There are some executives who seem to have an uncanny ability to adapt to changes. To say that Joseph Agresta has it, is practically an understatement, as his whole family has been doing just that for the past four generations and the reason it has been thriving for more than a century.
As the family immigrated to America in the early 1900s, Giuseppe Agresta worked as a blacksmith in New Jersey. His son, Arthur I, transformed the business into a truck dealership. Joseph Agresta’s father Arthur II, continued the evolution until Joseph Agresta himself saw another opportunity to introduce car leasing before it became such a popular thing to do, eventually incorporating luxury cars into the picture.
There are some industries whose work resonates with technology—and the car industry is one of them. Then there are companies whose ability to enter the future comes with ease, not because they predict it, but because their response to the events of the day feels so visceral, so true and so effective, that it almost feels like they saw it coming.
Such was the case with Benzel-Busch, the Mercedez-Benz, Audi, and Smart car dealership based in Englewood, New Jersey run by Joseph Agresta. “We did shift right at the beginning of the pandemic, and we were forced to change. We were allowed to open our facility but selling had to be done remotely. Our service department was allowed to open but with many restrictions”, explained Agresta, looking back at the early months of the pandemic.
“Back in March and April, when there was very little understanding of how the Coronavirus was transmitted. We simply had to comply with the new rules, but this also helped the company develop a very safe new way of doing business”, he said.
Facing all kinds of new regulations and restrictions, Benzel-Busch had to implement new habits, culture, and a whole new system that includes sanitizing all vehicles before and after each visit.
“People still want to buy cars, but they don’t want to come to the showroom,” said Agresta, who implemented, among the many new protocols, the remote sale and the online sale, where the car is taken to the client’s home.
“We are trying very hard to create an omnichannel approach”, matching as close as possible the in-person experience with the online experience.
“We want to create a bond between the client and the sales team”, said Agresta. “When buying a car, the test drive is a very important part. If possible, we want this bond to happen in person as the client has a physical experience driving the car. However, during this pandemic, the in-person experience is not possible, but there are ways to do it, and people have adapted to it”, explained Agresta.
“Client expectations are different than before. We are seeing a very large response to the digital/retail platform, and people are coming to our website”.
Agresta more than understands the complexity of every car sale. “A car purchase is not a straight-forward process. Like a home, it’s an expensive process, there are a lot of decisions that need to be made along the way, especially if you’re leasing vehicles and that’s why our team can help”, he says with pride.
As a young student, Agresta always grew up working part-time jobs, summer jobs, odd jobs, and also spending a lot of time at this grandfather’s shop. In college, he developed an interest in other things like commodities and the stock markets, but ultimately, he knew he wanted to go into the family business. “I really love this business”, he smiled. A few years after college, he developed a desire to go back to school for an MBA program.
Agresta’s upbringing was as much informed by the Italian tradition of his family as by the multi-cultural melting pot in New Jersey. “This area has so many different cultures that all live in very close quarters in the tri-state area, and it’s so awesome, we get to experience so much, so many types of foods, languages, and cultures. It’s something that you can’t experience in other parts of the world”, Agresta shared.
Sensitivity to culture is a high priority at Benzel-Busch. “We are trying to do a lot of business in different languages, and we’re converting a lot of our marketing in-language. We hire people who speak different languages because people want to do business in their native language. We have sales force in Spanish, Korean, Turkish and Italian”, celebrated Agresta.
A man with a good appetite who appreciates the beauty of a homemade meal, he enjoys spending time with his kids, Joseph, 17, and Abigale age 11. “We cook a lot! We like to try different dishes and recipes that look interesting to us, or when we eat in a nice restaurant, we try to replicate it at home. We’re not afraid of experimenting. Not always it comes out great. My daughter and I spend a lot of time in the kitchen; and with my son, we do a lot of outdoor activities together.”
While Agresta is very active at work, he enjoys being in a more strategic role than a transactional role. “We have an amazing team in our dealers; and this frees me up to work in various projects, to be more strategic and gives me the time to spend with my family when I want to”. It also enshrines a visionary look into the future of the car industry, especially when it comes to self-driving.
Personally speaking, I’m still daunted by the idea of self-driving cars, and understanding the perspective of a leader in this industry is a lesson we find in Agresta, as well as a reminder that the complexity between technology and cars is a deep subject.
There are three major shifts that are affecting our industry regarding self-driving cars these days: automatic drive; electrification; and the digital shift in how vehicles are being purchased.
“Ultimately, they are all intertwined”, he explained. “If it works properly, eventually we will be safer, and we’ll have less traffic, in theory, as a result of self-driving cars”.
“All the tests are being done at regions of warm weather climates like New Mexico and Arizona, and that’s because, in these places, cars can see properly. But other times, when it’s rainy and dark, cars can’t see properly—just like us, humans. When sensors get wet and dirty, bad things happen. The same is true for people: when the weather is bad, we have more accidents. As of now, with all the testing for self -driving cars, the road conditions have to be perfect. We’ll get there eventually, but not that fast.”