The year is sometime around 1983, and I was the General Manager of a Ford dealership in Dallas. The dealership sat on a very expensive piece of property that is today a high-rise office building. It was a strange setup for a dealership, the lot was very narrow, but very deep.
I almost didn’t take the job in 1980. The place was so landlocked I couldn’t see the potential to get the volume up to what it would take to make money. The showroom sat toward the front of the lot, the parts, service, and body shop to the rear of the property, and apartments surrounded the deepest part of the lot and they were fairly well known for crime.
This dealership had sat closed for a number of years before I got there. Ford Motor opened it back up around 1978 or so, and found an operator for it under its Dealer Development program. Essentially, the operator would put in a minimal investment and purchase the remainder out of the profits. If the dealership was not profitable, when the operator exhausted his or her investment, everything was lost.
Little did I know when I went there in 1980 the operator was on his last legs. He promised me the moon and stars, which I thought was based on my youth, my talent, and my reputation in the market. While that may have played a part, the man was desperate. The one glimmer of hope I saw was a statement he made in the beginning of our first interview. He said: “I know you’ve worked in South Dallas primarily. This is North Dallas, we don’t sell trucks here, we sell cars”. That made me smile, and knowing it would probably kill the interview, I said “I hate to tell you this, but that is wrong. This is Dallas, Texas and you’ll sell trucks or you’ll go broke.”
At the time, they were selling about 30 trucks and 60 cars per month. The man looked me right in the eyes and I will never forget his words: “Boy. Just how many trucks you think you can sell out of place?” and I replied “we’ll be doing 150 pickups per month within 90 days. You just leave me alone, let me order trucks that will sell instead of the crap sitting out here, let me hire some salespeople who aren’t afraid to work here, and I’ll get you there.” He showed me the pay plan and pointed out that if by chance we sold that many trucks, I would make a “shit-pot full of money” in his words.
I went to work, working what we call the “C Shift” which is “see you first thing in the morning and see you last thing at night.” Things came together quicker than I expected. I called Ford and asked them to prioritize my truck orders and get them to us quickly, which they did. A lot of salespeople who had worked for me came on board, several technicians joined in, a couple of parts people with good clientele came on. The place started turning quickly.
I met with the GM at the Holiday Inn next door and put together a plan so our employees could park on its lot, which freed up a lot of space for more inventory on the oddly shaped lot. I changed all the advertising, fired a crook who was running used cars, and got a great guy to take that over. First full month there we did close to 150 new vehicles, with over 90 of them being pickups. We hit the 150 pickup goal in my second month, and I couldn’t wait to get that big check.
The owner called me to his office after the books were closed, and I figured he was going to congratulate me on the month we just had. The meeting started out great, heaps of praise, then it took a turn. He said: “I can’t pay you what your pay plan calls for.” I tried to stay calm and reminded him it was HIS pay plan, I didn’t even negotiate it. He gave me some lame excuse about the fact that Ford Motor was the majority owner and they had rules. I sat silently and thought it over for a minute. It was a LOT of money, and I had earned it. My choices were to quit or accept a lesser amount.
He already had my check made out and flipped it around to me. It was about 25% less than I earned, but still the most money I’d ever made. I accepted it with thanks and asked to have a new pay plan drafted which he did and I went on. After a year or so, we had the dealership consistently selling over 500 new Fords a month, over 200 used, and within the first two years after me going there, the operator was able to become the owner.
One persistent problem was crime. Thieves would cut the far back fence and steal tires and wheels, or cut the barbed wire, climb over, and take stereos. I had hired security, had installed cameras in the shop, but they always found a way to steal something.
One evening in the winter around 7:30 PM, it was the last day of the month, and I was working late. The alarm company that monitored the doors to the service and parts department called and said there was an alarm from an open door leading into the backside of the service department. They asked if I wanted to call Dallas PD and I declined and said I’d check it out, probably just the wind.
I kept a .44 snub-nosed Smith and Wesson pistol in my desk and it was loaded with hollow point bullets. I almost didn’t do it, but I stuck it in my waistband and told the receptionist I was going to the back lot.
I checked a couple of doors and they were fine, there was one farther down and in an area that was fairly dark. About half way to the last door, something struck me in the back of the head, knocking me to the ground. I was addled, but not out cold and heard footsteps going away from me. I instinctively jumped up and I saw my attacker running.
It was then my training from going through the Dallas Police Academy kicked in. I pulled my Smith and fired one round. The assailant never broke stride and the last thing I saw was him going through a hole in the fence he had cut to make entry. I went to the service drive and called the receptionist to call 9-1-1 and send the police ASAP. I had a lot of police buddies at the time and they came in full force as soon as the call went out.
I had been hit with a caulking gun that the guy got out of the bed of a truck that was in for service. They were hopeful to get prints off of it, and the crime scene folks took it away. They asked me several times if I was sure I didn’t hit him, or maybe grazed him, but I knew I hadn’t. Reports were made and they left.
The next morning, unbeknownst to the events of the evening before, my service manager called to alert me that someone had put a bullet through a customer’s car and asked if I wanted to make a police report. I told him I would see him in a minute, that I knew the story.
Sure enough, a customer’s almost new Ford EXP had a bullet hole that entered the passenger side right behind the door, passed through, exited the driver’s side of the car, and made a dent in the car next to it. To add insult to injury, the EXP owner had installed an expensive sound system in his car and the bullet passed through two large, round, and expensive speakers.
The jokes started: “Jerry killed an EXP” and some others I don’t recall. Our insurance company paid the claim based on the police report, and we made the necessary repairs to the EXP. It took a lot longer to repair it because we had to special order the speakers.
A full month later, ironically again the last day of the month, I was getting ready to leave for the day, but swung by service to see how the month end closeout was going. There on the service drive, all cleaned and detailed, in all its Mandarin Orange splendor, was THE EXP.
My service manager looked up and saw me and said to a customer who was standing there: “I’d like you to meet Mr. Reynolds”. The man looked at me with a scowl and in a slow, but very determined growl said: “You’re the guy that shot my car”. All I could do was apologize profusely for the damage. He didn’t say another word, turned, and got in his EXP and drove away.
No arrests were ever made.
Photo Credit: Ford ArchivesTags: True Stories From a Former Car Dealer