From the heart: Meet Luis Perez and his stellar sales team.
By: Stephanie Kusy
Photography by: Paul Marshall
Luis Perez was born with the entrepreneurial spirit. It all started back when he was 12 years old. Perez says he worked at a curio shop in Ciudad Acuna on the Mexican border near Del Rio selling blankets, sombreros and liquor. He was saving to buy a pair of boots.
According to him, it was all about selling. It’s no surprise that selling cars came naturally to this self-made man. Perez owns both the Volkswagen and the Fiat dealerships in Corpus Christi, as well as the Fiat Pre-owned Supercenter. He’s been in business in Corpus Christi since June 2010, when he bought out the Volkswagen store with his business partners. “In our very first month, we took it from a negative to positive, and we never lost money again.”
The dealerships pride themselves on customer service and offering the best warranties around town. “We like to treat people in a very personable way,” he explains. “For the most part, I am always at the dealership. I say, ‘hello,’ to every customer that I can. I thank them for coming in here. I work a lot of the deals personally.”
Perez sticks to a hands-on approach because he wants to build relationships with his customers. All vehicles come with a lifetime warranty – a luxury many vehicles don’t carry. Used cars include a two-year basic maintenance warranty – oil changes, tire rotations, 28-point inspections and car washes – so customers will not worry about problems down the road. “We give a peace of mind that’s stress-free when they purchase a car here because they’re well covered. Our coverage is some of the best in the industry.”
It seems fate had a plan for Perez when he joined the car selling industry. Back in the ‘90s, he traveled to Houston to interview for a job in a different industry. While perusing the wanted section of the newspaper, he came across an ad claiming he could earn $80,000 to $100,000 selling cars. “I said to myself, ‘I can do this. I can sell anything.’” Needless to say, the other job did not pan out. Shortly after, he moved to Houston to sell vehicles for Mitsubishi. He worked his way up from salesman to manager to general manager, and then he eventually found an opportunity to buy into a store.
Perez opened the Fiat dealership in November 2012 in an old Long John Silver’s building. The store quickly became No. 1 in sales for Fiat in all of South Texas. Excellent sales and customer satisfaction led to the them being awarded the Alpha Romeo franchise in July 2014, meaning this Fiat dealership lines up with the best of the best.
The owner takes care of his 100 employees, too. He tries to create a good working atmosphere for everybody – a place where employees enjoy coming to work in the morning. He says all staff earn above minimum wage to prevent a high turnover.
Perez is well on his way to becoming an icon in Corpus Christi. The Hispanic Chamber of Commerce awarded him businessperson of the year in 2014 for his dedicated efforts to expand his company. His catchy slogan, “Peace and love my friends,” appears regularly in commercials, where he sports a brightly colored T-shirt and shoots up a peace sign.
“When I was young I used to call everybody my friend, like ‘hey, how ya doing, my friend?’ It’s been a part of my vocabulary for a long time,” he explains. He even created a few catchy Spanish slogans that rhyme to engage all potential clients. And it stuck. Foot traffic is up, and sales consistently increase. “I do it from the heart. I hope it comes across like that. We want it to be something personal and something inviting where people feel at ease. I do talk fast,” he says, laughing. “I say a lot in 30 seconds.”
Perez credits some of his success to understanding the Mexican-American culture. Born in the United States, but raised in Mexico, he crossed the border every morning to attend school in Del Rio. His parents wanted him to learn English. The oldest of five brothers and one sister, he says his family never needed anything, but didn’t have much of anything, either. From early on, his family instilled a strong work ethic in him.
“Ain’t nobody going to outwork me when it comes to finesse and being stubborn about success,” he says. “I think that’s where I win over my competitors. I’m here. I’m working it – early in the morning and late at night. It takes a lot to have a good business.”
When Perez isn’t shooting his next commercial or closing a deal, he enjoys the finer things in life like cooking and cheering on the Dallas Cowboys. Years ago, he owned a restaurant where he took advantage of all his mother’s recipes to create a fusion of flavor with a unique twist. His favorites include zucchini squash and chicken and caldo de res. These days, cooking serves more as a hobby to help him unwind while spending time with his wife of 30 years and two grown daughters.
While still a family man, Perez easily juggles his career. “I’m very passionate about what I do. I tell my wife that I’m retired because to me, this is not a job, so I come every day with a big smile and ready to go. I can’t wait for it to be time to come to the office because I love it so much. It’s a passion that drives me every day.”
Perez admits he never finished college, but he wants local children to understand the importance of getting an education. Last year, the dealerships partnered with CCISD and donated cash from all their employees to a local school, as well as gave computers to local kids who register and had perfect attendance in school. It’s one of many ways he’s giving back to the community.
With a passion for the industry, Perez says he will remain in Corpus Christi for the long run. His future plans include generating more jobs and more business in the community while delivering top-notch service to his customers.
Volkswagen of Christi is located at 6902 SPID, and can be reached at 866-656-5245. Fiat of Corpus Christi is located at 6210 SPID and can be reached at 361-452-3625. And Fiat Pre-owned Super Center is located at 6355 SPID and can be reached at 361-442-2892.