed or fail.
You know, a good example right now is Volkswagen with everything going on. Well, I’m sure glad we don’t have that sign out front. So because we’re a hybrid of all of them, we can just say, “Well, we know that we’re not gonna be buying any Volkswagens.” You can’t say that if you’re a Volkswagen dealer. So that’s just an example, right? So we like to be able to, you know, go with the flow of everything that’s happening in today’s market. So you know, to answer your question, I think just readying ourselves for how that happens.
David: Sure. Second to last question, who would you say have been the biggest sort of influences on your approach to business?
Trevor: Boy, there’s a lot in there, but if I tried to narrow it, I would probably say Bob Chipman, and Mark, and the Chipman family have been really good examples of what a business should run like and look like. You know, Bob since passed for many years, but he was just an amazing person. Like, he had hundreds of staff and he would remember everybody’s name, and it wouldn’t matter if you’re a lot guy or whoever. And he’d come around at a Christmas party and he’d go around and ask you about, you know, “How is your wife, Amber?” And he would just remember everything and certain things about you. He was very deliberate. When you spoke to Bob Chipman, you knew that he was listening. He just had that way of every word that you said, you know, he was digesting it and then empathizing with you and then he would take his time and deliberately come back with whatever was the right thing to say. He just had that way about him.
So he was a huge, obviously, icon in this city and his legacy carries on now with the Winnipeg Jets and everything else. And you know, obviously, he was a great parent because you see his children, what they’re doing in the community is just amazing. So I’d say Bob Chipman, for sure, as a shining example. Many, just, coaches, you know, sports…I’m a big sports guy and I believe in, you know, the whole team atmosphere. And we have that here with our people, and you know, the old locker room mentality in terms of if you have a person in that locker room that’s poisonous, it’s the same in business and you just need to…you know, early on, we found we’d make a mistake hiring a salesperson who is a superstar at another store and he came to work for us and he was not a superstar person.
So from that day on, we learned that it doesn’t matter how many cars you sell or how good you are at fixing cars if you don’t fit in with our baseline of just being a quality person, then the rest doesn’t matter. And that’s how we’ve hired since then. That goes back about nine years, and really, that’s probably been our biggest reason for success that we’ve had. And so coaches, I’d say, teachers, Mr. Tom DiCola [SP] was a huge influence on my life in school. He’s just one of those teachers that cared about what you were doing and, you know, hundreds of kids running around the school, but he’d stop you and say, “Hey, what’s going on?”
David: Yup. That kind of always makes a big difference.
Trevor: Yeah, absolutely. So coaches, other business leaders. You know, I just see these guys nowadays…it’s getting harder and harder to do what we did and just slowly grow. And you know, here we are close to the Auto Mall and we’re competing with a lot of the big boys in some ways. And nowadays, the way the dealer groups are going and they’re just eating up all the other dealers, I think that’s becoming more and more unlikely and difficult for a young Trevor Nott to do, which is scary. It’s a little bit frightening, and a lot of the business world seems to be going that way, which, that’s why I’m a big, you know, supporter of small local business, and guys like [inaudible], and guys like that do lots in the community. So whenever possible, I’m out supporting in different charity events and different things like that, usually when it’s tied into small local businesses that are giving back to the community.
David: Awesome. The last question, are a reader? Any book recommendations?
Trevor: Yeah. Yeah, I do. I do some reading, not every day, but typically I’ll read if I feel like I’m getting a little…what’s the word I’m looking for…off track a little bit to what’s most important and things like that. So I’ll read, then I fall asleep, you know, start doing the head nod with the book, and it’s a good way to put me to sleep when my mind’s racing a little bit. I’ll read and that really helps to kind of center me. I read Eckhart Tolle, “The Power of Now.” Yeah, and that’s a book that it’s just worn out and I just keep going back and reading and reading and reading. It’s almost like my bible. And Marianne Williamson, “A Return to Love.” And I know these aren’t, you know, “conquer the car world” type of books that you’d expect, but that’s not why we’re in business. I don’t wanna conquer the car world. It’s all about freedom and having a good time and giving back, so…
David: Cool. Well, Trevor, thanks so much for your time. It’s really been a pleasure.
Trevor: Yeah, likewise.
David: That’s it. Thank you for listening to the “Manitoba Business Podcast.” Once again, this episode was brought to you by Black Chair Consulting. We use social media to help businesses sell more. If you want to find out about Black Chair Consulting, go to www.blackchair.net. Thanks so much. Have a great day.