NIADA Names 2017 National Quality Dealer
June 19, 2017—Robert Blankenship, owner and CEO Texas Auto Center in Austin, Texas, was selected as the 2017 National Quality Dealer of the Year by the National Independent Automobile Dealers Association (NIADA) on Thursday night during NIADA's 71st annual Convention and Expo in Las Vegas.
In a ceremony broadcast live from The Mirage on NIADA.TV, Blankenship was chosen from the 18 State Quality Dealers nominated for highest honor given among NIADA's dealer members.
NIADA National Quality Dealer candidates are judged on a variety of factors, including contributions to the automotive industry, the association and community involvement.
This year's winner was chosen by a selection committee comprised of some of the most distinguished names in the used vehicle industry.
The committee included AFC chief operating officer Joe Keadle, NADA Used Car Guide vice president and general manager Mike Stanton, Black Book Automotive vice president and North American auction director Tim West, NIADA secretary and 2013 National Quality Dealer Joe McCloskey of McCloskey Motors and Elgie Bright, chairman of the Automotive Marketing Department at Northwood University.
Blankenship's automotive career began in 1992, selling cars with father and opened his first lot in 1995, operating out of his father's insurance business in Austin, selling cars for cash to avoid debt and reinvesting his profits back into the company as it grew methodically.
"Even at a young age I recognized that debt can cripple a dealer's ability to run a strong business and provide quality service to one's customers," he said. "Texas Auto Center is rare in this industry to have grown so much with virtually no borrowed capital."
That small start has since blossomed into one of the largest dealerships in Texas. Blankenship added in-house financing in 1999 and began expanding by opening a second location in 2003. Now Texas Auto Center boasts a staff of 96 employees selling more than 4,000 vehicles per year at three locations.
Despite its size, the dealership has stayed true to its family business roots, offering regular benefits and shared meals to cultivate that sense of family and offering financial assistance to employees in times of crisis. Blankenship and his wife Erika have created a scholarship for the children of their employees, and even lead a fitness class for staffers and others in the community.
Blankenship and his dealership are very active in the community and in charitable efforts. He and his family volunteer with Mobile Loaves and Fishes, preparing and delivering meals and clothing to local individuals in need, and they support SOS Children's Villages, volunteering at its village in Nicaragua.
His company provides financial donations and support to students who perform volunteer work locally and internationally, and hosts backpack drives, collecting new backpacks and donating them to at-risk students.
Blankenship is actively involved in providing scholarships for students at local schools as well as civic and charitable organizations such as the March of Dimes, the March for Babies, the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life, high school athletic booster clubs and area PTAs, among others.
He also takes care of his customers, going above and beyond to create intense customer loyalty by providing warranties and goodwill service work, and even hosting customer appreciation days each year, when he and his employees cook and serve food for customers.
Blankenship is a member of the Texas IADA's board of directors and legislative committee who is involved in both the state and national associations' lobbying efforts. He is a member of two NIADA Dealer 20 Groups and invests heavily in training his staff to ensure compliance and to make Texas Auto Center "a better place to buy a car."
"From the beginning, our philosophy has been to deliver a quality transportation opportunity to consumers who, for whatever reason, are disenfranchised from the automotive market," he said. "Our business culture is built on a foundation of respect for our customers and one another and the understanding that we are in business because of our customers.
"We do the right thing because it is the right thing to do."