No. 1 private company: Gulf States Toyota
President of a leading distributor gives credit to customers' steadfast brand loyalty
Updated 8:24 pm, Saturday, June 22, 2013
Toyota faced a huge challenge in the wake of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan that caused a major shortage of its vehicles for an extended period.
The popular auto brand has bounced back with strong sales and several restyled models.
The resurgence has been good for Houston-based Gulf States Toyota, one of the nation's largest distributors of Toyota vehicles and parts. It generated $6.9 billion in revenue in 2012, making it No. 1 on this year's Chronicle list of the Houston area's largest private companies.
"Last year was a terrific year, rebounding off the tsunami and interruption in product," said Marty Collins, Gulf States president.
In 2012, he said, "we were up 28 percent, year over year, for new Toyotas sold at our 154 dealerships. ... And this year, we're up 14 percent."
That, Collins said, is above the 8 percent national average.
"It's been remarkable" given what the brand went through, he said. "Customer loyalty remained steadfast" and helped Toyota regain its place at the top.
Gulf States Toyota was No. 1 on last year's list with $5 billion in revenue.
Founded in 1969, Gulf States Toyota distributes Toyota and Scion vehicles, parts and accessories to dealers in Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Mississippi.
Collins said he is bullish on 2013, given Toyota's retooling of six vehicles - Avalon, Rav4, Corolla, Tundra, Highlander and 4Runner - that represent half of retail volume.
"To have that much product mix go through major freshening adds to our reasons to be optimistic," he said.
Avalon and Rav4 sales are up substantially this year over last, he noted. Some models, including the Rav4, are being sold almost as soon as Gulf States delivers them to the dealer, Collins said.
One of the ways the company aims to stand out as a distributor is by seeking ways to add value for customers and dealers, the company's senior vice president, Jeff Parent, previously told the Chronicle.
At Gulf States' vehicle processing center, for example, employees install window tinting on cars and trucks. Gulf States Toyota can provide the service more competitively and it saves car buyers money having it done there, he said, and many other distributors do not provide such a service.
Gulf States also goes the extra mile handling all Texas state inspections on its vehicles, saving dealers time and money, and helping save customers money, too.
"They've been a great partner and just continue to grow their business as Toyota grows, and this year they've been outpacing us," said Kevin Higgins, corporate manager for private distributors and public dealer groups at Toyota Motor Sales.
"They have senior people working with dealers in the field, people who know their craft, and that's why dealers rate them so highly. They help the dealers with their business, and they help us, too. They're great partners on both fronts."
Collins also cited Dan Friedkin, chairman and CEO of Gulf States Toyota, for providing "us with incredible resources."
The company recently invested in new computer systems and software, he said, and created an analytics department "that is helping us make better and faster decisions."
Gulf States Toyota has 2,000 employees, and all but 70 work in the Houston area. It has a processing center near Bush Intercontinental Airport and a 16-acre facility in west Houston.
The company was founded by chairman emeritus Thomas Friedkin. His son Dan Friedkin has been at the helm for 16 years.