From coaches to Toyotas, the dealership now known as Hayes Toyota has been synonymous with the automotive industry in South Murwillumbah since 1918.
Long term staff — from left to right (with years of service); Vicki Reed (20 years), Michael McCabe (21 years), Harry Francis (50 years), Melissa Moore (10 years), Bert Hayes (current owner 52 years and Dealer Principal for 40 years), Kelly Nixon (28 years), Mark Espley (20 years) and Sue Cook (26 years).
Hayes Toyota at a glance
4-time Rural Dealer of the Year winner
11-time Toyota President’s Excellence Awards winner
100 years in operation
Run by Bert Hayes (grandso of founder A.G Hayes), this third-generation family business has overcome many challenges, including fire, two world wars, the Great Depression, a Recession, the GFC, and after many floods, a one-in-100-year flood.
We spoke to Bert about his family’s history and how their business has managed to survive and thrive over the last 100 years.
How did Hayes get started?
My grandfather kicked it off as a true pioneer in the motor industry. He came out of the horse and sulky manufacturing industry.
He thought he was set for life with horses — they were going to be around forever. But then these motor cars turned up and started to encroach on his sales, so he decided to sell cars as a side business. Eventually, they took over completely.
When he decided to open his own dealership, he went to his accountant for advice. The accountant told him to stick to horses because cars would be “here today, gone tomorrow.”
But Grandfather could see a terrific future with cars. His accountant ended up working for the business for 55 years!
Where did your “customer first” motto come from?
In 1990, Toyota asked all their dealers to come up with a mission statement. I wrote down “customer first” and it wasn’t accepted because it was too short. I said, “It might be short, but look at what it means.”
I got it from Grandfather. He said it all the time. Whenever the phone rang because someone had broken down, he’d say, “Well, we’ve got to help them.” The kids would groan but for Grandfather it was always “customer first.”
How did Hayes become a trusted name in Murwillumbah?
It started in the depression. Grandfather never sacked a man during the depression and he kept the business going. He’d do work for people and they’d say, “I can’t pay ya”. He’d say, “When this is over, pay me then”.
He did a lot of that. Everyone trusted him, and he trusted them. It’s been passed down ever since.
Hayes Toyota has won many of Toyota’s Top Recognition Awards, including 4 Rural Dealer of the Year Awards and 11 President's Excellence Awards. What’s your secret?
Hard work and a bit of luck. During the second world war we were GM [General Motors] dealers, but Grandfather lost the dealership because he wasn’t selling enough cars.
When his two sons came back from New Guinea he didn’t have any cars. They bought Austins which rogressed into BMC [British Motor Corporation] cars. They then sold Minis and front-wheel-drive Morris 1100s, and Leylands, but things only got worse.
I decided to go into Toyota. There was a dealership in Southport. Their cars were parked on carpet. I knew Toyotas must be good because there was no way we’d park our cars on carpet — they leaked oil even when they were new! We started with them in ‘75.
Back then our place still looked like a blacksmith’s shop. But over ten years we managed to sell enough to refurbish. At the time Toyota happened to have their first President’s Award. Now we had shiny new premises, great staff, and loyal customers. I looked at the award criteria and said to my wife, “We might win this thing.”
We ended up getting eleven awards over 15 years. With those awards, we’ve been able to travel the world with Toyota. It’s been tremendous.
How does Hayes Toyota support the community?
We employ 22 people. That equates to about 100 people being fed from this establishment. We donate time and money to support all sorts of causes in the town. The fact we’ve been in the same spot so long means we’re reliable too.
We’re a country dealership — we don’t pressure the customers. The staff are like a family and the customers become like family. It’s just a good meeting place to come and get your car fixed and have a bit of a talk.
With the locals, you might have a customer whose father bought here, and his grandfather, sometimes even his great-grandfather. It’s a tradition.
How important is super to you and your employees?
It’s important they’re with a good company because they don’t know a lot about it. And they’d be dirty if we signed them up to a fund that didn’t perform!
We know MTAA Super has a good reputation — they look after the industry.
I had a new starter who couldn’t wait to get into MTAA Super because where he’d come from the return was terrible and the fees too high.
What about the next 100 years?
It would be nice to see the business continue. I have my daughter and grandson — it’s just a matter of seeing if they are as keen as me to keep it going.
But I think the future is very bright. The cars they make now barely resemble the cars of the past — they’re built for the future. And there is always going to be people looking for the latest model.
Is there anything you’d do differently?
If I was Grandfather I would have built on a hill, not in a valley beside a river! That’s the only problem we’ve got. Apart from that, it’s a terrific location. We’re right on the main street. Everyone can see us. But it would be a fantastic to be able to lie in bed and hear the rain and not worry if it’s going to flood!
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