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Building a People-Based Dealership & Giving Back to the Community with Liza Borches

  • July 2, 2021
23 min read
Building a People-Based Dealership & Giving Back to the Community with Liza Borches

Ilana Shabtay
VP of Marketing, Fullpath

Liza Borches
President and CEO, Carter Myers Automotive (CMA)

Fourth-generation Automobile Dealer, Liza Borches, is the President and CEO of Carter Myers Automotive (CMA). In 2003 she joined Carter Myers Automotive after six years at American Motor Company. Liza has proven experience in growing an organization exponentially through a people-focused approach.

Offering employee ownership, managing partnerships, and value-based hiring, Carter Myers Automotive has grown from three dealerships to sixteen in the last fifteen years. CMA represents 6 markets and 17 franchises across Virginia. Liza is the first woman to lead CMA. She was named Top 100 Women in Automotive by Automotive News and received the Barbara Cox Woman of the Year Award from Cox Automotive. Liza upholds the core values of CMA by ensuring honesty, integrity, customer service, and community involvement.

Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn: 

  • Liza Borches talks about the company culture and people-based approach to business operations at CMA
  • CMA’s client retention strategies
  • What CMA has been doing to give back to the community and create a sustainable environment
  • Liza’s advice to women working and seeking leadership positions in the male-dominated automotive industry
  • Liza talks about her recent experience and keynote presentation at the Digital Dealer Conference & Expo
  • The digital strategies CMA has been using to provide better services to its customers

In this episode…

Building a people-based company is one of the best business growth strategies a dealership can adopt. Putting people first and making them feel like part of the company is an excellent way to retain the best employees, and this will help a dealership provide better services to its customers.

Liza Borches advises dealerships to understand the people-side of their businesses and not focus solely on making sales. They should focus on helping solve their customers’ problems, whether servicing their cars or selling them a new vehicle that will meet their needs. She firmly believes that the automotive industry provides an excellent opportunity to influence people’s lives positively.

In this episode of the InsideAuto Podcast, Ilana Shabtay is joined by Liza Borches, the President and CEO of Carter Myers Automotive (CMA), to discuss how the dealership uses a people-based approach to build relationships with its employees and customers. Liza also talks about her recent keynote presentation at the Digital Dealer Conference & Expo, her company’s sustainability efforts, and her advice to women leaders working in male-dominated fields.

Resources Mentioned in this episode

Sponsor for this episode…

This episode is brought to you by AutoLeadStar, a company that helps car dealerships engage quality customers on the web and convert them into car buyers.

Co-founded by Aharon Horwitz, Yishai Goldstein, and Eliav Moshe, AutoLeadStar’s state-of-the-art software automates a dealership’s entire marketing funnel and provides around-the-clock service for dealers.

AutoLeadStar’s innovative technology helps dealerships automate ads, connect with customers, and discover ROI and performance metrics

Visit their website at to learn more about their around-the-clock marketing service.

Episode Transcript

Intro 0:03

Welcome to InsideAuto Podcast where we feature everyone and anyone you’d want to talk to you, in and out of the automotive industry.

Ilana Shabtay 0:15

Ilana Shabtay here, host of InsideAuto Podcast, where we interview top dealers, GMs, marketers, entrepreneurs and thought leaders in and out of the automotive industry. Before we introduce today’s guest, this episode is sponsored by The AutoLeadStar platform is built on a technology so powerful it allows you to market, sell, and service cars as we would online and ad scale making one-to-one matches between shoppers and inventory. AutoLeadStar is the only platform that is powered by scale, speed, and specificity to change the way dealers do marketing today. Today’s guest is Liza Borches. I’m so excited for her to be here today. Hello Liza, how are you doing?

Liza Borches 0:54

Hello, I’m doing wonderful. Thanks so much for having me.

