Tell me a little bit about your background and where you grew up?
My name is Nick Markosian and I grew up in Salt Lake City Utah, in fact, I grew up about a mile away from where I live now. Salt Lake City is a beautiful place, there are a lot of outdoor activities. I grew up skiing with my grandpa and he took us out every year since was 7 until literally the year he died I was up in the mountains with him until I was 24 years old so it was just wonderful to have that experience with him. I am a big mountain biker and avid cyclist and just try to take advantage of everything this beautiful place has to offer.
I went to high school, and I always loved cars. I was always reading car magazines and was kind of a nerdy kid who would go and bug the salespeople at the local Nissan dealership. I really like Nissans, I was always into Z cars, in fact, my very first car was a 240Z. I started begging them to work there since I was 16 years old and they finally hired me about a year later and literally the day I graduated from high school, I started selling cars. I was so excited, I started wearing ties like two months before I became a salesperson. I was just a lot guy wearing ties being a super nerd and anyhow I started selling cars and I really enjoyed it. I was also in the music program at the University of Utah playing saxophone. I had a music scholarship but decided after a few years that car sales were where it was at for me. After I decided that, I became the top salesperson at the Nissan store, and I was only 20 years old. And when I was 22, they made me the manager at a large satellite used car store and then I decided to open up my own dealership with a partner when I was 25.
And this new dealership is first of what became of Markosian Auto today?
Yes, we started out pretty small, but we grew to be a pretty substantial operation and it wasn’t long until we were selling about 70-80 cars a month. We started doing inhouse financing buy-here-pay-here on 04’ just as a side thing because there were so many of our customers leaving who we couldn’t do anything with or it was so challenging to deal with the indirect lenders that we wanted to finance our customers ourselves so we started doing that but it never became a huge part of our business, it was 10%-20% of our business and then we opened up a second location in 2006 with a third partner and then the recession hit just in time for our $3MM facility at our second location and we went from selling 50 cars in a little temporary trailer to selling 20 cars in a 30,000 square foot building so that math didn’t quite work.
Everything kind of blew up and it was a really difficult time, I let go of my partner and look on the debt. I borrowed money from my family to try to keep thing rolling during that really tough period and consolidated down to one dealership. First, we had no employees, very little cars and just kind of started from scratch right around February of 2010. But we started rebuilding, had a really good team of managers and we just kept coming to work and just trying to make today a better day than yesterday.
By 2013 we decided to move our location to a new location which ironically was a dealership I managed back in 1996 back when I was really young. We actually purchased that same exact property in 2013, remodeled it, added a big shop, and did really really well out of there from day 1. At that point, we had switched from BHPH to LHPH primarily because of the sales tax savings. $600 a vehicle is a lot when you’re really tight so that helped tremendously to build our portfolio and to get things rolling quickly.
Things started going really really well, leasing became 50% of our business at that point and we wanted to increase it but capital constraints kept it where it was. We opened up another location in 2016 and that turned out to be a great acquisition and that store has done very very well from day 1. We opened up a third location in 2019 and now we average about 230 sales a month and we are up to about 3500 lease-here-pay-here accounts. We are growing a lot, I mean, we grow 50-70 accounts per month so it’s a great time, things are going very well, and we are excited about the future.
When was the moment you knew you wanted to get into the used car business?
Gosh, I mean, I don’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be in the car business to tell you the truth. I had a great uncle who was a used car dealer, and he was a hero of mine, such a likeable nice guy and he did really well as a successful Ford dealer. He was my mentor, and I just knew from a really young age that I loved everything about the car business being the showroom floor, dressing up, all that stuff just appealed to me so I kind of knew from day one this is what I was going to do.
What motivates you to do what you do?
That is an interesting question because as you get older and you start to figure out what works and what doesn’t work, you change and you shift, you know. I used to love the idea of buying really nice expensive cars and selling them to people but that just isn’t my demographic like I am in a blue-collar area. An area where a lot of folks have less than perfect credit so what I had in my head versus the reality that was on the ground was different and it took me year and years to reconcile that just do what made sense to the company, you know. So, I took out them emotional side of it and the illogical side of it, if you will, and looked at where is the growth area? Where can I create a niche? What can I do that no other dealer in the area is doing to generate prosperity and success? So, it took me a long time to evolve into what we are now, but I would say finally by 2018 I was all in on in house financing and growing and building upon that business. One thing that is really cool ab out the Salt Lake market is, yes, there are a lot of BHPH dealer just like anywhere else but there is no large, sophisticated professional in house financed dealers that sell a higher ACV vehicle. None, other than us. I have seen several other dealers be successful in other markets, so I said why not in Salt Lake.
What goals do you want to accomplish with your work and what are you looking forward to in the future?
