People in the car sales business today, unless they were lucky enough to have parents who owned a dealership, were trained. Some dealerships do the training themselves, some hire firms that do this as a business, and some hire individuals who travel around holding training classes.
When I got into the business in the mid-seventies, I was promoted to being a manager, but never went through the sales process. I worked at a dealership that was very laid back and let its salespeople make their own deals. As a sales manager, I was there to help them make deals, appraise trade-ins, fill-in when the finance guy wasn’t there, etc.
I hired a new salesperson named Dick, a 50-ish man who was very short in stature. I’d have to say if he was 5’ 2” tall, I was being kind. He brought me pages of pay records going back years and the guy could sell cars. He was originally from the Northeast and had no family of any kind. Dick grew up in an orphanage but escaped from there when he was 15-years old to work on the streets. He lied and got a job at 16 selling siding.
To make matters worse, Dick was an alcoholic, but when I hired him he had been sober around ten years and went to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting every day. He was loud and could be brash, but he had a good heart. He swore, and I believe him, that in his younger days he was arrested 93 times when he was drinking after getting into fights in bars. He seemed to object to being called “shorty.”
Dick would stand outside in the scorching sun, the snow, or a driving rain holding an umbrella until a customer pulled in. The very tenured sales staff I had hated him. I felt our sales staff was lazy to a degree, and they knew if they were going to get a fresh customer, it had to be when Dick was with someone or had gone home.
The first customer Dick had was a nice lady. He took her on a long test drive and then they retreated to his office. I was watching him pretty closely since this was his first deal. I could not hear him, but I could see him flailing his arms around, joking with the customer and could see she was having a good time.
Dick brought me her worksheet and when he walked into my office his demeanor was completely different and he was very intense. His first words were “this broad is tough, but I got a commitment.” I looked at the sheet and scribbled out it said: Customer will buy car today at $XXXXX plus TT&L, and the lady had signed it.
I got my invoice book out, checked to see where we stood, and said “that’s fine.”
Dick says: “give me a pencil” so I reached into my drawer and handed him a #2 pencil. “NO, pencil the deal!” I had to explain that I had no idea what he was talking about. Dick got a magic marker out, raised the price, and wrote something to the effect of: Today only, $XXXXX plus TT&L, and he drew a line for her to sign. Then he proclaimed “THAT, lad, is a pencil.”
Dick left and was gone for over half an hour…again the dramatics, some light pleading, and finally I saw him come out of his office as he yelled, and I mean yelled, “congratulations!” After the lady left with her new car, he came into my office and tells me I need some training.
I admit I was uncomfortable with the way Dick sold cars. First, it was a new way of doing business for me, and second, it seemed a little too confrontational. I will admit, however, that Dick’s customers loved him. Part of his pitch was that he and his customer were a team, fighting ME. OK, whatever works, I thought.
So one day, I asked him what his methods were. He explained each step in detail. First was the greeting. You never asked a customer if you could help them because they always say: “I’m just looking.” Over the years, I realized he was correct. His greeting was a welcome to the dealership, and asked what kind of new Ford they wanted?
Next, it was to head off to the lot, and he said this was very important: “Head out and don’t look back. They will follow you every single time like a puppy dog”.
On the demonstration ride, while the customers were driving, they’d always tell the truth. This was a good time to ask about their credit history.
The negotiation process was to get them on your side, team up, and let them know it was his job to help them buy a car, not to sell them one. He always got a “commitment” before he came to see me, and ALWAYS left his office with “I don’t think that will work, but I’ll do the best I can.” Dick sold the vast majority of people he talked to, he was a pro. The main thing was, in spite of his style, he was honest.
He was high maintenance, however. He’d get mad about something and quit, leave for a few days, and I’d call him after he cooled down and he’d come back. Best guess this happened ten times, maybe twelve. One day, he quit and said he was moving back to Florida. I didn’t really believe him, but this time he wasn’t mad when he left, and this time he really meant it. He sent me a postcard from Kissimmee, Florida to tell me he was doing well.
Three years or so later, while I had moved to a different dealership, I did an interview with Good Morning America, I truthfully don’t remember why. Dick saw it from Florida and gave me a call. He said he missed me, he was bored, and asked if he sold his trailer and came back to Dallas, would I hire him? I said yes, of course.
Dick was probably sixty when we hooked back up, and he had slowed some, but still handled every customer exactly the same way. He had mellowed some, and he stuck with me for a couple of years, and suddenly one day out of the blue, he told me he was retiring for good. He was headed back to Florida, this time to stay. I suggested he think about it, but he said his mind was made up, and I knew it was.
Dick left the dealership and I never heard from him again. I tried to find him a year or so later, but could never run him down. To this day, I don’t know what happened to him. Odds are good he passed away many years ago, but I’ll never forget him. We had a strange bond, he was somewhat of a mentor to me in that I very much appreciated his work ethic. He gave his all, every single day.
After packing his car, headed east, he came by the dealership to once again say goodbye. I hugged him and he said he wanted to give me something…something that was the proudest accomplishment of his life.
It was then he gave me his 25-year Alcoholics Anonymous chip that he had just received. I still have it to this day as a remembrance of Richard Earlon “Dick” Ryan.
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Tags: True Stories From a Former Car Dealer