Local auto dealer gives back to Native communities

FLAGSTAFF - Steve Christiano, general manager of Oxendale Kia-Suzuki, is not your typical automobile dealer.

Christiano, who does business with the Navajo, Hopi and Zuni tribes, has a reputation for being somewhat generous, perhaps even to a fault. While most auto dealerships are content with just selling cars on the reservations, Christiano's business philosophy entailed much more than that. He didn't want to become known as just another "hit-and-run" dealership. Deep down, he knew he had to do something different to pique the interest of his Native customers.

All along, Christiano has realized the importance of his Native clientele. He recalled one incident where a customer in Shiprock had blown the engine in a vehicle sold by Oxendale. Rather then tell the customer, "I'm sorry, but we can't do anything," he chose to remedy the problem because he feels strongly that going above and beyond the call of duty is simply "the right thing to do." He also felt that this was a way to earn the respect of his reservation customers.

Oxendale also has a number of Native salespeople (Navajo and Hopi) on staff. They regularly visit the outlying reservations to do business.

But Christiano soon came to the realization that he could be doing a lot more. So back in October, he came up with the idea of giving back to those Native communities that had given him their business, and one of those communities was Zuni Pueblo in New Mexico.

What sets Oxendale Kia-Suzuki apart from most car dealerships is that a lot of dealerships simply want to sell a car. Virtually unheard of is an automobile dealer that gives back to the communities it sells to, much less to a community in another state.

Enter Zuni Pueblo. Since early fall of this year, Oxendale Kia-Suzuki has been showing their appreciation to the Zuni Tribe through a series of donations to various community programs, including Zuni Healthy Lifestyles, which promotes healthy eating and fitness. For one recent community fitness run/walk and social dance event, Oxendale Kia-Suzuki donated fresh fruit and bottled water.

But perhaps their most significant contribution has been monetary donations to the Zuni Tribe. Since October of this year, Oxendale Kia-Suzuki has been donating $100 for every car it sells in Zuni. To date, Oxendale Kia-Suzuki has donated about $1,600 to the Zuni Tribe, and the tribe, in turn, has set up a discretionary fund to assist low-income families with utility bills, funeral expenses, and emergency home repairs.

In a letter dated Nov. 3, Zuni Lt. Governor Carmelita Sanchez thanked Christiano on behalf of the tribal council, expressing her "gratitude for your company's contributions to our people." If you talk to Christiano, however, he would simply say that this is his way of being accountable for his actions, and that he wants to maintain his dealer's reputation of giving back to the community.

When asked how he felt about Zuni's reaction to his dealer's generosity, Christiano said, "It makes me feel better than I originally thought."

He added that at some point, he hopes to increase the amount donated from $100 to $150 or $200.

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