The ‘kaizen’ advocate

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E3-MAIN20150915Lee Junia, the general manager of Toyota Bicutan, never thought he would find himself back in the Philippine automotive industry after living and working in the United States for about 11 years.

A car enthusiast, Junia marks his first year as general manager of Toyota Bicutan on September 16. Under his watch, the dealership’s average monthly sales increased to 350 from 280 or by about 24 percent. But he humbly does not take much credit for it.

Although his most recent stint before joining Toyota Bicutan was with Nissan Philippines Inc. (NPI), Lee worked for Toyota Motor Philippines Corporation (TMP) from 1991 to 2001 where he reached the position of assistant vice president for parts. He and his family would leave for the US where Junia worked for various industries.

In 2011, Junia went on a vacation in the Philippines but he did not even thought of rejoining the Philippine automotive industry.

“They arranged for us to have a golf game with Allen Chen. From there on, that’s how I kind of found my way back to the auto industry. I then started with NMPI [Nissan Motor Philippines Inc.] and last year when there was a merger at Nissan [between NMPI and Universal Motors Corporation or UMC], I was carried over from NMPI to NPI,” he said, referring to his old friends and acquaintances in the local automotive industry. Chen was then the president and chief executive officer of NPI.


But TMP, which owns Toyota Bicutan, was also eyeing Junia who was appointed general manager for sales at NPI.

“Even prior to that, there were already conversations going on between myself and Toyota, with the possibility of kind of going back to the retail side of the business. At first, I had a little bit of a hesitation, because I had never been directly involved in the retail side of the business,” Lee said.

So on September 16, 2014, he joined Toyota Bicutan as its general manager after spending a good two years for the Nissan brand in the Philippines.

It was some sort of homecoming for Lee, who joined TMP in 1991 after a stint with the logistics industry.

Although Lee left NPI, he still had respect for the brand and NMPI’s management that did its best to rebuild the brand in the Philippines.

“When I was with Nissan, to their credit, they did their best to weather out the crisis. But with the merger coming in, it was tougher because what would NMPI and UMC do? So it was really a very difficult situation at that point, because it was difficult to plot the future knowing that there was a merger going to happen,” he said.

Working at the dealer
Junia found working at the dealership level a new challenge, because his previous work for the Toyota brand was at the factory in Santa Rosa, Laguna. But that did not mean that just because a dealership sells Toyota vehicles, its customers will come in droves and be automatically loyal to the brand.

“At the distributor, what you’re looking at is already three to four, five years down the line. You are looking at the new product introduction, you are looking at the next minor change, you’re looking at the next new products that will come in, you are looking at new niches in the market,” he said, emphasizing that the manufacturer, for its part, had to prepare for the future when it came to product development.

Junia said to increase the sales of Toyota Bicutan and make it more profitable, he did not have to shake up the whole organization. Instead, he made all the departments in Toyota Bicutan like marketing, service, parts, finance and even administration communicate with each other in order to achieve integration.

“It was more of communications, integration. I have a very good team but sometimes they were too compartmentalized, they were not communicating with each other,” he noted.

Junia also integrated the profit centers of Toyota Bicutan.

“The other thing you have to look at is the fluidity or integration of profit centers, [particularly]sales, parts, service and used car [sales]. Their integration should be seamless,” he said.

When it came to attaining sales targets, Junia is more process-oriented.

“The way I look at, in is a very simplistic way, it is like a sales funnel – number of prospects to hot prospects to reservations to retails sales. I just have to look at my actual ratios [for hot prospects and reservations]. Then I can set the targets,” he said.

“In fact, I don’t even look at my retail sales figures. The only things that I will really look at are reservations, and number of hot prospects we have in our pipeline. Then the results will follow. And I warn my sales managers: ‘Don’t focus too much on sales targets,’” Junia added.

Besides attaining a higher closing ratio for walk-in customers, Toyota Bicutan now holds outdoor displays of its vehicles and community-based marketing activities.

Servicing more important
Ironically, however, Toyota dealerships are more concerned on how to service the large number of the brand’s vehicles running on the road and those that would be sold in the future.

“The biggest problem we have is service capacity. Toyota, for example, has sold a million vehicles already since it started in 1989. So we have a natural UIO, or units in operation, of a million. Now you only have at this time 46 dealers servicing a million cars,” Junia said.

To service the growing number of Toyota cars on the road, Toyota Bicutan is investing about P100 million to improve its facilities. Toyota Makati, which is a sister company of Toyota Bicutan, recently finished the improvement of its service facilities.

All Toyota dealerships, like Bicutan, are also improving their value chain that now includes sales of certified Toyota vehicles, and provision of more affordable in-house financing and vehicle insurance. The traditional value chain only covered vehicle sales, spare parts and servicing.

“All of the Toyota dealers are up to the challenge in terms of manpower, training facilities. We want to create a strong value chain,” Junia said.

The selling of used Toyota vehicles that have been serviced at the brand’s dealerships is actually a boon for both aspiring and current owners of Toyota cars. For current owners, it gives them the chance to sell their cars at a better price so they can generate cash for the downpayment of a new Toyota unit. For those who still cannot afford brand-new cars, Toyota-certified used vehicles have the assurance that they were serviced at the brand’s dealerships.

“The current value chain creates a platform for retention, and retention is equal to loyalty [to the brand],” Junia said.

Because of the upswing of its sales the past year and the improvement of its value chain, he is looking at sales of 400 to 450 units per month for Toyota Bicutan next year.

“My forecast for Bicutan is we should be doing 400, 450 [units]next year. This is a very challenging area, but actually I enjoy it,” Junia said referring to the location of Toyota Bicutan in an area that is usually heavy with traffic.

He added that every Toyota dealership should continue improving its operations because it is the dealership that faces the customers, which is the reason why he strongly believes in kaizen or the Japanese management philosophy of continuous improvement.

He cited Vince Soco, Danny Isla, Dr. David Go, Kenji Naito and Allen Chen as his mentors on kaizen. Soco is currently general manager at Toyota Motor Asia Pacific (Japan), Isla is the president of Lexus Manila Inc. while Chen and Naito headed NMPI. Go is the chairman of Toyota Bicutan.

“At the dealer, it’s an endless process of kaizen,” Junia said.

“You always have to tweak your operations, keep on improving them because you face the customers. And it is the customer who makes a decision whether your brand is good or not,” he added.

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