Todd Lochner has always operated with the firm belief that it’s important for a company to give back to the community where it does business and where its employees live and work and thrive. And he is privileged to be part of the team at East Memphis’s Principle Toyota who believe in that same mission and desire to help others.
“Obviously we want to establish an organization that is going to be here in the future to take care of our customers and our clients, and the only way to do that, I think, is to help the environment and the community around you in order to sustain it,” said Lochner, general manager of Principle Toyota. “You can’t take and take and take and take. It doesn’t work. There has to be give and take among clients and businesses and vice-versa or it just doesn’t work. At Principle Toyota our mission statement is that we live to provide exceptional care. That encompasses a lot of things.”
Along with caring for its customers, the company extends its care to the Memphis community. And this time of year, that synergy kicks into overdrive for Principle Toyota’s community-minded team. That’s in part because of another synergistic relationship.
Last August, Lochner’s childhood friend Martin Navarro moved to Memphis from Monroe, Louisiana, to join the auto dealership’s team. As Navarro settled in, he learned about a company initiative to “adopt” families during the holiday season. And as it turned out, Navarro had prior experience with a similar initiative, though on a larger scale.
“All I did was basically make a suggestion based on a project I used to do through the Monroe Jaycees,” said Navarro, who’d headed up the Jaycees project as president of the group. “What we did down there annually, and it’s been (running for) 40 to 50 years, was a Christmas shopping tour for underprivileged children.”
Lochner was all ears when Navarro came to him with the idea of expanding Principle Toyota’s existing holiday initiative.
“One of the things I’m most proud about is, because of the atmosphere at our dealership, it’s not that I’m coming up with the ideas or our corporate office is coming up with ideas,” Lochner said. “What I get so excited about is that our associates are becoming so involved and engaged that they’re always bringing ideas to us.”
Navarro jumped right in and began helping the team expand its 2016 event. He suggested working with a local school to find the families the initiative would serve – that’s how they’d done it down in Louisiana.
“Teachers, counselors and principals see the kids day in and day out, so they can most readily identify the ones in need,” Navarro said.
The Principle Toyota team picked a nearby school to work with – Winfield Elementary School – and contacted its administrators to share their idea for a charitable event that would benefit the school’s neediest kids. Also borrowing from his past experience, Navarro reached out to the same corporate partner he’d worked with in Monroe – Walmart. Because the event involves shopping for families, a retail partner was key to the initiative’s success, Navarro said.
Through his years working on the Jaycees event, the local Walmart store had offered its employee discount for all gifts purchased for the kids. The goal was to raise enough money to spend $80 per child.
Navarro worked with the Principle Toyota team to replicate the project in Memphis – and they did. Last Christmas, the associates of Principle Toyota raised $4,000 and brought in 50 children from Winridge Elementary, spending $80 per child and bringing the kids to the dealership to open their gifts, spreading holiday cheer to the kids and their families. Walmart jumped on board, and six teachers from the school coordinated the kids’ wish lists and helped with the shopping.
“They literally shopped for 50 children,” Navarro said. “The technical part was keeping the toys separated in individual bags per child. Then they brought them back here to our office, where many of us participated in wrapping the gifts. That took several days, and Walmart donated all the wrapping paper, tape and bows.”
Added Lochner, “Walmart did amazing things for us. They also donated five bicycles.”
Chick-fil-A joined the effort, too, donating 75 chicken sandwiches to feed the kids and teachers and bus drivers involved in the one-day event, which took place at Principle Toyota’s showroom at 7370 Winchester Road. The children came during the school day, opened gifts and visited with Santa Claus, who shared the story of the meaning of Christmas.
“We basically cleared our showroom floor,” Navarro said. “Kids came on a school bus and treated it as a field trip.”
“All the kids got five to six presents,” Lochner added. “You could not believe the eruption.”
Afterward, the kids headed back to school along with their gifts, and parents were allowed to pick the presents up at the school. The whole thing went off without a hitch, in part because of Navarro’s wealth of experience and the lessons he’d learned after years of leading similar events.
“People want to help,” he said. “And if they believe in what it is, they’ll help until they can’t help anymore.”
All year long, the team at Principle Toyota has been working to raise money for an even bigger event this year that will help even more needy children and families. They’ve raised $8,000 for the 2017 event.
Again this year, they’re working with Winridge Elementary school, though this time they plan to provide gifts for 100 children, double last year’s number. Walmart and Chick-fil-A are again taking part, and the team also hopes to partner with other local businesses. For two days in a row, December 18-19, they’ll host similar “field trips” complete with gifts, food, Santa and more.
In addition, the team works to help the community in other ways. In past years they’ve raised funds to donate to churches to help needy families, and one team member organized a blanket drive that collected nearly 400 blankets for area shelters. They’ve also raised funds and participated in events for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
In short, giving is more important than taking to the team at Principle Toyota. And one reason is the positive atmosphere it creates in the workplace.
“I get so excited when our associates come to us and say, ‘Hey, we’ve got this great idea,’” Lochner said. “That’s a testament to their happiness – it’s not that they come to work every day, get a paycheck and leave. It’s about coming to work, taking care of people and taking care of the community in which you live because that’s what creates sustainability.”
As an example, Navarro talked about watching a young boy at last year’s holiday gift-giving event cross the room excitedly to show his older sister his new coat.
“He was at school that day without a jacket, and it was rather cold,” Navarro said. “He was excited about having a jacket.”
For him, moments like that make all the other moments of hard work, whether for his company or for his community, worthwhile.
“It’s the old adage,” he said. “If you’re not going to do good, what are you working so hard for, anyway?”