Ilana Shabtay 0:59

We are so excited for today’s guest. I’ll give you a brief bio because it’s extremely impressive and I want our listeners to get to know you and then we can jump right into the interview. Liza is the President and CEO of fourth generation automotive automobile retailer Carter Myers Automotive with experience in growing an organization exponentially through a people focused approach. Something that we’re going to talk about today, in 2003 Liza at Carter Myers after six years of American Motor Company, offering employee ownership, managing partnerships and value based hiring. CMA has grown from three dealerships to 16 in the last 15 years, also extremely impressive, representing six markets and 17 franchises across Virginia. Liza. But thank you so much for being with us here today.

Liza Borches 1:48

I always laugh when someone reads the bios like I love, I love giving it to you for background. But it’s just fascinating to me to think about how much our company has grown. And you know, I started working at Honda right out of college. And to be honest, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to come into the retail auto industry. I knew my family had been in it for three generations. And I had a desire to leave Virginia, I thought I was going to be the first CEO of American Honda, first female CEO. And then I realized how awesome the retail industry was. But it took me kind of getting out of this space, having grown up in it, going in to experience something else. And really having my eyes opened to the impact that retail automotive makes in our country. And, I happily came back and rejoined our company in 2004. No link to that. Sorry, the bio was right.

Ilana Shabtay 2:38

The bio is great. No, I love that. I think that’s really important. And I’m sure you learn so much. And you were able to bring some aspects of that into automotive retail. And I know that Carter Myers specifically has a very special dealership culture. And you were a big part of cultivating that. Can you tell us a little bit about the group’s people focused approach and mission?

Liza Borches 2:58

Yeah, I’ll share with you kind of two, I think important thoughts about it. First, we have been an ESOP company since 1979. And what that stands for is employee stock ownership plan. And we are one of probably five leadership groups or dealerships in the entire country that have employee ownership, so 26% of our entire company is owned by our employees. And what that does is it really helps them set up for retirement, they don’t put a dime in, but we contribute profits into it each year. And as our company grows and performs, and the better we take care of our customers, and the better we have loyalty and retention in our associates, the more we give back, the more the value of our company goes up. So that is a huge piece of their retirement is all tied up in stock in our company. So we all have a common goal. So it’s wonderful when we think about people and our number one core value is putting people first, that being an owner in the company, they’re working every single day. It’s just a real win-win for all of us. So that’s one thing I would mention that contributes to our culture to focus on our people. The other thing that I think is really important to mention is when I came back to the retail side of the business, I think what originally didn’t did not excite me about it was I saw it as very transactional. Growing up in it, I always ask how many cars do we need to sell? And how many cars do we need to service and I heard a lot about the numbers. But I didn’t I didn’t understand the people’s side of the business. And I will also tell you, I’m not a I’m not a car person. Like I’ve driven the same car for like 15 years, I’m bored, I don’t really like the product. The product is exciting. And we’re lucky to be an industry that has an incredible asset that we sell and service. But what I love about this industry is the people and so what what inspires me and I think what really helps create the culture of our company, is the fact that I’ve recognized as so many of us have recognized that the auto industry allows for opportunities for growth in people with all different levels of education all different backgrounds, it allows for opportunities to make a significant amount of money and be able to support a family and give back to a community. And recognizing that what we do matters. Our customers have places they’re trying to go in life. And they come to us to help them solve a problem, either they have to service a car, they need a new car, whatever it is, and I can talk about this for hours. But we have an opportunity in the auto industry to impact lives, I think better than almost any other industry out there in this country.

Ilana Shabtay 5:28

I love that. And I think you made a really important point. And we talk about this sometimes AutoLeadStars as well, because we love to be part of an industry that gives anyone an opportunity not just to make money, but to learn and grow. And other industries don’t always give you know, someone who didn’t have a college education, the opportunity to do that, or veterans, for example. So I’m very proud to be part of an industry that does that. And I’m happy you brought that up, because it’s something that we do talk about internally, as well. And then when you talk about investing in people, I’d love to hear how you what kind of culture you have around your client retention, because I feel like, you know, in an environment where the people and the employees are so employment that are so important, they’re going to be able to create better relationships with your clients as well.

