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The weekly sales meeting was held on Wednesday for reasons that escape me. For the first couple of months I thought sales meetings were exciting. Being new in the business and all. After that, it didn’t take long for the monotony to set in. A point of enlightenment happens when you realize that the Sales Manager has sales meetings only because the General Manager says that he should. We would hear what we had done wrong in the past week, how great the Sales manager was when he was selling, things like that. Sometimes they would go around the room and say how many units that each person had sold. We always had to pull out our ratty used car list and go over a few pieces of inventory that was either sold or had just arrived. Blah, Blah, Blah.
It seemed like the really bad meetings always ended the same way: with the announcement that it was once again time for a lot party.
A lot party is when the sales force goes out on the lot and rearranges, organizes and parks every single new vehicle in stock. It would be Mat, Rick, Linda, Dave, Don, Nick and myself. The disorganization was magnificent. One person would take the job of lining everybody up so that each car was park straight and even. The best ones were on the hottest days. Getting into a car, that had been sitting for a few weeks, putting the key in and starting the car, only to quickly find out that the last person in the car had left the air-conditioning on high. That meant all of the dust that had accumulated in the system was blown right into your face.
I laugh at the fact that that is about as hazardous as car sales gets. Along with everybody barely missing each other as we move cars. I do remember a lot of barely awake or hung over people, stopping to smoke cigarettes too often and drinking coffee. Sometimes it was less than one hundred cars to move and it could take hours.
All of that changed with one simple phrase uttered by Dave; “We should just do it ourselves”.
It was Tuesday morning, the day before the sales meeting. Dave and I were out on the lot. We knew that the inventory was a mess. As soon as Dave said it, I knew he was completely correct. The two of us went and got every single set of keys and put them in every car and truck. We decided to start with the Pick-ups on the front row. One ton, first, followed by three quarter ton, then the half tons. Sport utilities were in the next line. Followed by a full line of Chevrolet cars. Small trucks and vans were parked on the last line. It looked great when we were done and it took about an hour.
Two great things happened. First, when we went into the sales meeting and the manager sent us out for a lot party, we were already done. I really think that irked him to not be in control. Second, we really knew our inventory.
Dave and I continued this activity for the rest of the time we were on the sales floor together. We had sat in half of the entire inventory every two weeks. The two of us knew every single car and truck by name. Knowing our inventory had an effect on our sales also. Dave and I dominated the sales floor from that point on. Out of the nine hundred new vehicles sold that year, we sold four hundred of them. That left five hundred for the other five to sell. Dave and I both received the prestige’s sales accolades of being inducted into Chevrolet’s Legion of Leaders and becoming charter members of the Chevrolet truck Honor Club.
We took ownership of the lot and made sure it was always just the way we wanted it. When other salespeople would make the stupid mistake of telling people that we didn’t have the car that they wanted in stock, we would know better and be able to take the customer that they had dropped, and make the sale.
I consider this a turning point in my sales career. Instead of waiting to be told, to do what you already knew, needed to be done, we just did it. This was true employee empowerment. Dave had opened my eyes on how to look at the things that needed done. Look around. Decide what needs done and do it. It was never again a matter of coming to work and being told what to do.
When we were able to take our biggest drudgery and turn it into a productive asset, a complete success, you would think that everybody would be happy, right? I remember it as a start of conflict between our manager and us. He had power and exercised authority when he told us to do things. After that, he had to find other ways to feel in command.
Dave had an amazing effect on my career. As General Manager of Sierra Motors in Jamestown, I still look at the lot through Dave’s eyes and see the jobs that need done. And just do them.
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Over the dealership paging system I heard the familiar call “new car sales, line one”. I hurried to answer it, after all it was first come, first serve. I gave my usual greeting along with my name. A woman’s voice on the other end said with a laugh, “this is going to sound a little bit crazy”.
Her name was Muriel. She went on to tell me that she wanted to buy a truck for her husband. Muriel asked if she could do most of it over the phone. I agreed to help in any way that I could. When you say that, you don’t expect anything out of the norm. Little did I know. Muriel told me that she had put her husband through a lot, and that they had been discussing a new truck purchase. She felt that this was the time to buy.
Muriel told me what they wanted in a pick-up. It was a 1500 model with a 5.7-liter V-8 engine. They preferred a light color beige or tan. We had a joke in those days that you know you’ve lived in the dessert to long when everything you own is tan to hide the dust. They also wanted a towing package.
