Sebastian ‘Seb’ Parseghian is the Dealer Principal at Swan Hill Toyota and Kerang Toyota. Eight years ago he moved from a high profile role at one of Melbourne’s largest used car operations to take over the Toyota dealership in a small rural town. Since then, his dealerships have become highly awarded and community-focused. Here’s how he did it.
Do you believe there is a special relationship between a car dealer and the local community?
There is. We employ 30 people in our business and at last count there were 78 people, including partners and kids, whose livelihood is dependent on how well our business is going. That’s a big percentage of the community that our business supports.
What about your relationship with the Swan Hill and Kerang community specifically?
On a personal level, I definitely feel a sense of belonging because I know lots of people and we’re heavily involved with local community activities and football clubs. We get out and about and meet lots of people that way. I also make a special point of meeting every one of our customers. I don’t sit behind a desk and hide.
Your dealership has received some very impressive awards, why do you think that is?
We’re very proud of that, we’ve won the President’s Award for Toyota five years in a row and we were Dealer of the Year twice in a row, which is a reflection of our staff – they always go the extra mile, not only for our customers, but also for Swan Hill.
Do you think your sales would fall if you weren’t actively involved in the local community?
They’d fall about 30 to 40 per cent. I’m in Rotary and a board member of Swan Hill Inc which is an organisation that promotes Swan Hill. I’m also involved with the Rotary Market and on the Farmer’s Market committee. My wife is on the board of Tennis for Children and the board of ESW, which is the local employment training organisation. It’s all voluntary too!
How long have you been supporting the community?
I’ve been in Swan Hill for eight years, originally as a part owner of the business but now I own it 100 per cent. It’s a small community where everyone knows everyone and it was easy for us to get involved and get to know people – we fitted in much quicker than I would have imagined actually. We sponsor many different services and clubs as well as a number of key events like Colour Your Run Swan Hill, which helps cancer sufferers in Swan Hill.
Where were you before moving to Swan Hill?
I worked at Melbourne City Toyota for over 12 years as a used car manager.
Was that stressful?
Yeah it was, I managed a team of 20 and we used to sell 120 used cars a month. When I came up here they were selling about 23 cars a month and it was a bit of a walk in the park you could say. Now we sell about 75 vehicles a month so that’s a great improvement.
What’s so special about Swan Hill?
People ask me ‘why Swan Hill’ and the answer is, if I thought too much about it before leaving I would never have done it, but it’s the best decision I’ve ever made. I definitely feel like I’m out of the rat race, there’s a sense of belonging and I’ve managed to free up 72 hours each month from saving two hours a day with the drive to work and back. Now I couldn’t go back to Melbourne.
How long have you been in the car trade?
About 25 years.
What about your son?
He’s 18 now and just finished school. He works at McDonald’s and one day he wants to be a McDonald’s franchisor.
So he’s not going to follow in your footsteps?
He always wanted to when he was a kid. But when he turned 15 he got a part time job at McDonald’s and that’s become his life’s ambition and he loves it so we’re quite happy with that, because if you find something you love you’re 90 per cent of the way there.
If you weren’t a car dealer what would you be?
Do you have a signature dish?
Not really, but my wife reckons I’m an expert at making a mess of the kitchen.
What do you do to relax?
I play golf a couple of times a week and cruise the Murray River, fishing and relaxing.
Who is your inspiration?
James Rowan, he’s an American speaker and motivator.
What are you most passionate about?
If you said business and golf, you’d be on the money.
Do you have a favourite car story?
When I was a salesman at Melbourne City Toyota, I had an enquiry from this bloke wanting to know if we had any second hand Landcruiser Utes for sale. I said we’ve got one or two, give me your name and number and I’ll call you back.
Then he said no, he couldn’t do that because he was at his girlfriend’s house (and couldn’t give me the number because he’s also married). But he was going to come down from Ballarat and had to make a quick decision, because his father was in hospital dying of cancer.
If we had something there, he was going to turn up the next morning. So I said hold on, I’ll go and find out. We had three in stock so I told him all about them and he said he’ll be at the dealership the next morning. Sure enough, at nine o’clock this bloke turns up asking for me and I showed him the three Cruiser Utes we had and he started firing questions at me; has it got this, has it got that. So eventually he said okay, let’s go and show my dad who’s in the hospital. I said give us your licence and I’ll get a copy of that and he said no, I don’t have my licence with me. I said I can’t let you drive and he said I don’t want to drive in Melbourne, I’m from Ballarat.
So we jumped in the Ute and drove to the hospital and parked in the car park. I said I’ll wait here for you, he said no, come inside, my dad’s had a bad turn and he might be a while. I went inside for half an hour and I thought I’ve got to make a phone call so I went outside to make the call and then the car was gone.
Turns out he’d slipped a key off the key ring. It was about four years later that the police found the car with the same rego number in Griffith and the bloke was just bloody driving it. They went to his house for some other incident and ran the rego through the system and realised it was a stolen car.
Did you get it back?
No, the insurance had already paid out so we didn’t get it back. But I’ll never forget that one.
What three words sell cars?
Trust, rapport and relationships.
Which three words sum you up?
Ambitious, relaxed and determined.
Finally, do you think the Tiger’s will finish ninth again this year?
No I reckon seventh, because I’m a very positive person.