Tristan Kurz is an expectant father, a grateful grandson and a committed carrier of his family’s legacy in the car sales industry. He sits down with Candice Jayde Olive to talk about the pride, the pressure and the prestige involved in running Coastline BMW.
I’m in a big, tough, working-class family from western Sydney, so I was an adult before I set foot in a car that was worth more than a few thousand bucks. Our family cars were big, creaking monsters, with roof lining tacked into place and baby seats bolted into the back. The sliding door of one of these character-filled people movers came off in my hands as I tried to shut it on the first day of high school, to the amusement of dozens of my peers. My first car, an ’89 Sonata, overheated at a petrol station and started billowing black smoke a week after I bought it. The helpful station attendant hurled a fire extinguisher into my hands and ran.
At 20, working as a bartender in a prominent Darling Harbour hotel, I covered for a valet on his lunch break and got to drive a BMW around the block for the owner (twice). It was then that I realised that some cars are more than people movers. Sitting in the immaculate leather driver’s seat, the steering wheel warm under my fingers, the engine barely humming and the air smelling faintly of cinnamon and pine, I was aware that every cog, wheel, spring, sheet of metal and scrap of fabric in the vehicle meant something. It had all been achieved. I was sitting in the culmination of someone’s lifetime of struggle, planning, waiting, expecting, hoping, building and saving. This wasn’t a car; this was someone’s baby.
Try to imagine the incredible pressure of selling someone one of these lifetime achievement symbols. Tristan Kurz is in the business of doing so every day. The third in a family line of owners and operators of Coastline BMW, Tristan tells me that his is a unique occupation with challenges and rewards in equal proportion.
“You want the experience to be perfect for every customer, every time. People wait their whole lives to walk through our doors and drive out in one of our vehicles. The pressure is intense.
“At the same time, when you get it right the feeling is incredible. I have customers who tell me they bought cars from my grandfather, my dad, and now they want to work with me. Customer loyalty is one of the best parts of this job.”
Coastline BMW is a multi-award winning business, earning titles in the BMW trophy eight times, National Dealer of the Year three times and Finance Dealer of the Year five times, among a host of other awards. It is a business that was built from the ground up by tough nut Karl Kurz, a German immigrant who arrived in Australia at the end of World War II.
“You can imagine the kind of time he had; a six-foot-two, blond-haired, blue-eyed German direct from the other side of the world. He arrived with a spare change of clothes and a bottle of rum on a boat from Italy, found a girl in Victoria and decided he was going to marry her and forge a place in the car business in Australia. Needless to say, there was plenty of friction with the locals.”
Karl established a business selling cars for Toyota, with a spare show room for BMWs. In the first year, he sold six of the luxury cars. Today, his son, Robert, and grandson, Tristan, turn over $55 million annually in the same business.
Tristan recalls times when he has worked in the lowliest of positions, and it was his self-determination and the people around him that made every moment worthwhile.
“No matter what you are doing, you have to make it fun. There was a time when I was employed cleaning toilets in Paris. Not overly lovely, but with a bit of the right music blaring in the background, things became half enjoyable.”
Tristan will soon be celebrating the birth of his first child, another milestone he will never forget.
“In the beginning, when my wife Coralie was pregnant, it seemed like something you could disbelieve. When she started showing, I was blown away. I started thinking: ‘That’s our child in there. This is really happening’.
“There isn’t a night that we don’t sit on our porch and watch the water and think about how lucky we are. Anything to do with the ocean, Coralie and I are just mad about. We head to the beach every morning. It’s a place that makes you feel small, makes you realise what you have and what’s ahead of you.”
Life, for Tristan, is an ever-ticking clock with moments easily stolen by his commitments.
“Around the time I turned 30 I realised for the first time that we don’t live forever. This scared me more than anything. As a result of this I make a huge effort to not only not bring my work home with me but to really make the most of my free time. Coralie and I are always gallivanting around the countryside on some poorly-planned adventure. The great secondary benefit of this is that it has made me both enjoy work more and want to work harder.”
When I ask Tristan if he expects his child to carry on the family business, his answer is less rigid than I expect.
“In my family we expect everyone to do what they love. I’ve got a sister who’s a civil engineer, another who’s a teacher. My brothers are in law and shipping. This is a really different job, and I don’t think everyone aspires to do it. I know one thing, and that is that the business will go on, in one way or another.”
Life is full of symbols that mean something to us, items that represent the goals we set ourselves. It might be a car that you glide around the streets in, a humming, shining machine you have saved for all your life. It might be a house you sit on the porch of, taking stock of the things you’ve done and the places you’ve been. It might be as simple as a piece of paper handed to you on a stage or a trophy sitting in a cabinet. For Tristan, success lies in the car lot on Niklin Way, where he arrives each morning with keys in hand to carry on a tradition his grandfather started decades before. With any luck, he’ll be doing it for decades to come.