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I have been involved in dealership management for over twenty years. Interviews and hiring are one of the things that I do best. But hiring is not a science. I always try to hire for character first. I have been fooled more than once.
The shortest interview I ever did was with my friend Mitch. We were in many of the same classrooms from kindergarten thru high school. We played sports together. We grew up in the same neighborhood, a few streets apart. Mitch walked into the dealership and told me that he wanted to try selling cars. Without hesitation I said yes. He was Salesman of the Year his first year in the business. I guess that I was right on that one.
We needed two lot porters to wash cars. It was a full time job that paid minimum wage. I interviewed fifty applicants in one day. The two guys that I hired, Mark and Hakeem were excellent employees. They both went on to good career jobs.
Hiring a good Team manager is a bit harder. The position is commonly called a closer. The best part of the job is when they get to go in after their salespeople and close deals. That only takes up 10% of their day. Most of the hours they are at work are spent doing a form of adult daycare. Handling the salespeople. They are always up to something.
After reading thru some applications, I called a couple of promising guys in for an interview. Adrian stood out on his application and from the moment he walked into the showroom.
My first impression was that this guy was way too slick. Adrian was a Black man about six feet tall. He looked quite muscular. He wore a designer suit that had been tailored to fit. The shoes looked like they were expensive Italian leather. The watch was a Movado with the diamond at 12 o’clock. He wore is hair in a mid length pony tail. His socks, his tie and his smile were impeccable.
Great eye contact and a firm handshake started the interview. Before I could get very far into asking questions, Adrian was trying to take over the interview. He started telling me how great he was. He was giving me examples of how he had overpowered customers and closed them. He explained how his Martial Arts training translated into being a kick ass leader. I basically stopped interviewing to see how long he might go on gushing about himself.
Everybody knows not to interrupt when I am interviewing. Into the office walks Jerry. He addresses Adrian, “Hey brother is that your Z out front?” I wonder where this is going. Adrian answers, “Yes.” “Sweet ride” and Jerry continues, “Is it the white one?” Adrian starts spewing performance numbers like horsepower and top speed. Jerry interrupts Adrian by saying, “There’s a tow truck taking it away.”
Adrian bolts from my office. I guess the interview has been interrupted. Jerry and I watch from the showroom window as the sharp dressed interviewee confronts the Repo Man. The Z car is already on the hook. Adrian starts yelling at the truck operator to put his car back down. The driver shows some paperwork to Adrian. We don’t think he is going to get his car back. The Repo man tries to walk past Adrian to get to the drivers door. Adrian blocks his path and pushes him back. This particular repo man is very experienced. He has his mace out in an instant. The repo man literally paints Adrian’s face with mace. Adrian steps back in obvious pain.
What we saw next looked like a scene from a Hollywood movie. In his expensive suit, blinded with Mace, wearing Italian Loafers, Adrian executes a flying kick that Jet Li would be more than proud of. It sends the repo man to the ground. Adrian moves in for the kill and suddenly realizes that he is in trouble. Suddenly Adrian turns and runs down the street. His little ponytail and those leather shoes were cutting out.
The tow truck driver got up off of the ground and dusted himself off. He pulled out his cell phone and called in to report an assault. With the shiny fast Z car in tow, he left. I quipped to Jerry, “I wonder if he is going to come back so we can finish the interview?”
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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.