The Diplomat - Making a career out of putting customers first has put Leo Bunnin in the proverbial driver’s seat of LA Uptown’s automotive business.
With the amicable smile and diplomacy of a politician and an immaculate couture ensemble of pressed pin stripes, cuffs, and kerchief, this renowned GM dealer is an owner of six dealerships northwest of the Los Angeles Ventura County line. But by no means is Leo Bunnin that proverbial car salesman sporting the suit pant accidentally tucked into his white sock while he races toward you in a hurry to explain every option in the car that is just out of your price range. Leo Bunnin is a community leader, friend to his neighbors, philanthropist, and respectful businessman that has lived by the code of good customer service for over 38 years.
In 1970, at sixteen years old, Leo Bunnin got his driver’s license. Like a lot of us, he was excited about the future adventures of the open road. Except once Leo hopped into his first car, his mind was focused on making money and succeeding where he knew how to – in the car business. The year Leo got his license is the year he started wholesaling cars, buying cars on account at wholesale for dealerships. This third generation auto maven always recognized the opportunity and reward of hard work, and while still attending Beverly High School, Leo was the (young) man behind the local dealership’s used car inventory.
After high school and on his way to UCLA, Leo began working for his father at the family dealership. The Fleet Manager at the time had to take a personal leave of absence and at 18 years old, Leo quickly found himself in the role of management. This was a quick education. Having worked for his dad from 1976-1982, Leo was so excited about making great money at an early age that as soon as school let out for the day he raced over to the dealership to get back to work. Leo was immersed in the excitement of the business and still lives by the belief that work comes first and socializing later.
The Turning Point
The experiences we have and the decisions we make help mold who we are and help create the path we continue to wander. All of Leo Bunnin’s experiences leading up to 1988 had been filled with management, partial ownership in a dealership, wholesale, retail, you name it and at 34 years old Leo took his expertise and made a deal.
Realizing that Santa Monica Ford had some vacant space across the street and lacked a used car inventory, Leo became their tenant – and their buyer. Leo became the dealer’s eyes and ears in the used car marke. But since Leo was in business for himself, he called it the Bunnin Resale Center (yet it had a DBA of Santa Monica Ford…brilliant). He began moving about 500 used cars per month and his biggest client was his landlord just across the street.
Since that successful experience Leo has since launched multiple new and used car dealerships of his own, all of them now under the General Motors umbrella. When asked if he planned on always sticking to the GM brands, he responded that, “As an American and growing up with the culture of GM, I can’t see myself shifting anywhere else.” Leo’s proudest professional achievement was when he won GM Dealer of the Year in 2005.
Leo on Sales, Drive, How to Inspire Staff
Now sitting daily at his flagship dealership in Oxnard, CA, Leo affirms that too many sellers are worried about price and product, but in actuality it’s all about rapport building. He says that the fact is that people buy from people they like and the customer experience is always first and foremost. Leo imposes a strict dress code and ensures that he and his staff will always bend over backwards to make sure that the loyal customer sticks. In fact the quote, “Everyone likes to have friend in the car business,” was coined by Bunnin and we and his staff embrace the phrase. But as a salesman you have to have that, “fire in the belly,” and in order to be successful, you have to love action, negotiation, and the ability to make a lot of money. Hustle and attitude are everything in this business. It can be challenging to motivate 125 salespeople, so Leo sticks to monetary bonuses, company challenges and competitions, as well as internal inspiration and constant optimism. With these practices providing a desirable work environment, Leo Bunnin has always seen little turnover with his staff. “Do what you love or you’ll be miserable everyday.”