By M. Lapham
Bas and Tanya Robin have expanded their family dealership business in Dearborn to the other side of the state. They have taken their success and given back to the community and around the world through charitable endeavors and their dealerships, Dearborn’s Superior Buick GMC and Superior Buick Cadillac in Battle Creek, which they acquired a few months ago.
Automakers typically don’t allow their dealers to add franchises unless they have proven themselves capable and financially strong. With Bas as dealer principal and Tanya as general manager the two have earned a strong reputation and prospered.
It started with owning a used-car lot.
But Bas decided to try to become a franchised new-car dealer as their future in part because banks look at franchise dealerships more favorably when making loans, Tanya Robin says.
The choice to go with GM was no choice at all.
“His (Bas’s) mind was made up,” says Tanya. “He had an absolute love of General Motors. He believed they were the best automotive company … the best built.”
It may seem foolish to operate a GM dealership in the shadow of Ford Motor Company’s world headquarters, which is just down Michigan Avenue from Superior Buick GMC. But with strong roots in the local Chaldean community and a solid reputation at the used-car store, Bas and Tanya Robin were in good fortune.
They built the new-car business for eight years before deciding to expand. After “knocking on doors” across the state, looking for one that matched what they wanted, Tanya found the Lassen Buick-Cadillac dealership in Battle Creek.
The Lassen family had owned the business for 80 years. The grandson of the original owners ran the dealership but wanted to move on to other projects.
Given the massive investment, carmakers still must approve the sale of a dealership. The weight lies entirely on the dealer principal who is buying the business to prove he or she has sufficient capital and can meet the necessary sale goals.
With expansion came new opportunities for the Robins. Tanya became the dealer principal in the Battle Creek dealership, which she says may be a massive step itself since female dealer principals are still relatively scarce.
“If I had told someone three years ago I would be dealer principal, they wouldn’t have believed me,” she says.
But there were also challenges. Her former five-day week has ballooned to six. And often she drives two hours across the state in the middle of the work day for meetings.
She splits time between the two dealerships, growing the new business while still managing the original one.
Though her new schedule can be hectic, there have been unexpected benefits, Robin says. For example, customers in the Detroit area are more likely to shop around for various products and services provided by dealerships, given the large number of dealerships. On the west side of the state dealerships are more spread out so it is easier to form more long-lasting relationships with customers.
She learned this in the time the Robins have owned their Buick-Cadillac store.
Help in managing the new dealership has come from close to home. The Robins’ oldest son Preston, who lives in Battle Creek, helps with administrative work at the dealership there.
One of the biggest challenges in dealerships these days is holding onto service technicians in a competitive market.
The Robins say the best way to deal with it is to surround themselves with good managers and help the technicians enter needed classes GM offers.
“If you invest in your people they will invest in you,” says Robin.
The good fortune they have received has been sent back into the community with philanthropic donations to Help Iraq, ACCESS, the Chaldean Chamber of Commerce, and even the FIRST Robotics program at Clarkston High School, Tanya Robin’s hometown.
Bas got the business involved philanthropy, she says. He cites both religion and civic responsibility as reasons they should share their good fortune.
Their biggest beneficiary organization is St. Jude Iraq, not to be confused with the American based organization St. Jude. St. Jude Iraq is a nonprofit foundation bringing hope to internally displaced children of religious minorities in Iraq and refugees in diaspora. St. Jude Iraq helps orphans in the region with health care, food, and other basic necessities. This may be in part because Bas is from Iraq.
The major driving force for the Robins, however, is always family, both providing and setting an example for the next generation.
“My being successful is my children succeeding as I do, regardless of their careers,” says Tanya Robin.