Interview with the president of Skillter
What is your history / career path? What are the particularities of your dealership/career/employee(s) that make it so special?
A car lover from the earliest age, I chose to make it my career at the beginning of the 90s. I started by exporting spare parts from the USA and then moved on to exporting American vehicles. Since then, I have built up a vast network of partners, automobile dealerships and transporters in the USA and in 25 years I have become an essential player in this sector. Established in Los Angeles, I help European buyers purchase the vehicle of their dreams directly from the USA under the same conditions as the Americans. My team operates out of Florida and California to organize the logistics of vehicle exportation to Europe. Our customers appreciate our reactivity and attractive rates.
How would you define a model entrepreneur? How would you define yourself as an entrepreneur? What have been your lines of development since you opened your business?
For me, a model entrepreneur is above all a charismatic person with a clear vision of the future that they share with their teams. As an entrepreneur, I listen to my teams and customers and try to integrate my employees as far as possible into the phases of development of our model and information systems. Since we opened, we have developed enormously, both in terms of marketing strategy, entrepreneurial logic and, of course, in staff numbers. Today we are maintaining our course and lines of development in order to extend our activities on the international level.
What events have most marked your entrepreneurial career? What was the impact on your business vision? How do you see the future of your company (projects, partnerships, new premises, news, etc.)?
I was initially shocked by the lack of professionalism of certain professionals in the sector. At the beginning, I used the services of one of them to import a vehicle, but I soon realized the lack of seriousness in this profession. That is what first motivated me to enter this market. After, as a visionary, I was copied by an ever increasing number of competitors, which pushes you on a daily basis to stand out above the competition through success and innovation. All this had the effect of making me stronger by confirming my feeling that I was on the right track. Over the last two decades, we have consolidated our business and are continuing our process of international development.
What are your company values? Its DNA? How do you support your staff on a daily basis to enable them to push their limits?
My values are above all based on the dream that I enable each of them to fulfill. It is a very special sector that consists of dreamers and enthusiasts that you sometimes have to bring back to earth to prevent their dream from turning into a nightmare. So, my team and I guarantee all our customers flawless professionalism and informed advice to enable them to carry out their projects with no surprises and under the best possible conditions. I personally ensure that my staff share my vision and are responsive and reactive.
Present your company to us. How do you position it as an essential player in the world of digital tech and innovation? In other words, how have you developed in this direction? Tell us about your digital strategy and/or innovation. What is your added value? How does that bring you a different market position?
Skillter is the leading search engine for vehicles for sale in the USA. With over 6 million vehicles advertised, it offers an attractive alternative to people who wish to access a very large automobile market that offers unrivalled diversity. Our IT system is at the cutting edge of innovation because it uses the best technology to guarantee the best experience possible. This is thanks to its exceptional simplicity, diversity and performance. My technical staff come from the finest universities and have solid operational experience that enables them to successfully lead ambitious and innovative projects.
What are your favorite digital tools? What is their impact on the organization of your business? On its offer? On its growth? On your customers?
I have chosen to privilege our own tools, especially the skillter.com internet portal and the mobile application as they respond perfectly to the needs of our clients. After analyzing this market for over twenty years, I know perfectly how to respond to our users' expectations. Skillter is obviously also present on social networks, notably via the Official Skillter YouTube channel, which is full of quality documentaries. Our customers appreciate our tools and help us improve them daily through their feedback. Their testimonials are accessible via our sites, our YouTube channel and our page of verified reviews on Trust Pilot.
What are the new tools or innovations that you plan to adopt or have recently adopted? What concrete actions have you carried out? How do you train and involve your staff?
I try to keep the company at the head of the pack by continually providing innovations to our economic and technological model. With my team, we ceaselessly develop the skillter.com tools and search engine to offer our customers ever more quality offers as well as a user experience that meets their expectations. I also pay special attention to the choice of partners in order to offer exclusively pre-selected quality ads.
What are your future ambitions with regard to innovation and projects? How do your plan to maintain your performance and remain pertinent in this sector in constant evolution? According to you, what are the levers of growth and the keys to future success?
By maintaining a dynamic of innovation within my teams, I sustain the very essence of a project that most competitors are satisfied to simply copy. We are in a certain way the Apple of the American automobile, always copied but never equaled. In short, my intention is to keep Skillter in the number one position in this sector with the support of a team of truly enthusiastic experts that I pay very well, because I believe that every job merits a salary and I have made the personal choice of ensuring that everyone comes out winning.
