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Fast cars, fast rise for Miami dealer

Mon, 23 May 2011 00:00:00 -0700

The top-selling Audi dealer in the United States is 23 years old--and he has been running the business since he was 19.

His name is Brett David, a wunderkind who took over Prestige Imports of Miami in 2007 after a tragedy.

David inherited the business when his father and automotive mentor, Irv David, died unexpectedly of a fourth heart attack at age 56.

He almost didn't get the chance. Some people around him thought he was too young for the responsibility.

And in a letter penned just six months before his death, Irv David instructed Brett to sell the dealership because of the strain it would cause. The letter was delivered to Brett after his father's death.

"My father said it was the stress of the business that had killed him," said Brett, who will be 24 next month. "He wanted me to sell the dealership."

That was one wish Brett said he couldn't honor. Given his concern for employees, his vision for the store and a streak of rebelliousness that manifested itself early in life, Brett David had to give it a go.

In 2010, Prestige Audi sold 1,610 new cars and was recognized as the national leader in sales volume.

"One part of it is that I would be conquering something that took my father's life," said David, who also operates Lamborghini Miami on the site.

Brett David, 23, runs a Miami dealership in his own style.

In his first full year in charge of Prestige Imports, Audi sales jumped from 500 new cars in 2006 to 2,000 new cars in 2007, David said. It was at that point that the store became Audi's top-selling new-car dealership in the United States.

The key to growth was an emphasis on service, creative marketing -- including the hand-painting of a Lamborghini with a Sharpie pen -- and new bonus incentives stressing customer satisfaction, David said.

He said his father was old school, focusing on immediate sale and profit. "I believe service is what sells the second car. We set up a structure to reflect that."

David said he pegged bonuses to dealership scores on customer satisfaction and service satisfaction instead of on sales growth and gross. He knew from working at the dealership that customers would sometimes complain about cars with blemishes or other issues.

That was going to change. In one of his first acts as CEO, David called an all-employee meeting and told them he wanted them all to stay, but they had to buy into his vision. Vendors to the dealer received a similar message a few days later.

David's youthful exuberance led to a marketing coup. He shocked some Lamborghini and exotic-car enthusiasts by commissioning a South Florida graffiti artist to paint a pearl white $255,000 Lamborghini Gallardo with a Sharpie pen.

The Sharpie Lamborghini went viral on the Internet and made famous David's personal ride around Miami.

Don Stephenson, director of Audi of America Inc.'s Southern region, said David surrounded himself with skilled people in his father's organization.

"I give Brett credit. He knew he had a good team and good processes in place, and he let them move ahead," said Stephenson, who worked with Irv David as well.

Growth has come from a combination of a hot South Florida market for luxury vehicles, Prestige Imports' strong organization and attractive Audi vehicles. "That adds up to successful dealer," he said.

David also has been moving Prestige Imports away from traditional media to a greater emphasis on Internet sales, social media and events marketing.

The dealership likes to display cars outside hotels and art galleries to show how they fit with the South Florida lifestyle. "I want to get our logo out there," David said.

Among other changes he instituted was a call program that quoted a final vehicle price to customers for 24 hours. And he expanded his Audi loaner fleet from 10 vehicles to 30 so any service customer would have a loaner, he said.

One thing David is not is shy. Just days after Irv David relented and allowed 17-year-old Brett to begin selling cars at the dealership after school, Brett found himself at a local gas station, where music star Missy Elliot was trying to start a stalled Lamborghini.

He invited her to come to the store to look for a new ride. A few days later, she bought the first Lamborghini he ever sold. He said she remains a good customer.

David said he learned much from his father, but they frequently failed to see eye-to-eye, especially over Brett's desire to start working at a young age.

At age 15, Brett started selling custom rims and wheels to Prestige customers behind the old man's back because Irv David refused to accessorize the already beautiful exotics.

Brett operated a tidy little business for a couple of years called 305 Imports until Irv caught him one day. A delivery man who couldn't get parts into the back of the store where Brett was processing them came around to the front of the store and left them there.

Irv was not amused, especially since two dealership employees were moonlighting to provide service to the son's customers.

But after cooling off, Irv David said Brett could start selling cars after school if he sold the accessory business. Brett David said he sold the operation, complete with a Web site, for $40,000.

As Brett David will admit, not everything he has touched has turned to gold.

In the teeth of the recession, he went ahead with construction of a Lamborghini store in Palm Beach that his father had planned. The building alone cost $5 million.

But he was subsequently worn out by the sales slump and the strain of constantly driving the 90 minutes to the store from Miami to oversee operations.

He said the pressure landed him a short stay in the hospital for exhaustion, during which he decided to cut bait. He sold the dealership a year ago.

While he skipped college to work at his dad's store, the Palm Beach struggle perhaps gave him a more meaningful education.

He said: "It cost me a helluva lot more than college would have."

By David Barkholz- Automotive News