Yvette Roybal wasted no time as the new owner of Garcia Buick GMC, which she quickly rebranded as Octane Buick GMC.
“I doubled the staff the first day,” said Roybal, who started March 19 with 12 employees and went home with 26 people committed to working for her.
If Day One means anything, it’s obvious Roybal will not be a passive auto dealership owner. She’s one of only four women in New Mexico to own a dealership franchised by a major manufacturer.
At 39, she has the opportunity to have a lock on Buick and GMC in Santa Fe for decades, following an American tradition in place across cities nationwide: auto dealerships may not change hands or leave a family for decades and generations.
Roybal has ambition, for sure.
“I don’t want to pave a path when there is a broad one to be walked,” Roybal said in an office that features a 49-inch curved computer monitor on her desk, able to display six windows at one time.
Roybal is not all about selling cars. She’s also mindful of the opportunity that can be available to women in the auto business, though she acknowledges it isn’t an easy climb — or an easy find.
There is that matter of only four female auto franchise dealers in the state. And only two women at Octane are among the 26 employees, even as she just hired half the staff. She said she couldn’t find more women to hire.
“I don’t have enough women working for me,” she said. “I want women to see this as a very welcoming industry. I want some 19-year-old female who has a dream in a male-dominated industry to see that this can be done.”
The other women-franchised car dealership owners in New Mexico are Annette DiLorenzo Thayer of Quality Mazda in Albuquerque; Margaret Valencia of Henry Valencia Inc. in Española; and Terri Lynn Garcia of Amigo Chevrolet and Amigo Toyota in Gallup, said Charles Henson, president of the New Mexico Automotive Dealers Association.
“I don’t know what that is, why there are so few [women owners], unless it is a carry-on from two or three generations ago when there was all male leadership,” Henson said. “I think we’re starting to see that fall out, as it should. [Roybal] brings a fresh perspective, a new approach, perhaps, of doing business and a valuable level of experience.”
Roybal sees growth in Octane’s future but has not mapped out which direction that may go. Expand the current property at Cerrillos Road and Camino Carlos Rey? Open new dealerships? Expand to other cities? Do something else?
“My goal is to be a valued member of the community to grow in scale as much as we can and provide opportunities,” Roybal said. “I want to be able to mentor another female minority to accomplish a similar thing.”
Roybal did not go down the common route of attaching her name to the dealership.
“Octane came up while walking with my daughter,” she said. “I wanted something auto-related, something you see every day. High octane. It brings youth and vibrancy to the brand.”
Roybal already had visions of owning a car dealership when she was in her early teens.
“I’ve been in love with this store [Octane] since I was in my 20s,” she said.
First, she got a bachelor’s degree in theology at Wayland Baptist University when it had a campus at the Glorieta Conference Center. Then she did marketing work, and had an account with Sauter Toyota (today’s Toyota of Santa Fe).
“Buddy Espinosa recruited me,” said Roybal, referring to today’s Toyota of Santa Fe general manager and, back then, parts and service manager. “Buddy would say ‘You should sell cars.’ I always loved people and loved sales. I started at Sauter Toyota.”
Espinosa remembers a very young Roybal in 2000.
“It doesn’t surprise me at all that she is doing well,” Espinosa said. “I think it was her interest. I saw a go-getter. She was interested in getting involved in the dealership.”
She started in sales but quickly moved into finance and a couple years later moved to Santa Fe Nissan, where she also did finance. From 2004 to 2009, Roybal progressed from sales manager to finance manager and general sales manager at Performance Buick GMC — a forerunner to the dealership she now owns.
Since 2009, the Albuquerque-based Garcia Automotive Group and its leader, Ed Garcia, have been a central part of Roybal’s career. She worked at Garcia’s Santa Fe Hyundai and Nissan dealerships until 2015, grooming herself as a future dealer by representing Garcia Nissan at the Nissan National Dealer Advisory Board for several years.
Serving on that board, she met Dean Bernal Sr., owner of Nissan of Silsbee (in Texas), who now is 50-50 owner of Octane Buick GMC with Roybal.
Garcia sold the Nissan dealership to Fiesta Auto Group in 2015. Roybal stayed with Fiesta Nissan as executive manager because she wanted to continue serving on the Nissan National Dealer Advisory Board. That same year Garcia bought Performance Buick GMC.
“I applied for the minority dealer development program at GMC three years ago,” Roybal said. “Fifty to 70 percent don’t pass the first time. I passed with 97.6 percent.”
But Roybal took a detour from the road to car dealereship owner. Her daughter Sophia was born March 13, 2018, and she left Fiesta Nissan.
The detour didn’t last long. By September, she started negotiations with Ed Garcia to buy Garcia Buick GMC.
“He didn’t want to sell this,” Roybal recalled. “He just remodeled the store.”
Roybal found a crack in an industry that can be nearly impossible to break into. In city after city, major brands are cornered by families that hold on to them for generations, Henson said.
“For the most part, family-owned dealerships have stayed such because younger generations understand what a great business it is, as long as the next generation wants to carry on,” Henson said. “About 95 percent of the 30 to 35 [dealers] are generations and generations owned. It’s acceptance by the factories that the family has trained the next generation.”
Roybal returned briefly to Toyota of Santa Fe in late 2018 and early 2019 as she negotiated the purchase of Garcia Buick GMC. Her teenage ambition to be a car dealer has evolved with the birth of Sophia.
“If you don’t chase your dreams, how can you encourage your child to follow their dreams?” she asked.
Roybal said her belief in Santa Fe is as deep as her roots.
“It’s a hard reality,” she said. “I’m from Santa Fe. One of the things I’ve found difficult is looking at my peers. I’m the only one who stayed in Santa Fe. I want to be a source for people wanting to stay here. I’ve chosen to stay here. My grandparents are still here. My greatest fear was losing a grandparent. My second greatest fear was my child not meeting my grandparents. I stayed here despite lots of opportunities presented to me in other places.”
Roybal said she has her eye on the GM Mark of Excellence, which recognizes customer satisfaction, selling enough cars and employee retention.
“The biggest thing right now is we want to win the Mark of Excellence,” she said. “We won it in 2007. I’m hoping to win it in 2020.”
That would be the first opportunity for Roybal to achieve the honor, and if it seems as if she’s in a hurry, well, it’s true.
She is not in the slow lane.