A RAHWAY MITSUBISHI DEALERSHIP FINDS SUCCESS IN A HANDS-ON, COMMUNITY-DRIVEN APPROACH

BY ERIK SCHONING • PHOTOS BY ALEX BARRETO

Right off Route 1 in Rahway sits the sprawling lot of Bell Mitsubishi. The business is the brainchild of Alex Collantes and his business partner, Lee Morant, who together are reimagining what a franchised car dealership should be.

Collantes got his start in the automotive world at age 16, taking a job as a delivery coordinator for a Toyota dealership. Next, he took on a variety of roles in used car dealerships, an experience that gave him a broad foundation and platter of opportunities. “What happens when you work at a small dealership is you tend to wear a lot of hats,” Collantes said. “You’re the manager, you wash the cars, you make the calls. I learned how to move in the business.”

Collantes and Morant met as salesmen working at another dealership down the line. They both wanted to run their own facility; they knew they had the talent and tenacity and were willing to take a leap of faith. When they launched their first dealership, the duo had four cars for sale in a lot that could support 200. A slow start, but the business quickly grew, and eventually Collantes and Morant met Joe Collado, current president of Bell Mitsubishi, whose vision was to run a franchise for the brand.

“Joe had the vision,” Collantes said. “He was so gung-ho on the brand. At first, I didn’t see it. But he was right.”

Hand & Stone SPREAD

At the time, despite his experience in the industry, Collantes was unfamiliar with Mitsubishi. As he got to know the brand, he fell in love with its balance of quality, accessibility, durability, and design. Bell Mitsubishi was bought from its previous owner and fully renovated. Collantes and his team were off to the races, building out a dealership that is today a Rahway mainstay.

The ongoing success of the business can be credited to many factors. One is the range and diversity of Mitsubishi’s offerings, from sporty SUVs like the Outlander to the low-profile Mirage.

In recent years the brand has pivoted away from some of its more performance oriented offerings, opting instead for the broader market of everyday drivers, flexible crossovers, vehicles for people who need a dependable but sleek ride. Still, Bell Mitsubishi trades in used cars, too, and it’s not uncommon to see an old cruiser like a GTO or sporty Evo in for service.

As the industry continues to shift, Mitsubishi is pivoting toward an electric future. It’s no surprise, then, that the brand’s headlining model for the upcoming model year is the 2023 Outlander PHEV, the latest iteration of their bestselling plug-in hybrid SUV. It pairs the efficiency of an electric powertrain with the dependability of gasoline. Every Mitsubishi, electric or otherwise, is fully customizable through a sprawling catalog of features and availabilities. (Collantes pointed out that a fully loaded Outlander has more options than an average G-wagon.) And, crucially, Collantes explained these cars last even if that puts a damper on traditional dealership business models.

“It’s a bit of a task to run service at a Mitsubishi dealership, because these things don’t break down,” Collantes laughed. “It’s not like I have people coming in and saying, ‘Hey, my transmission went,’ or this and that. My service department work is all used cars, not the new Mitsubishis.”

When Collantes and Morant joined Bell Mitsubishi, they knew they could each sell 15 to 20 cars a month. That has proven true in their years with the dealership, a testament to their ongoing passion for cars and ability to pinpoint a customer’s needs. For Collantes, marketing has always been a gift, whether via word of mouth or more formal avenues like television and print ads.

“Our target consumers are aged 25 to 45,” Collantes said. “That’s me. I see what they see. When I jump on social media, when I’m on Facebook, when I’m shopping, I am a consumer. So whatever appeals to me is what I apply to our marketing.”

Today Collantes, Morant, and Collado oversee a team of skilled sales reps, finance experts, and auto technicians. Businesses often call their team a family, but at Bell Mitsubishi, it’s true. Collantes has built out his staff with family members, people he grew up with, locals from the neighborhood. Drawing on his experience within every role in dealerships, he’s able to identify and develop talent.

Most dealerships aren’t run this way. Hands-off ownership is often the name of the game, and the reputation of the brand is often used as a substitute for bespoke service. Working his way up in the dealership world, Collantes has never been comfortable with that kind of corner cutting. He’s always looking for ways to help Bell Mitsubishi stand out in a crowded field.

“Franchises are all cut from the same cloth until the owner comes in and adds the difference,” Collantes said. “I’m always around. Most principals, they’re nowhere near the dealership on a Saturday. But if you’re not involved with your business, how do you know where your business is going?”

Bell Mitsubishi
1500 US-1, Rahway / 866.979.7994 / bellmitsubishi.com