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A montly column celebrating the folks who make WNC Woman available–free–every month

This Month: Tony Pelle of Prestige Subaru


Tony Pelle

Meeting and talking with Tony Pelle of Prestige Subaru is not like a typical encounter with someone in the car industry. What struck me fairly quickly into the conversation with Tony was how little he talked about himself and his dealership. I did learn that he was born and raised in the Asheville area; that heís been in the car business all his life in some form; and has been at this location for 14 years. Oh, and Prestige Subaru has been the number one Subaru dealership in the Southeast for several years.

Beyond that, most of the discussion was about all the community projects heís involved with. One of his top interests is Animal Compassion Network. “We have an adoption coming up on the 20-21st of June. I work closely with Ann [Barron], and Eileen [Bouressa, Executive Director], who was here yesterday and we plotted out the next year. We’re going to do a program with ACN: one of my guys is going to go get one of the dogs and take it for a joy ride, and take it to the Hop where they have dog treats. Then we’ll film it, put it on the website, and if that helps one dog find a home, our job is done. And the dogs will love it!”

For ten years he’s supported the local women’s cycling team, working closely with Patricia Pinner. “They are a great group of cyclists; they race all over the US and some of them are National Champions.”

Tony recently discovered that the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation is the main organization that funds maintenance on the Parkway; in fact 49% of their budget comes from donations. “We’re doing stuff just to build awareness about the Parkway Foundation. Something I didn”t realize is that there are more people who visit the Blue Ridge Parkway than Yosemite, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon put together… it blew me away!”
The fourth organization he mentioned was one I’d not thought of lately: The IFB (Industries for the Blind) which is actually a for-profit business, having recently received a contract to make all the poncho liners for the US military. “What a tug in your heartstrings it is, looking at what these people do. They’re legally blind and they make all these poncho liners, sewing with these huge needles. It’s amazing what they do. I think everyone should take that tour; take their kids there.”

Recently Tony hired someone to video all the events he does with these organizations. Since most of them don’t have the resources to do that, he is able to help publicize them on their websites (and his own). He wants to help make the public more aware of what they each do; what they need to continue their work. He told me he was particularly taken with a 90-year-old woman at IFB who was a “Rosie the Riveter” during WWII. “She’s just awesome; I told my wife that night that Iím never gonna whine about my life again!”

We did get back to talking about how this focus on giving back to the community is important to him personally and to his business as well. I wondered what he credits his business success to. “It’s just people, my people, my customers. I’ve got the greatest customers in the world; I’ve got people on their 10th Subaru, they’re very loyal to the brand. And, just good service. It’s real simple, you know; give them a good price on the car, good service, and guess what? Theyíll be back. It’s not rocket science.”

Finally, we talked about how the recent devastation in Japan (and the dip in the economy earlier) has affected his business. “Last year my business was up 125% and we were on track for that this year before the earthquake. Two years ago, when the economy went south, Subaru did the right thing: they increased their advertising budget and, by doing that, picked up market share.”

But, of course, the earthquake and tsunami devastated the auto industry in Japan. “Due to [what happened] in Japan, I’ll only get 7 cars in June where normally Iíd get 70 or 80. And, I’ll get about 25% fewer for the rest of the year. They’re just now figuring out which parts and which manufacturers are affected. One thing is a little chip that controls air bags. Without it you can’t build the car. No new car sales means no trade-ins. I’m now just trying to find late-model used Subarus so I’ll have something to sell.

“The sales guys have salary, plus commission, so I’ll just try to provide them with used cars to sell. The Service Department will be OK; hopefully we’ll have enough parts! The new Impreza was to be launched in September, but has been moved back to November (it gets 36 MPG and is AWD). As always in business (and in life) we have to adapt to what’s being thrown at us.”

Truer words are seldom spoken.

Sandi Tomlin-Sutker
Written by Sandi Tomlin-Sutker