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  • FROM OCEAN SURF TO ASPHALT TURF

    Dave (Davio) Witt Has Learned That You Can't Stop the Waves But You Can Learn To Surf.

    RICK SINGLETON

    “It started out as a childhood nickname, Davio.” states Dave Witt of Davio’s Auto in South Bend, Indiana. “One of my friends used to call me Dav and that continued on for a long time. Then, several years ago, I was on a bus trip to Chicago with several of my buddies to watch the Cubs play. After the game when the bus was ready to leave (and I wasn’t on it) a couple of my friends started chanting ‘Hell no, we won’t go. We won’t go without Davio!’ Well I finally got back to the bus but they continued to chant and kind of rib me. Then for several years, whenever I would see them, they continued to kid me about it until eventually the whole Davio thing just stuck. So when I opened my own auto business I decided, what the heck, I’ll just use that name."
    HELL NOWE WON'T GOWE WON'T GOWITHOUT DAVIO!

    However Dave got into the car business long before that time. He was living in Florida part of the time and migrating back and forth from Florida to up north. "I had moved to Indiana to see my dad and spend time with him. While I was up here I met a girl and decided to stay. That's when my brother and I started up a lawn service. We worked pretty hard throughout the spring and summer but when the season would come to an end I would go back to Florida. I did that for about three years. When I was in Florida I would stay on Marco Island. I was at a gas station one day and this guy walks up to me and said something about my plates (which were Indiana plates). We got into a conversation and he mentioned that he was from South Bend and it was kind of a great lead in conversation. The guy introduced himself and said his name was Van Gates. He told me, if I ever came back to Indiana to come see him, 'I might have a job for you'. Eventually I went back to Indiana and when I did I decided to go chat with this guy, he hired me that day. That was about 25 years ago. That's how I started in the car business and I’ve been in it ever since."

  • "Eventually I left Gates and went to work for Headers in South Bend, which Steve Huddleston owned. I enjoyed working for Steve and had a good relationship. The fact is, everything was going pretty darn good until one day he walks in and says to me 'I’ve decided I ‘m not going to re-lease this property any longer, so you’re either going to have to go back to selling for one of the new car dealers (which is what I was doing before I went to work for Steve) or I can help you start your own lot.' Dave's jaw hit the floor, "Needless to say, at first that scared the heck out of me. I just froze. I didn’t have any money. I had never run my own business. The whole thing was just kind of dropped on me and now I had to make a decision... and pretty darn quick. Well, the long and short of the story is my dad ended up giving me a loan. Unfortunately he had to take the money out of his retirement account. That's real scary man, when you're father digs into his retirement account and loans you his money. Then it's all on you. If you fail you're losing his money. That was a lot of pressure but I certainly appreciated what he did and the fact that he believed in me enough to do it. Anyway, before you knew it I was in the car business... for myself. It all kinda just rolled into my lap. I'm not saying that it was easy, but that's how I got into my own business."

    Dave continued his story as he illustrated how things unfolded for him. "Steve (Huddleston) gave me the opportunity. I did a pretty good job for him over there and he offered me choices, including helping me open up my own lot." Dave chuckled as he continued, "It’s was like he was saying, 'Here I want to help you become my competitor'. But all in all I have to tell you that Steve helped me a lot at that time and I remain grateful for that. I still have an excellent relationship with Steve and have a lot of respect for him. To this day we still drive to some of the auctions together. When we do we get the opportunity to discuss the industry a bit, sometimes vent a little... but mostly it’s been me learning. In the beginning days Steve was my rock... a lot of times. I’m extremely thankful and appreciative of both Steve and my father. Without them Davio’s would not be here today.

  • Dave ended up taking on the lease and off he went. "I put a sign out with my nickname on it, got some cards made and got my dealers license. I started looking at some of the necessary things that I had to do to get started but keep in mind a lot of it was already set up because Header's had been operating here. That was certainly an advantage for me starting out."