Today, we have exported over 21,000 cars and we progress by 15% every year.
My career over the last 26 years
I have had a passion for cars since my earliest age. It began when I was 8 years old. I used to collect miniatures of vintage cars and I asked my dad to buy me Nitro magazine and Chromes et Flammes at the time. My first car was a Simca 1000 Rally 2, which I bought when I was 14.
I worked on my grandfather's farm and with the money he gave me I bought my first car. Then I had a 2 CV when I was 17, a 205 GTI, a Golf GTI, a Mercedes 290 and a BMW 318 and at 19 bought my first American car from the United States. It was a 1988 Pontiac Trans Am. It was the worst experience of my life. It arrived seriously damaged as the forwarder didn't recommend a container. If I'd known, I would have paid the extra cost.
I took it to a bodyshop and they took me for an American. They wanted 45,000 francs to change the rear window. What a joke! I went to the United States and bought a complete trunk with the window for $250. I brought it back on a palette and paid the taxes. It worked out fine for me and thanks to this bad experience I went back to the USA and stayed there.
I didn't speak English when I started my first spare parts company. It wasn't easy, but I got by. The first registration on the business register is free in the USA. It's a country that knows how to talk to people :-) ... Internet didn't even exist and to make myself known I advertised in Top's Cars & Nitro... in 1995 I sold over $30,000 in spare parts per month! It was pretty successful. There were ups and downs and I learned the trade as I went along. I came across a few crooked forwarders in France and paid the consequences! I cleared vehicles through customs at the minimum value as you do in the United States, but in France that's considered as using false invoices and I was fined by customs. Now, when a customer asks me to clear a vehicle through customs with a minimal invoice I tell them to "follow my advice" and be honest because it's not worth it. Pay your taxes for your own peace of mind. The forwarder in France should have warned me! I would have saved myself a lot of headaches and a fine!
The years went by and in 1995 I started my vehicle export company because everybody was asking me to do it. I exported over 300 Mitsubishi 3000 GT VR-4s, Nissan 300 ZXs and Toyota Mr2 Turbos and in 1995 the Dodge Pickup came out and I exported over 500 Rams to France and Belgium. At the time I was just 25 and I started to collect Corvette C3s. I bought them for $4500 and sold them in France for 45,000 francs. I exported over 1000 of them! Mustangs went for the same price and I exported just as many. They sold for 49,000 francs.Read the rest...
At the time, the logistics didn't exist. There was only the AmeriCarCenter and American City that sold from stock. I'm the one who invented export logistics. It didn't exist at the time and since then I have taken care of transport from the seller to the terminal and from the terminal to Le Havre or to the customer's home. Since 1995, I have exported over 21,000 vehicles and I am the only exporter that appears at car shows. I am honest and serious and owe nothing to anybody. On the contrary – I go to meet the customers at their homes and ask them if they are happy with their purchase.
I am the owner of the skillter.com website and I export around 800 vehicles per year to France, Belgium and Switzerland. The site is very successful.
Some customers are just looking for a price – the first thing they say is that they want the lowest price! We warn them, but they consider that they can't make a bigger investment. But when the vehicle arrives they aren't happy and after you hear people talking on the forums who say they bought cars for €10,000 and say they invested all their savings and that the vehicle isn't in good condition. Be serious – it's not because it's the USA that you're going to find a miracle and a buy a car in perfect condition for 10,000 or even 20,000 euros!Read the rest...
You have to know how to invest in a collector vehicle and pay the price to be satisfied. Luckily, not all customers are the same or it would have put an end to my passion for cars a long time ago.
And then there are the dreamers in the chat rooms who give their advice and don't even have a driver's license, don't even have an American vehicle and have never imported a vehicle. You can see them on the forums, you get the impression they spend week after week getting excited over nothing and criticizing importers. They know perfectly well that we don't own the vehicles, it's clearly stated in the conditions and on the website. We help customers purchase vehicles from local American sellers and take care of the logistics of exportation from the seller to the terminal and from the terminal to the final destination. If you buy a vehicle in poor condition it will arrive in the same condition as you bought it. If you want to be satisfied, choose a restored or original vehicle.
The most important thing is the payment to the seller. Being on the spot makes it easier to handle. Our team takes care of the verification. You have to be very careful and check out the seller before paying them: copy of ID, title in the seller's name, name of the bank, etc. We've unmasked over a hundred scams since I started this job – our customers can thank me for it!