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Brian Jessel BMW’s 20th Anniversary

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Story by Sarah Efron

When Brian Jessel was a teenager, he asked his father Bernie if he could tag along with his car-buyers during their trips to dealerships around Toronto. Jessel carefully observed as the wholesale car-brokers bought used cars, fixed them up and then resold them to other dealerships at a profit. The experience infused young Brian with a love of cars and gave him a head start in the business. 


He took advantage of the leg up, and now, after taking risks and working hard, he’s enjoying the payoff. Jessel is the president and CEO of Brian Jessel BMW, which is celebrating two major achievements this year: its 20th anniversary, and its position as the number one BMW dealership in Canada for the fourth consecutive year. “He had an interest in cars from the time he was a child,” recalls his father Bernie. “We were putting him through university, but he told me ‘I’m not going to be doctor or a lawyer.’

He wanted to do what his father was doing. He liked the business and took to it well and today he’s a huge success. I’m just so proud of him and the things he’s accomplished.” In following his father’s path, Brian Jessel became a third generation car expert—his grandfather had sold GM cars in Toronto. By the age of 23, Brian Jessel was the manager of a Toyota dealership in Toronto. After a visit to Vancouver in the early 1970s, he fell in love with the place and quickly moved to the coast.

Jessel didn’t have the money to buy a dealership, so he started his own car brokerage company, selling from dealer to dealer like his father did. In the late 1970s, Jessel started a Fiat dealership in Kitsilano where he specialized in selling “exotic” European cars, but sold his property holdings there in 1981, just as interest rates were beginning to soar. Jessel managed to open up several other dealerships in the mid-’80s, but the market was tough. “There was the odd time I almost went bankrupt,” Jessel laughs, sitting in his office, which looks out onto the showroom floor.

A friend who had a dealership offered Jessel a BMW franchise in 1986. The location in Abbotsford wasn’t considered desirable, but Jessel had always wanted a BMW dealership, so he bought it for around $65,000. Jessel steadily began increasing the numbers of cars he sold, and within a few years, Brian Jessel BMW moved into larger facilities in Langley and, later, Coquitlam. In 1997 the dealership became the largest BMW retailer in Western Canada; in 2003, Jessel astonished the Toronto dealers by outselling them and capturing the title of the largest BMW dealership in the country.

He’s held the title ever since. Last year, the dealership sold 1,360 new BMWs, while the runner-up, BMW Laval in Quebec, sold 1,189. But Jessel wasn’t content to just maintain his success: he had bigger plans. He dreamed of moving into a massive new facility in Vancouver, tailor-made to cater to the whims of his high-end clients. He found the perfect site at Boundary and Lougheed Highway and contacted BMW Canada to discuss his plans. Jessel smiles as he pulls out a letter from his office files.

The letter from BMW Headquarters Canada, dated October 3, 2001, reads: “We have reviewed this proposal and we are unable to approve your request for relocation.” Almost a year went by before Jessel managed to persuade BMW Canada to give him the green light to build his dream facility. The former brewery was rebuilt, and the new dealership opened in September 2004. Brian Jessel loves showing off his dealership.

The bright showroom is filled with shiny SAVs, convertibles, sedans and motorsport cars. The M Café offers grilled panini and capuccinos to people waiting for service on their vehicles. Across from Jessel’s office there is a wall of sales awards from BMW Canada; right now the dealership has the top three salesmen in the country. At the business centre people are making phone calls and using their laptops, while other customers relax in the comfy lounge, looking

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“If you want something to happen, you have to envision it happening!”

At the heart of Jessel’s success is a strong team of loyal employees. In an industry where workers tend to move from dealership to dealership, Jessel has a dozen employees who have been with him for more than 15 years. The team has grown enormously, from eight employees in 1986 to more than 120 today.

through the windows and watching mechanics service cars in the pristine garage. The service drive-through is a large, enclosed bay, so customers can explain what’s wrong with their cars without getting drenched in Vancouver’s generous rain. Jessel says the building reflects his philosophy of planning for success. “If you want something to happen, you have to envision it happening,” he says.