Liza Borches 6:16

Yes. So the mission of our company is moving lives forward for our associates, for our customers and for our community. And when I first kind of launched this whole idea, I always said customers first, it was moving life forward for customers, associates and community. And I very much recognized about 18 months ago as we went through COVID, that it had to start. And I knew this internally, but I just kind of said it without thinking strategically, it starts with your associates. Because if you don’t, you aren’t able to retain and have a loyal team who believes in the mission of the company and believes in taking care of customers and providing the great experience, then you can’t, you can’t do that with the customers. And we always talk about that, you know, our competitors inside and outside automotive, they can copy everything we do, they can copy facilities, they can actually undercut our pricing, they can help market us but the one thing they can’t do is they can’t copy our people. And they can’t copy the attitudes that they bring to work every day. They can’t copy the experiences they provide for our customers. They can’t copy the care that they show for our community. And so, yes, when we talk about client retention, that is critical, but it starts from having the best benefits.

Ilana Shabtay 7:25

Yeah, and you and I know you have a big background in volunteering, and I know that the dealership has, you know, been very involved in the community. But you’re also having a big focus on sustainability right now. And there’s a goal to convert all of your dealerships to be more green. Now, this is something that I really haven’t heard before. And I think that this is a really important effort. Can you share a little bit with us what you’re doing in the dealerships to go green?

Liza Borches 7:50

Yeah, you know, we’ve always, as you mentioned, a lot, Mary’s philanthropy and we’ve done a lot around time transportation to how we give back to our communities, we started a nonprofit initiative driving lines forward. But a couple years ago, we recognized that, while everything is about people, when you talk about taking care of the environment, people will say save the Earth, well, it’s not saving the earth, it’s actually saving humanity, the Earth is going to be fine. But we want to make sure we preserve the humans who live on this earth. And so part of our way to move lives forward for people is to make sure that we are also a leader in creating an environment for future generations to be able to thrive. And the auto industry does not have a reputation for being a part of this initiative, necessarily. Right now, we’re hearing tons about electric vehicles and how we’re moving in that direction. But there’s so much more to sustainability and making sure that we are helping our community be a greener place for future generations than just selling eds. Now we are absolutely gonna be a leader in alternative fuel vehicles. And we already are. But the other things that we’ve been doing as we started converting all of our dealerships to solar power. We were the first dealership in the state of Virginia with our Nissan dealership several years ago to be fully powered by the sun. So everything down to our charging stations, and everything inside of our dealerships is fully powered by the solar superstructure that’s on top of our facility. So now as we build every new facility, we’re doing it that way. And we’ve also installed it on existing facilities. But we’ve taken deep into the stores, we have green teams in our stores. Everything from how do we eliminate plastic water bottles? How do we offer a customer something in a green cup versus a plastic water bottle? Because how many of those do we go through and dealerships? And how much paper do we waste in a car dealership, I mean, we print to Print to print everything. So we’ve been spending a lot of time on paper reduction, recycling everything that’s possible in a dealership, reducing the amount of plastic and reducing the overall energy use within our stores, and allowing solar to hopefully continue to be our main energy source going forward.

Ilana Shabtay 9:49

That’s great. And I think with some of the initiatives in automotive right now including paperless transactions, that will hopefully support these initiatives as well. Now, I also want to recognize and congratulate you that you were named top 100 women in automotive in Automotive News and Cox Automotive awarded you with the Barbara Cox Woman of the Year award in 2020. Huge, huge honor. And I’ve heard you speak about this before women in automotive, how do we inspire more women in automotive to take leadership? What advice would you give to women who are seeking more of a leadership role. And also, if you want to talk a little bit also, because I’ve heard you speak about this on Clubhouse, your journey, especially when you started as a leading woman in a male dominated industry. So that’s a lot to unpack,

