The team behind Toyota’s success in Richards Bay

A young and dynamic team with Merina Hugo at the helm opened up a brand-new Bidvest McCarthy dealership in Richards Bay, giving Toyota its first foothold in this part of northern KwaZulu-Natal.

Toy Rbay1

That was around five and a half years ago and around 70% of that team who spearheaded the new venture and has been successfully running it, is still at Richards Bay Toyota to this day. Two of the three managers are women, and five years ago, a young woman as a Dealer Principal was not appreciated by everyone in town, Merina tells Dealerfloor.

Merina Hugo, Dealer Principal at Richards Bay Toyota in KwaZulu-Natal.

“When it comes to cars, being a young woman and the person in charge, did not resonate well with everyone entering through the dealership’s doors. But people eventually realised that it’s your skill set and your ability to listen and solve a problem that count and not your gender. My After Sales Manager is also a woman, Angelique Vermaak, and Malcolm Belcher is the New & Used Car Sales Manager.

Merina started her career as BBBEE manager of the Bidvest McCarthy Group before moving to the Toyota side of group in Gauteng. She later accepted a position as the F&I Manager at Toyota Empangeni before being asked to lead the team when it was decided to open a Toyota dealership in neighbouring Richards Bay more than five years ago.

On Taxi Tuesday, minibus taxis get special treatment at the dealership.

“Our Richards Bay dealership is particularly important to the town and its industries. We have one of the world’s largest export coal terminals and woodchip export facilities at the harbour as well as other mineral mines and factories. In our region, tourism plays an important part as well with our excellent climate, beaches and game reserves. In terms of agriculture, sugar cane, pineapples and other crops are popular.

“Add to the above-mentioned a number of municipalities, satellite state departments, Eskom and other service providers and you will understand how broad our customer base is, ranging from fleet clients covering a spectrum of industries to individuals and farmers,” Merina tells us.

“We only sell and service Toyotas, with our branch in Empangeni, also part of Bidvest McCarthy, handling the trucks with a Hino outlet. Although we are close to the Mozambique border, we do not sell any vehicles there, but we are involved in the after-sales side with owners travelling to South Africa with their vehicles for business,” she says.

Asked about the influence of the two recent disasters, the violence and flooding in KwaZulu-Natal, on top of COVID and its problems, Merina says it has had a negative impact on business, even outside the province. “We were fortunately spared any damage during the riots and more recenty during the flooding that created so much devastation in KZN.

Hilux bakkies on display at the Toyota dealership in Richards Bay in northern KwaZulu-Natal.

“We, however, cannot escape the consequences of what happened with our plant in Durban being flooded, which delayed the supply of locally produced vehicles. But like I know Toyota and its commitment to us and our customers, the problems will be rectified, sooner rather than later.

“Unfortunately, it is some of our best-selling locally produced ranges like the Hilux and Corolla Cross that are affected. In the meantime, we focus on the vast number of other vehicles ranges, not affected by the disaster that is imported. With limited new stock, our sales team is putting in a renewed effort on the pre-owned side and normally sell new as well as used cars, which help a lot during these times,” Merina says.

An interesting concept, which serves the dealership well, is the so-called Taxi Tuesdays when minibus taxis are serviced and repaired at a special rate. “This initiative is highly successful with up to between 20 and 30 taxis in our workshop every Tuesday. It is also our part to help keep taxis in a good, roadworthy and safe condition as best we can and hopefully it contributes to road safety. We have a good relationship with the taxi owners, and with Taxi Tuesday we play our part to assist this industry. We also assist various other institutions like schools in different ways to give back to our community,” Merina tells Dealerfloor.

“Allow me to also acknowledge our staff at Toyota Richards Bay. Our staff complement is 40 people, and the team cohesion and family-like relationship between everyone contribute to our excellent customer care and the professional way in which we conduct business,” she says.

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