    As Dave made his way in the business he began forming his own philosophy and mission. "I decided early on that I could make a decent living and still help a guy out if you know what I mean. I financed these people myself, in-house, I still do that . Furthermore, I don’t charge any interest. The reason why I do this is it can result in the customer seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. It not only can save them $3,000 or $4,000, but after 5 or 6 months they start to realize, 'wow I’m making headway. I see my loan going down and I can see paying this off'. With high interest rates that doesn’t typically happen. People often feel smothered and all they end up doing is paying interest for years and years. They never see the light. That always bugged me."

    Another thing that Dave Witt claims is that he is always honest and up-front with his customers. "You know, I've watched people not only get taken advantage of when they were purchasing a car, but afterwards as well. So many auto repair shops take major advantage of people. It sounds funny but we tell people the truth about what’s wrong or what’s not wrong with our cars. It actually ends up being good for not only the customer but for us too, especially when it comes to our word-of-mouth advertising. Our customers keep coming back to us and I think that says a lot about how a dealership operates."

    As Witt stayed true to his mission and his general philosophy the 'Big Picture" seems to be coming together. "To me, what's rewarding is to see it all paying off. It’s actually working. We’ve been here 15 or 16 years now, we sell 20 to 25 vehicles a month – that’s pretty good in this industry. We have grown and we are doing things to continue to grow. About 3 or 4 years ago we purchased the lot that a nearby hair salon was located on. The salon had burnt down and we purchased the land. That move alone not only increased our room but it also substantially improved our visibility. The exposure from the increased visibility has helped us quite a bit as well. So things keep getting better."

  • Witt was asked to describe how the business and the industry has affected his life. "You’ve got to be a little laid-back when running a ‘buy here, pay here’ car dealership. There’s a lot of craziness in this business but you gotta keep your head on right. I don't tell this to too many people but I got sober not too long ago. That's a tough thing to do... and you have to work at it every day. But I gotta tell you, getting sober has helped me amazingly in many ways. Another thing that helps me personally is that I pray on a regular basis. I ask for God’s help everyday and that has somehow helped me and helped the whole thing come together and work out. The most rewarding part of all of that is that today I’m actually helping other people get sober whenever I get the chance. A lot of those people know me or they knew the old me, Davio."

    "When it comes to the getting sober thing, one of the issues that I had to get over was that I wasn’t that unique. There are a lot of people out there that are like me. I now understand that. There are a lot of people out there like me today, sober. Yet I realize that there are a lot of people out there that are still struggling… and unfortunately there are some who aren’t here anymore – their dead."

    When Dave was asked about the turning point for him he said he believes it happened somewhat suddenly. "One day I woke up and thought to myself, I don’t wanna wake up the rest of my life and drag ass through the day. You go through the day hiding. You chew some gum, drink some coffee and put some eye drops in your eyes and then at the end if the day you say, hey, I made it through the day. And how do you reward yourself? You reward yourself with a cold one at the end of the day, which usually turns into a six pack or more."

  • When asked 'What's next?' Dave makes it pretty obvious that he wants to take it all one step at a time. "Right now I feel like I'm providing a good service to people in our little corner of the world. That makes me happy. I keep doing what I started off doing and that’s helping people. I feel pretty darn good and pretty blessed with that today."

    However, on the personal side Dave continues to have some other goals. "Long term, I want to buy a home on the beach so I can get back to my surfing. I grew up in southern California surfing on a daily basis. Eventually I moved to Hawaii and continued to surf there for a few years. Once you’re a surfer you never get it out of your blood. I’d like to get a house in Central America or Mexico... somewhere where the surf’s up. And I want to surf. It's like a big circle."

    After meeting Dave, or should I say Davio, you can see how easy it is to be impressed by his nature, his attitude and by his demeanor. Davio, we wish you continued success and the best of luck brother. Surf's up!


    BY RICK SINGLETON