Our goals right now are to continue building on our strong financials, continue to stay extremely profitable, and the cool thing is the path to get there is to just do a really good job taking care of our customers. I really believe the is a direct correlation between the customer experience, how they feel about our dealership, what kind of car we sell them, and success. So, it’s a beautiful thing because I don’t really need to worry about strengthening my balance sheet or improving my P&L statement as long as I am doing a really good job focusing on what is best for my customer. This plays out day after day after day as we see more repeat referral customers and growth. Growth is the biggest indicator for know if you’re on the right track or not, I’d say.
If you could use three words to describe yourself, what would they be and why?
Oh gosh… *laughing* I would say I am kind of intense. Like when I started biking, I was riding 12-16 hours a week on my bike, so I am really intense about things like that. I don’t like to waste time, I am not much of a small talker, I just like to get to the point and figure things out. I am very determined to be the dealer and business that I have envisioned in my head. So, I would say I am in intense person, and I think the people around me, the people who work for me, my wife, would agree with that *laughing*.
Second, I would say I am a charismatic person. I think people enjoy working for me, talking with me and being around me. I think part of that is I just have an energy about me and is something natural that I’ve always had.
Third, I would say that I have become grounded, and not grounded because I am a humble person, but because life has forced me to become grounded several different times. Life has forced to find a little humility and be more of a student than a teacher sometimes.
You did tell me about founding Markosian Auto, but would you say there were any key turn points in your journey starting a dealership?
Yeah well, we moved locations in 2004 and we had been open for 4 years at that point and we immediately started selling more cars and growing. And then I would say when we moved to that new location in 2013 that was a turning point and things just started looking brighter. I have to say, during the recession from about 2007-2012 I would try everything to try and sell cars and nothing seemed to work. It seemed like failure after failure after failure and when the pandemic hit, I thought to myself, I can’t do it again. I can’t do through another 5-year period where there are just no sales, or just very slow and no growth. Just griding it out day after day, so that pandemic scared the living crap out of me for about a month. And then ironically it turned out to be the best year we’ve ever had. As an entrepreneur, I have learned it’s not about being the smartest or the best or whatever, I mean certainly that helps, but it’s sticking it out during the tough times because there will be rough period in any business. They guys who stay open aren’t the lucky ones necessarily, but they are willing to put up with the most crap to get through those tough times.
What would you say has been the most rewarding part of your career?
Most of my managers started as salespeople or business development representatives or mechanics and they have all grown and matured to become great leaders and great executives and that organic growth is something I am really proud of. We have a culture where it doesn’t matter where you came from, if you can perform, and you can do a job, and you can make it happen, then there is opportunity for you at Markosian Auto.
How do you motivate yourself and your team?
I think for myself, I always find something I want to accomplish in the business and that is kind of the cool things about being the boss of a dealership is that there are so many moving parts and its really just a bunch of businesses within a business. So, you can focus on areas that you want to improve on. For example, I joined a adealer-20 group and our delinquencies were a little higher than the group average so I decided to move all out efforts to try and improve collections and its really cool to see areas like that come to fruition. The way I learn from that is I go to the best. I go visit other dealers, I brought in a consulting group, and figured out the best practices out there and implement them. I actually send my team to those places and have them to have them buy in and bring excitement yes short-term pain but long-term gain. I really enjoy seeing things that that, everyone coming together, happen in our business.
Do you have any success habits?
I don’t know if this is necessary for success, but I am an early bird. I wake up really really early, not by choice but that’s just the way it is. I’ll spend the first hour in bed just reading the Wall Street Journal and I think that has been important to me to have a macro understanding of what is going on in the world and the economy and things like that. I do practice good habits, I exercise a bunch, most of the time I eat pretty good. I think another key thing is that I don’t do anything in my business long term that I don’t like. I know that sounds like I’m spoiled or entitled to whatever but really what it does is it preserves me from getting burned out. I think when you’re burned out of your business, that’s one of the most detrimental things that can happen to a person. I mean this is your who life, its everything, how you provide for your family. And if you’re sick of it and it’s wearing you out, I just feel like you’re in big trouble. You’re in prison or trapped, you know, so I really work hard to keep that balance. I work hard when I need to work hard but if I don’t need to work hard then I’m not going to work hard. I’m going to enjoy my life, go boating, ride my bike, spend time with my kids, things like that. I think its super important at least to me to not let the negative aspects of business bring me down.
What advice do you have for someone starting out in the industry that you, yourself wish you had known 10 years ago?
First of all, make sure you have a plan. If I had a plan, I would have been much more successful today. So, what the plan? Well, how many cars do you want to sell? How much do you want to grow? How are you going to get the money to do it? Whatever the answers to those questions are, just make sure you have a plan.
Second most important question is, what separates you from everyone else? If you can’t answer that question, I think you’re in a little bit of trouble. Why would someone do business with you as opposed to everyone else, I mean, this is a super saturated, super competitive business. So, ask yourself, why you?
Just know when you’re starting you, this isn’t vacation time. You need to have the time, energy, passion, and drive to come to work and really make the most of those first 5 years of business because you are going to need to put everything you got during that time period before things start to run on their own a little bit.