“The average BMW dealer would have built four delivery bays; we built 15 of them. There are some days when they’re all filled.” And now BMW Canada is coming to Jessel for advice. The general manager from the BMW Canada-owned dealership in Toronto phoned last week and asked if he could come study Jessel’s process for taking care of their customers.

“He’s a nice guy, but I told him he couldn’t come,” Jessel grins. “He’s really one of my competitors nationally.” At the heart of Jessel’s success is a strong team of loyal employees. In an industry where workers tend to move from dealership to dealership, Jessel has a dozen employees who have been with him for more than 15 years. The team has grown enormously from eight employees in 1986 to more than 120 today.

Jessel says it’s a challenge for him to hire a salesman; not only does the candidate have to meet his high standards for customer satisfaction, but the person also has to act a little bit like Brian Jessel. “My employees are on the same wave length as me,” he says. “We think the same. When they talk to the customers, they know how I would reply. They treat the customer so they don’t feel like they’re buying a car, but like they’re becoming a part of our family.”

Parts Manager Charles Carvalho has worked for Jessel for 14 years. “Brian hires people who are like him, people who make decisions on their own,” he says. “He doesn’t like to tell people what needs to be done, he likes them to tell him.” Tim Van Dyke began as a ‘lot boy’ in Jessel’s Toyota dealership in Langley 24 years ago, washing cars and sweeping the driveway. “Brian has helped me out so much personally and professionally,” says Van Dyke, who is currently Manager of the number one Pre-Owned Sales department in the Canadian BMW world.

“He’s the best guy I could ever think to work for.” Van Dyke remembers how Jessel personally loaned him and his wife the money to purchase their first home, no strings attached. There’s one other member of Brian Jessel’s team who can’t be forgotten and that’s his father Bernie. In 1996 the senior Jessel started working for his son, handling the dealership’s wholesale operations. It wasn’t a charity appointment; Bernie has a vast network of contacts that he’s developed during his 60 years in the business.

However, Brian does offer his 83- year-old father a few special perks. Bernie works four days a week and spends three

months of the year vacationing in Mexico. “It’s wonderful,” says Brian, about working with his father. “I get to see him almost every day.” Bernie agrees that the arrangement works well. “I enjoy going to work,” he says. “Hopefully I can still remain capable of helping with the business. Brian is happy to have someone in the position that he can trust.” Having Brian’s father on staff adds to the family-like atmosphere of the workplace. Pre-Owned Sales Manager Tim Van Dyke says Bernie is “like a grandfather” to him. However, one member of the Jessel clan is bucking the family trend so far; Brian’s 30-year-old daughter just graduated from the University of Torino with a PhD in anthropology. Outside of the showroom Jessel has other passions—he loves going to public events and he’s an avid foodie. He often makes it into the pages of Malcolm Parry’s social column in the Vancouver Sun, and he’s frequently spotted dining at Il Giardino, Chambar and Rodney’s Oyster House.

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But even with the title of number one dealer in Canada, Jessel still refuses to be complacent. He says that last fall it was already apparent the dealership would once again cinch the title of number one dealership for the year. “Everybody was feeling terrific,” recalls Jessel. “I went and got a list of the top 50 retailers in the U.S. We wouldn’t have even made the top 50. I explained that we had a great year, but there were people who sold more cars. We could do better.” Jessel aims to sell 1,500 new

cars next year and his goal for 2008 is to sell 2,000 vehicles. He says the timing is right: Jessel predicts there will be three million residents in the Vancouver region by 2020. He says the constant influx of upwardly mobile immigrants, the 2010 Olympic Games and the booming economy are catalysts for the dealership’s further success. And with a strong team of employees who understand each other and their customers, Jessel envisions his company continuing to outshine the competition by offering a level of service unmatched by any automobile retailer in Canada.

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