Over his 30-year career, Nick Latino has held just about every job in the service division of a new-car dealership, from porter to service advisor to service manager. “It’s good to know every position so when you’re managing someday, you know exactly what to expect from that individual,” said Latino, fixed operations director at Toyota Hackensack.
The director for fixed operations is responsible for the parts and services divisions of a dealership, including maintenance and repair, managing parts inventory and working directly with customers.
A passion for fixing cars coupled with the support and guidance of a great mentor helped put Latino on the track to success. In high school, Latino participated in a satellite program, where he attended classes half the day and went to work the other half.
Family issues at home forced Latino to drop out of high school before graduation, but his close relationship with his brother-in-law led to Latino taking up wrenches in the heavy-duty truck industry, where he stayed for 14 years. “I was mentored in the trucking business by my brother-in-law, who took me under his wing like a son and showed me the right things to do—to respect people and to always do the right thing.”
Doing the right thing doesn’t just extend to his fellow coworkers and employees, but to customers as well. “I strongly believe that it doesn’t cost anything to be nice, just help someone each and every day. I got that from my brother-and-law and I use that each and every day in my life. Just be nice, it doesn’t cost anything.”
Navigating a New Career Path
After 14 years of working on trucks, Latino was ready for a change. He opened and ran two automotive repair shops in the greater New York City area until 9/11 impacted his customers and his business. That’s when Latino saw an ad in the newspaper for a dealership looking for a service advisor. “I said, ‘well, I guess this is the next career path,’ and I applied and I worked as a service advisor for the next 10 years. I worked my way up the ladder.”
In 2011, Latino came to Toyota Hackensack as the fixed ops director, where today he oversees a staff of more than 70 employees. “The dealer principal is by far one of the best people I’ve ever met in my life. If it wasn’t for him I probably wouldn’t be sitting here.”
One of the things that Latino said he needed to do was focus on his education, so he went back and got his GED 31 years after leaving school. “It was always something that was sticking in the back of my mind,” he said. “It was a personal goal for me to just excel and work harder than anyone else because I just wanted to prove it to myself.”
It’s a lesson he says he’s constantly impressing upon his staff. “We live in a world in the dealership of decimal points. Just to show your service advisor how a 0.1 or a 0.3 can have a tremendous influence on your financial system is not to be believed. That’s one of the things I really took to and each and every day I try to put it into their heads—‘hey, when you do the tire rotation, maybe you want to balance the tires as well.’ It brings your hours per car up quickly.”
“If you’re looking to get into this industry, you can make a lot of money, but you need to get the basics,” says Latino. “Service advisor is one of the most important people in your dealership. They deal with the public each and every day.”
As dealers bring in less money from the sales side of the business, an efficient and profitable fixed ops division like Latino’s becomes more important than ever. Vehicle sales made up between 24.8 percent (used cars) and 25.6 percent (new cars) of dealerships’ gross profits in 2018, according to the latest NADA Dealership Financial Profile. By contrast, service, parts and body shop departments now account for 49.6 percent of dealership gross profits, up from 45 percent just a few years ago.
Successful dealerships are always on the lookout for talented, interested people to staff this increasingly important side of the business.
Learn more and get involved by visiting the new NADA Foundation workforce initiative.