Liza Borches 10:37

to dial it into just a couple of key points. First, I think if you are currently a woman in automotive, and we are certainly in a male dominated industry, but I always say embrace it, and use it as an opportunity to stand out. You know, sometimes the only female in the room, if you’re the only minority in a room, you’re the youngest in the room, that’s your opportunity to shine. And sometimes we shrink in those situations. And I always encourage women, when you’re the only one in the room, this is your opportunity to stand out. So that’s the first thing I mentioned. The second thing as far as how we encourage more women to consider automotive women are not attracted to our industry for the same reasons that men are. And if we want to continue to grow the number of women, which I know we all do. And it’s not just the women that see the benefit of bringing more women into automotive, the men see it too. They see the traits, the characteristics and the strength that women bring to our industry to help us all be better. So I think everybody’s on this journey together. But the way that we have to do it is women come to our industry, typically through a referral, or relationship or reputation. They don’t typically answer a job ad saying, Oh, I’m interested in learning how to be a technician, or I might be interested in being a sales associate in the automotive industry. We did a quick study a couple years ago over all of the different applications that we receive in a year, for example, in parts and service 3% of the applications that we received, stops were women. Now when I look at our company today and the women that we’ve attracted, we’ve gotten through three ways they were either referral from an existing associate, they said there was some sort of trust that they refer a friend, family member to us. They had an existing relationship, possibly they were on the vendor side of the business, possibly they were a customer of ours and may have had a great experience. And they decided to join our team, or they heard through us in some other way through our reputation, whether it be in a trade school, community college or whatnot. But they aren’t coming to us through job postings. So if we’re relying on a job posting to bring us more women in this business, we are going to continue at the low percentage that we’ve been at for a very long time.

Ilana Shabtay 12:41

And then I did want to touch on the keynote that you participated in, in Digital Dealer. Earlier this month Digital Dealer had a conference in Tampa, I think it was the first in person conference since COVID. outbreak. So it was I was there for the first day and there was definitely that the energy was high, the participation was high. So that was very exciting to see. And I think that’s just the start of a new era for us now. But not everyone was able to make it to the keynote or to the conference. So I’d love to hear a little bit about what you’ve presented. And just share with us a little bit about the panel.

Liza Borches 13:17

Yeah, so Paul Daly actually led the panel, and the title of it was basically about automotive hardships, and he titled it, It’s Not A Comeback. We’ve been here before. And he did a fantastic opening about all the different adversity that our industry has faced in the last 100 years. And, and basically saying, Yeah, they threw us a pandemic. But you know, we’ve been here before. And so then he asked several of us that joined him on this panel to talk about some of the hardships that we have gone through and what we learned from them. And Brian Ben Stock and Brian Kramer and Daymond Lester joined me there as well. And there were certain things you Brian talked about having a flood and losing. I think he lost 900 cars at one point. Brian Kramer talked about COVID and some of the impacts on the marketing side and what they went through Daymond shared with us in 2008, especially minority dealers that had their franchises pulled in. But as you started the show my focus always tends to go to the people. And so I asked Paul, I said, I don’t know if this is appropriate for me to share on a panel and I’m sure I want to share it. But when I think about the most difficult thing I’ve ever been through in this industry, it was we lost one of our general managers to suicide right before COVID hit. And so my whole message in there was and I told bosses, I don’t want to be a downer and I don’t want to be negative. But what I do want to share is that we do have incredible challenges in this industry. But what makes this industry amazing, is our passion and our emotions are our strength and I shared During the panel and in the keynote that I cried with our team, I briefed with our team I second guessed myself about how do they not know what he was going through? And how do I move my team forward without being insensitive. And there were all these things that, you know, happened emotionally during this time. And so what I encouraged everybody in automotive, but kind of at the end of my heart was to just recognize that our emotions are our strength. And at times, it’s okay to cry, it’s okay to hug. But there’s also a time for strength, to show our grit to show our determination. And that’s what’s gotten us through some tough times. And so we need to make sure we embrace all of the emotions that we have. Our industry is an emotional industry. And it’s what makes us awesome. It’s what attracts people with passion to us. And so you know, I just kind of ended with me. And we’re going to go through floods and tsunamis and hurricanes, and microchip shortages, and government mandates, and all these different things. But what’s awesome is this industry as a huge family, the reason that we fight together is because we know that when we fight, we win, we love each other as much as compete, we also work together in a very incredible way to get through every single one of these adversities and challenges that are put in front of us. So that was what I shared with you, and it was emotional. And I brought so many connections throughout the next couple days, people coming up and just sharing with me different hardships they’ve been through, but also what they’ve learned. And, and you know, every every opportunity is an opportunity to grow. So I’m glad I shared the story because it connected me with so many new people in our industry that I think will be lifelong relationships.

