First job on an independent lot in 1971
It was September 1971 and I had been married for two months. I had been looking for a job since mid-summer in the automotive industry. I had worked part time at liquor stores and car washes between my interviews with every dealership in my little hometown of Columbus, GA. Ironically enough, I was told by the sales manager of a local Chevrolet dealer that I would probably never make it in the car business. All that being said, I didn’t have any experience, and all the troops were just returning from Vietnam (myself included), so jobs were very scarce. I had finally succumbed to the fact, that if my career choice was going to be in the car business, I was going to have to start on an independent lot.
Outside of Fort Benning, GA. on a street know as Victory Drive were hundreds of brightly lit, banner flying, sunglass wearing salesmen and used car lots. I picked the biggest gaudiest one to apply, at for what would become the smartest move in my career. I went in and sat down with the sales manager who made it real simple. “Boy, we work 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., six days a week and noon to 6 p.m. on Sunday. If you want a day off, quit! Here are three bank rate books, you write all contracts on single life at 6%. Here are the credit apps for these bank contracts. Use these for the information that you call in to the banks to get your deal bought. Here is the person’s name and phone number you will call. This is a black book, you will carry it with you at all times. You and the customer will decide on a fair figure for their trade in.”
He went on to say: “Once you have your contract cashed at the bank or finance company, bring the check back, I will re-evaluate the trade in. If you put too much money in it, I will take it off the total gross that you have generated for the month. While you are learning I will help you (which was a bad mistake on my part) appraise your initial deals.
“What a great opportunity you have. We have invested in the inventory, the location, the phones, advertising and everything, you need to be your own dealer, at no cost to you. You make 25% of the profit. There’s the cars…go get ‘em tiger.”
I went out and introduced myself to all of the salespeople. They began to tell me that I was too young to be in the car business at 22 years old and that is was a terrible industry. They also said there was no way in the world I should do this, I should go find a real job. They said that the dealership was too high in every car out there to make any money. My first question to them was, (being the green pea idiot that I was): if it’s that bad, what are you doing here? Once again, bad, bad, bad comment on my part.
After about two hours I went inside to the sales manager and got my first lesson in sales training. I said, “Mr. Willis, what are some tips you could give me on selling these used cars?” He said, “It’s real simple Tim, you go out there and pick the ones you like and sell them. The rest of us will sell what’s left.” He picked up the phone and made a call and just left me standing there. However, logically, that made since to me. I went out and pick out the ones I liked. That very afternoon I sold one of them, a 1968 Buick Skylark Grand Sport.
A week later I got my next sales lesson. I came in the office, very excited after waiting on a customer, and Mr. Willis said, “What happen to that up?” to which I replied “he’s sold.” Mr. Willis said, “Oh really, have you got the check with you?” I said, “No, he is going to get his wife from work so she can drive the car and sign the contract. He is happy with the price.” He just smiled and said, “Well, good. Does he have a trade in?” I said, “Yes, he has a 1966 Rambler Ambassador.” He said, “That’s a very good job, Tim.”
At nine o’clock that night, we were pulling the chain, getting ready to close. Mr. Willis was assigning cars for the salespeople to drive home that night to make sure there was nothing wrong with them (which was a very good idea, it helped keep our inventory up and in shape at all times). I asked Mr. Willis what I was driving home. Little did I know, I was learning one of the most valuable lessons of my career. He said, “You will drive home that Rambler Ambassador after they get here and make the trade. Wait for them and then just drive the Rambler home. If you need any help putting the contract together, just call me at home and I will walk you through it.” Then he said, “Alright guys, let’s go, Tim will be staying here waiting on his customer.”
I spent the night in that office, scared to death to leave, and learned the most valuable lesson of my career. The next morning Mr. Willis said, “Tim, when you sell a car, make sure they bought it.”