I took all of her credit information over the phone. I also got her insurance information and the finance terms that she expected. She then told me that I would only be able to speak to her during certain hours. Muriel gave me very exact instructions on how to get a hold of her.
We had exactly the right Chevrolet truck that she described in stock. We processed all of her paperwork and had an instant loan approval. I called Muriel at the specified time and told her all of the good news. Then the other shoe fell. Muriel told me that she was actually a patient in the Mental Health Ward of the Hospital. The ward is guarded. She told me that I would have to bring the paperwork to her. I started having visions of “One flew over the Cuckoo’s nest”.
As a salesperson I always dressed professionally. In those days it was a tailored Christian Dior shirt, pleated dress slacks, polished black dress shoes and belt. A silk tie, with of course the socks that match. I figured that I was dressed as well or better than any Doctor. I had the finance manager type up all of the contracts and paperwork, put them in a folder and drove to the hospital.
I am in the hospital and am looking at the Guard standing in front of the ward entrance. A pair of Doctors with a file in their hands walks right in. Hey, I have a file in my hand! I just fall in with the next small group of Doctors that comes walking by. Right by the guard and into the ward. I quickly looked around and made sure I didn’t see Randle Patrick McMurphy or Chief Bromden lurking about. I should have stopped for just a moment to ponder the exit strategy…whatever.
I followed Muriel’s instructions and go right to her room, where she is sitting on the edge of her bed. She is a nice person with a great smile. I introduce myself and we shake hands. I take time to go over all of the documents and she signs everything. She tells me she is going to tell her husband and that he will be in to take delivery tomorrow. She asks me to give him all of the copies of the contract and related paperwork. Muriel ask’ if I had any problem getting in to see her. “None at all” was my reply. Now to get out.
I survey my surroundings..and still only one way out. There are two guards on the inside. I guess it should be twice as hard to get out. I realize that I can’t just stand there in front of the guards and wait, so I try to look professional and occupied. As I was trying to look busy, I realize that everybody that isn’t a patient has a badge on and I don’t have a badge on. Great, do the guards look at the badges? It seemed to take a forever for a group of Doctors to walk by, but when they do, I am in instantly the middle of them. We walk in a group right by the guards. Once outside, I’m on my way back to the dealership. The thought of not getting out barely crossed my mind. (I’m not a patient; I’m a car salesman!)
Her husband came to the dealership and was more than happy to get the new truck that he had wanted. He received all of the paperwork along with a full tank of gas. All smiles as he drives away.
I didn’t think what I did was illegal or immoral. Quite the opposite. These people had to be completely satisfied. They had grounds to return the truck for any reason at any time. The beautiful thing is that they didn’t. They got a great truck and on the right terms. Best of all is that they came back four years later and traded up to a newer truck. It was great to earn their businesses again. This time, I was very happy that I didn’t have to get by any guards.
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As a person that has been at the dealership level with GM since 1983, I find it interesting to read their own description of themselves. More for what isn’t said than is:
General Motors Corp. (NYSE: GM), one of the world’s largest automakers, was founded in 1908, and today manufactures cars and trucks in 34 countries. With its global headquarters in Detroit, GM employs 243,000 people in every major region of the world, and sells and services vehicles in some 140 countries. In 2008, GM sold 8.35 million cars and trucks globally under the following brands: Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, GMC, GM Daewoo, Holden, Hummer, Opel, Pontiac, Saab, Saturn, Vauxhall and Wuling. GM’s largest national market is the United States, followed by China, Brazil, the United Kingdom, Canada, Russia and Germany. GM’s OnStar subsidiary is the industry leader in vehicle safety, security and information services. More information on GM can be found at www.gm.com.
Believe me when I say that GM was already lost by the mid 1980’s. Does anybody remember the great new models from Chevrolet? How about the Lumina, Corsica & Beretta? The Geo line featuring the Metro became the butt of low end car jokes. So what did Gm do? Advertise more and more. Then they started down the path to doom, rebates and interest rate incentives. All the while dealership’s were asking for one simple thing; just build a good car.
The funniest thing of all, or tragic, or sublime is that GM and Ford for that matter, are finally building the best products that have ever been produced. But no one cares. Buy American, a great notion. Buy the best available? Even better. Too many people are confused by the social axiom that says they don’t build cars that people want. Wake up that was 20 years ago, imbecile.
I know that Chevrolet and Cadillac will survive. The rest is still conjecture. I also know that I will get up tomorrow and go to work at a dealership as I have for the last 26 years. I will still have a smile on my face. I will still by proud of my chosen profession. We will do the impossible a daily basis. This is after all an art form that few can master.