Danis drives the used-car biz amid a sea of competitors

President Dani Levi (right) and Vice President Joe Levi (left) at DANISAUTO in Philadelphia.

Danis Auto CEO Yossi “Joe” Levi doesn’t miss an opportunity to sell a car. “If you’ve been thinking about a previously used model – now’s the time to buy,” he tipped us from Danis headquarters at 6250 Harbison Ave. “You have a million cars shipping to Texas soon, to replace all the cars ruined in the Hurricane Harvey flooding. Come January, good luck. Used cars will be much more expensive.”

We thanked him for the suggestion and for our first insight into what has made Danis one of the Philly 100 fastest growing companies in the region.

“A lot of dealers neglect the so-called subprime market, the poor loan risks, but we’ve always embraced it, working with Capital One as our partners to qualify customers for better rates,” he said. “So they could afford a nicer, more durable car at $199 a month that might otherwise cost them $299 or $349 a month with a higher interest rate. That’s a big factor in our success. And we service that market like they’re going to a Mercedes Benz dealer, had 800 credit scores, and were buying an ‘S class.’”

Not incidentally, the loan default rate is “very low for both our prime and sub prime-loan customer,” Levi said. And the future is now looking bright.

“In 2013, we were tracking at between $5 and $6 million in sales,” he said. That number hit almost $28 million last year. “For 2017 we’re tracking mid-$30s and forecasting $40-plus million for 2018 as we ramp up with a second location on Roosevelt Boulevard that’s opening early next year.”

Levi paints Philadelphia as “one of the most fragmented used-car markets in the country. The biggest share is held by CarMax with just 1.5 percent – and they’re a multibillion company. The market is growing, but the competition is growing faster than the customer base. In the last five years, we’ve seen three new, major online startups: Carvana, Shift and Vroom. Locally, DriveTime, based in Langhorne, is another huge company that’s selling to the same clientele as me.”

Danis was founded by Joe’s father, Dani Levi, who came from Israel, landing as an immigrant in 1986. “His English grammar was so poor he didn’t know to paint an apostrophe on the Dani’s sign of his used-car lot,” his son recalls. And the business was so difficult early on “that even on his first 10-car lot, he might push out and advertise a car or two missing their engines, just so it would look like he had a decent inventory.”

Today, Danis keeps 325 gently used and certified cars in stock. The ones that have gone through the in-house reconditioning center look so pristine – photographed for the website in a specially lit booth from every angle by the company’s full-time shooter – that you might mistake the rides for new.

“We hired a top-level manager from DriveTime  who implemented very high standards for reconditioning. All our shop guys get sent away for two weeks’ training in Virginia. If it takes special polishing or replacing a part, say, a fogged-up headlight cover, we will. And we’re very transparent, even posting individual pictures of every wheel, so you can see ahead of time if there were any scratches there. We don’t want people to come here and get surprises.”

Joe Levi just turned 25, though he allows he’s already been in the used-car business for 10 years. “When other kids went off to summer camp, I went to the lot. I was detailing cars from day one, helping Dad buy inventory at auction. Then I started selling, doing finance, managing the service department. I’ve done pretty much everything.”

A 2015 magna cum laude graduate from Temple University, Levi tried other things at school. “I owned a marketing company, built apps for people. I helped my two best friends who started GoPuff, the on-demand delivery company.

“After graduating, I went over to Subaru” (North American headquarters in Cherry Hill) “to apply for a job. The interviewer told me I was overqualified for what he needed – someone to make PowerPoint presentations. That was a wake-up call, made me realize that what I really wanted was already in reach. So I went back to my dad and asked for a job.”

A year later, Joe Danis moved into the driver’s seat.

Today, Danis markets as aggressively as new-car dealers do. “We have a very big digital and physical presence” (with ads on the backs of SEPTA buses). “We also do a lot of philanthropy that’s gotten us on the TV news several times. And do a fun thing called Pop the Trunk, giving every customer a gift. It’s so popular people come in specifically asking for it. Before the buyer drives away, we gather round the vehicle, do a group shout-out, and then they pop the trunk. Could be a battery charger hiding in there. Could be the keys to another car.”

And all that fun stuff winds up posted on the Danis Auto Facebook page, “where we have 33,000 followers and almost 750 reviews.”

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