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With a population of around 29,000, the port city of Timaru (from the Māori word Te Maru, ‘place of shelter’) is the industry hub of South Canterbury and a two-hour drive south of Christchurch, the South Island’s largest city.
Lifestyle and scenery are nothing short of spectacular, and it’s easy to make a life here. A bustling port and a wide range of thriving manufacturing and processing industries support the families who choose to make Timaru their home.
Timaru is the location of family-owned business South Canterbury Toyota. With a staff of 39 it was recently named the top Toyota dealer in the entire country in Toyota’s annual dealer awards. The award recognises overall excellence in dealership operations, market leadership and dealership facilities.
South Canterbury Toyota also won the President’s Trophy for excellence in customer service, and was a finalist in three other categories – new-vehicle dealer, service dealer and used-vehicle dealer of the year.
The wins topped off an exceptional three years for South Canterbury Toyota. It took the titles of new-vehicle dealer and service dealer of the year in 2017, and in 2018 was named used-vehicle dealer of the year and runner-up dealer of the year at the awards.
South Canterbury Toyota is part of a wider family-owned group of five dealerships in Blenheim, Rangiora, Kaiapoi, Ashburton and Timaru under the McDermid Auto Collective banner.
Craig and Kathie McDermid purchased Blenheim Toyota in 1990 and ran that solely until 2008, when they purchased South Canterbury Toyota. (Craig is now the longest serving Chief Executive Officer in the network). In 2015 an opportunity arose to purchase the Rangiora, Kaiapoi and Ashburton Toyota dealerships. At this point the parent family (McDermid Auto Collective) was formed and Scott and Anna McDermid (Craig and Kathie’s son and daughter-in-law) became shareholders in the group.
The parent company has eight staff who oversee the group’s administration, human resources and customer relations roles, and each of the five dealerships has its own management team and staff. The group currently has 147 staff and is still evolving with the opportunities that a large group can offer, in both staff advancement and purchasing power.
South Canterbury Toyota has been in its current location for more than 30 years, having seen numerous changes in the automotive landscape.
Just over 12 years ago, Mark Patterson was fresh out of university with a marketing degree. He began his career working at South Canterbury Toyota in car sales just prior to Craig and Kathie taking over. He was soon promoted to sales manager, in 2011. He became branch manager in 2018, heading up a team with a wealth of experience: three senior staff, each having more than 20 years’ service under their belt; and 10 others with more than 10 years’ experience.
While it seems success has come early for Mark, he is in no doubt how it has come about. “It’s a team effort, and it’s community support and people shopping local, which has been my theme.
“We are passionate and we strive for success… but winning isn’t the aim; that’s a bonus. It comes down to the cohesive team we have here – everyone here knows everyone else’s role in the dealership.”
The branch offers new- and used-vehicle sales, finance and insurance sales, parts, accessories, a tyre shop and a service workshop. The staff include six managers, who have mostly risen through the ranks within the dealership.
“Our core is ‘regional’,” says Mark. “We are a regional dealer, and we keep that to heart; we’re not trying to be glossy and shiny. And being regional we rely on repeat customers; it’s not so much about numbers and volume. Local businesses, farmers, individuals, they’re all important. And that’s why the service department is so big.”
Mark says the November 2019 hailstorm demonstrated the importance of a tight team and a community banding together. The dealership has a strong community ethos. A community van is available free for sports teams, charities and clubs, and is booked 95 per cent of the time, and the branch’s BBQ Hilux is also a popular service available for use.
The branch makes quarterly charity donations, with funds built up from vehicle sales, sponsors, local dog trials and the Mackenzie A&P Show, and provides vehicles for local singers Kaylee Bell and Cam Scott.
Mark says the branch is punching above its weight with awards, and has earned credibility within the marque.
“We’ve created a benchmark for ourselves now, so consistency is key. We’re going to strive to keep doing what we’re doing with the team and local customers.”