Ilana Shabtay 16:40

Yeah, I think that’s such a great way to also tie in any crisis or any hardship that we have, whether it’s in the dealership or in our personal lives. So I think that I think it’s great that you shared that because again, yes, it was a crisis that you face, at the dealership, but there’s so much more there that people can take away from. So I appreciate you sharing with me that’s really strong. And I’m sorry, I missed it, because I would have loved to have been there. So maybe next time. Now, just before we sign off, I like talking on this podcast, especially when we have dealers on about how your dealership is fitting into this digital dealership world right now, obviously COVID accelerated some of that, but it was going in the direction anyway. And I’d love to know what CMA is doing to stay at the cutting edge. What are some of the tactics that you’re doing to really, you know, fit today’s consumer habits, which are changing, if you want to share a little bit about that we can end there.

Liza Borches 17:43

Sure. You know, I think that many of the initiatives that we have going on are similar to other viewers that you’ve spoken to, I am grateful that we were already well down the path and in the digital retail space before COVID hit it made, it made that time a lot easier and less stressful as we had so many things to figure out much less how to sell a car fully online, delivered someone’s home and, and have the paperwork all be seamless, I think we still have a challenge with some of the state paperwork with some lenders who are not dismissing us and being able to full fully head into the digital space. It’s something our industry needs to be together on and collaborate on over the next year or less. Those things need to be fixed. What I keep telling our team as we talk about all these different initiatives that we put in place, and we try to pilot things in one store or two stores. Before we take it to all of our dealerships make sure we get the bugs out. That’s something we’ve learned by trial and error. But what I keep telling them is we are going to make sure that we’re in the front of all the technology advances that our industry needs in order to meet the customer’s experience expectations, we’re going to wrap it with the relationship. Because I believe technology only gets us so far. Obviously, you have to have the training and the support to make sure the technology is used, right. But I don’t want to ever give up that relationship. Now it may not mean the person ever comes in the store, it may mean we never meet that customer. But there are other ways to connect and provide support and relationships to consumers that we’ve got to continue to evolve. So that’s what we’re focused on. We I think the easy part is investing in technology, making sure we have a full digital sales process, make sure we can fully deliver a partisan tone on workplace that everything can be designed that our customers can do service pick up and drop off and then it can be done through an app and that they can get videos from technicians to see what’s happening on their car while they’re in the shop. That part I think is the easy part. But it’s how we continue to differentiate ourselves from some of these so-called disruptors, and I believe there’s space in that trust and relationship that we still bring to the table. And so we’re going to be continuing to focus on how we make sure that that is still meaningful in the digital world.

Ilana Shabtay 19:54

Yeah, and I think even the what you said about video sending videos while we’re getting your car fixed and Having that relationship and that communication with by leveraging technology is, I think a really good step forward. So thank you so much for joining us today on the InsideAuto Podcast. We covered a lot in a very short amount of time. So I appreciate it. And if you liked this episode, please tune in to the InsideAuto Podcast. We’re on all mainstream apps, iheartmedia, Spotify, Apple, you name it. Thank you so much, Liza for joining. Absolutely love to do it again.

Outro 20:32

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