Founded in 1919, Schwartz Mazda in Shrewsbury, N.J., boasts an on-site museum. But Jay Schwartz, fourth-generation dealer of this family-owned store, thinks of the dealership in more contemporary terms.
“It’s as close to being a start-up as it can be,” he says.
Jay joined his father, Jon, at Schwartz Mazda after working in the corporate world at large accounting firms as well as nimble start-ups. In his opinion, the big difference between the two was how they treated their staffs: as cogs in the machine or as valued team members. Jay wanted Schwartz Mazda employees to be the latter.
“We’ve always been extremely customer-centric,” Jay says. “I wanted us to also be employee-centric. When I got back to the family business, I said I’m going to change the culture.”
Schwartz Mazda started having more outings and, in Jay’s words, “having more fun.” The office administrators were given Nerf guns to fire at any especially pesky coworkers, and the dealership started hosting beer pong tournaments and comedy shows to benefit local charities.
Despite having added such changes, Jay gives family members before him credit for establishing a caring management style.
“My dad knew you need to take care of your people,” Jay says. “You need to make sure your people feel comfortable, safe and happy coming to work. If we take care of our employees and they take care of the customers, it’s a pretty good circle.”
A Legacy of Customer Service
Maurice Schwartz, the founding dealer and Jay’s great-grandfather, created an early customer satisfaction survey. The dealership sent customers the survey in the mail with a return label and a penny (“back when you could still buy something with a penny,” says Jay). It was quite literally a “penny for their thoughts.”
Maurice had a sixth-grade education and a medal-studded military career, serving during both world wars, including as supervisor of a 100,000-piece motor pool.
After World War I, Maurice started his auto career, first with trucks and military vehicle franchises, then as Central New Jersey’s Chrysler Plymouth dealer. Maurice’s son, Arnold, and grandsons Jim, Jon and Ken all worked in the dealership. Brothers Jim and Jon became local legends for their zany TV commercials parodying pop culture hits like Wayne’s World and Star Wars.
In the early 2000s, Jim died from cancer and Jay joined his father in the business. By then the dealership had relocated from Red Bank to Shrewsbury. In 2018, they completed a $1.8 million showroom renovation with 350 solar panels, saving more than a million pounds of carbon. To take their eco-friendly mission even further, Schwartz Mazda pays to have 15 trees planted for each vehicle sold.
Schwartz Mazda remains guided by the central principle established by Maurice: Exceed the customer’s expectations while maintaining a commitment to professionalism, fairness, honesty and service. The family has a history of extending this mission beyond the dealership and into the community.
“It’s always been important to give back for my family,” Jay says. “We have pretty good people here, so it seems to be important to them, too.”
During the Great Depression, Maurice raised $45,000 to keep Merchants Trust, which later became PNC Bank, open while other banks failed.
Then, when there was a vehicle shortage during World War II, Maurice made sure veterans had access to affordable vehicles, allowing service members to purchase cars with a handshake.
Maurice was also a founding member of the Monmouth County Auto Dealers Association and the Eastern Monmouth County Chamber of Commerce. Schwartz Mazda is the longest-standing member of both organizations.
This legacy of service is wide-reaching with a long list of sponsorships and support for community organizations. Jay has led the dealership’s efforts with the Red Bank Rotary Club, including establishing and stocking community mothers’ pantries (think little free libraries but with diapers, baby wipes, sanitary products, etc.) until they became self-sustainable through community donations.
But the dealership team’s favorite initiative: annual letters from Santa Claus. This is when employees respond to letters from local children who have written to Santa. Some staff even sign up to make phone calls to kids, serving as unofficial representatives of Santa and his elves.
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