Region Assist -- New York Region team members Rebecca Buer and Nick Poupakis (in red) hard at work during a recent charity event that featured the Toyota Dealers Association, the nonprofit Go Baby Go and staff from the Children's Specialized Hospital (in white).
Over the past few years, there’s been a lot of hoopla about and attention paid to One Toyota. And deservedly so. It ranks as the most significant development in its history since, well, Toyota first established a presence here more than 60 years ago.
While One Toyota – the reconfiguration of the organization’s North American operations – might have been the most prominent Toyota story of the last few years, it hasn’t been the whole
story. Not even close.
Because at the same time Toyota Motor North America (TMNA) was taking shape in Plano, Georgetown and York Township, team members in the field continued to fight the good fight – to support their dealers and, in turn, our mutual customers.
But what, exactly,
happens in the field? Consider this brief introduction to the regions a small attempt to answer that question.
What is the Field?
Let’s start by answering a basic question: What is the field?
If we were talking about a sci-fi movie, you might think it had something to do with a mysterious energy force that connects all living things. But in this context, the field refers to Toyota team members who are geographically located to serve as the connective tissue between HQ and Toyota and Lexus dealers.
When it comes to the Toyota brand, the majority of the field is comprised of 10 Regions that are wholly owned by TMNA: New York, Boston, Central Atlantic, Cincinnati, Chicago, Kansas City, Denver, Portland, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Now, you might ask, “But aren’t most of those cities?” And you’d be right. But in Toyota-speak, they are also Regions, since they include not just these cities but the states in which they reside, along with – in most instances – other adjoining states.
In addition to the 10 Regions, TMNA also partners with two private distributors: Southeast Toyota, based in Deerfield Beach, Florida; and Gulf States Toyota, headquartered in Houston. These partnerships date back to Toyota’s early days in this country. They helped the brand gain an initial foothold and they continue to be key contributors to its success to this day. It’s a little complicated. But it still works. Quite well.
Meanwhile, the Lexus brand has its own version of the field which consists of four Areas: Eastern, Southern, Western and Central.
And then there’s Toyota Financial Services, with its network of three customer service centers, two dealer funding teams, three regional offices, and 29 Dealer Sales and Service Offices. But that’s a topic for another article.
What Does It Do?
Keeping the focus on Toyota and Lexus, team members in their respective field organizations serve similar roles. Their primary responsibilities are to interact with dealers and customers, generate revenue and manage the programs and initiatives that get their start at the headquarters level.
At the top of their priority list is to wholesale vehicles to the dealers and support them in their efforts to sell those vehicles to customers. When you’re talking about the car business, it doesn’t get any more fundamental than that.
But the field’s importance goes well beyond the sales numbers. Its true value lies in the relationships these team members build with dealers. The field team members’ hands-on interactions on a daily basis go a long way toward explaining why Lexus and Toyota hold down the top two spots in the NADA Dealer Attitude Survey. These incredibly strong ties give the brand a huge competitive advantage.
As such, the people who work in the field must be equally left- and right-brained. Much about the car business does come down to math. You have to know the numbers to have a meaningful and fact-based conversation with a dealer. But you also have to establish a rapport with the dealer and build a base of trust if you hope to address challenges and affect meaningful change.
What’s It Like Out There?
Folks who work in the field must be quick on their feet and adjust to an ever-shifting market landscape. While they have well-defined jobs, their hour-to-hour flow often is not.
There is no such thing as 8-5. Each day is driven by what must be done in the moment to address immediate and pressing needs. It’s high-paced. It can be hectic. But it can also be very rewarding and a lot of fun.
That dynamic makes the field a powerful training ground for the company’s future leaders. Ask today’s executives for the secret to their success and, to a person, they will tell you that it had a lot to do with their time in the field. That includes TMNA Chief Executive Officer Jim Lentz, who got his start with Toyota in the Portland Region.
Intrigued to learn more? Then keep an eye out for profiles of Toyota Regions and Lexus Areas to post here in the weeks and months ahead. Hopefully by the end of this series, the field will no longer be TMNA’s best-kept secret.
By Dan Miller