Saturday, June 21, 2008

My life in the car business.

If you can call that living....

I graduated from the University of Central Florida (then Florida Technological University) in 1978 with a BA in Communications with an emphasis in Radio Television. I had been working in the broadcast industry for several years having fallen in love with Radio during a class I took as an elective. Very shortly afterward, I changed my major.

The broadcast industry is largely fickle and monetarily unrewarding. I eventually moved west to Twin Falls Idaho after my overnight program at WDBO-AM was canceled in favor of overnight talk. Not wanting to be a board engineer, I took a job as Music Director and "Afternoon Drive" in Twin Falls ID. I met my first wife there, we moved to Nampa where I was named "Program Director" of KUUZ and after that, to Helena MT where I was also Program Director and afternoon drive. We bought a house in East Helena, and the industry, fickle as it was, did what it normally does and I was out of work after a little more than a year at the helm. I was replaced by a box of tapes.

Thus I joined the "Car Biz" because I needed the work. With a wife, a child and a mortgage I needed the dough and I had recently read a Popular Mechanics magazine with an article on the upcoming GM "J" car, particluarly the Chevrolet Cavalier and I applied to Prospector Chevrolet in Helena and got the job. I nearly lost that right away because I thought I knew everything. I was far too trusting. If Dick Anderson, my sales manager, had not insisted I call my first sale repeatedly, until I finally called her, I wouldn't have sold my first car, or maybe any cars. The first one was a 1981 Chevrolet Camaro with a V8. Sue was literally leaving work to go by a Pontiac Firebird from Rice Motors when I called. I begged her to reconsider. She did, I was a car salesman.

From that point on for more than a year I made more money each month than I had ever made before in my life. It wasn't dramatic increase, but it was real and steady and by the end of my first year I had started making Salesman of the Month and did so all summer long in 1982. I also made Chevrolet's "Legion of Leaders", my second child was on the way, we had a VW Camper that my wife loved and it was looking good. Then the owner decided to shake things up a bit and promoted another saleman into a newly created management position and he worked actively to get rid of every employee that worked with him as a salesperson. Oddly, it worked. He broke up the most successful sales force in Helena and eventually he was down to only me as the remaining salesperson. Three years after I had started, I was the most senior salesman on the sales force and he fired me. I successfully got hired back, he quit but the bad taste was in the mouths of management and I was gone too a month later.

So began my life as a gypsy. I moved back to Florida, took a job at a bank and worked up to "Indirect" loan officer while working on my MBA. It was hard to make ends meet on a bankers salary and eventually I faxed my resume to one of the dealers I serviced and I was back in the biz, out of business school and the Finance Manager for "Premier BMW-Isuzu-Subaru" in Ocala FL. That dealer overextended himself, that dealer switched managers and the blow out process began again. As the near lone survivor of the previous crew I remember one December evening shaking my small paycheck in owner Bill Archer's face and saying "You think I LIKE this?" I was gone shortly afterwards. Bill was bought out (fired) by his business partner and I was back on the road again.

Premier was divided up and sold and is no more. My first "dealer", he's gone too by now, he didn't get bought out, he folded, so did the second dealer.

It turns out that a long job in the car business is about two years for most employees. If you feel up to it, try a little short term experiment. Go to about three car dealers, get the names of all their salespeople, and then come back a year later. You'll be lucky to find 80% of the same people.

Along the way I've gone through one divorce, another attempt at switching professions back to radio in Sales working for a man that used to be an employee of mine. His wife ended up coaching my wife into going for a divorce. What a friend. I went back to the car biz again and have been mostly in management ever since but either can't find a lucrative job that sticks, or a sticky job that pays. Some of the lowlights of betrayal I'll now recount.

In 2001 I was working in Minnesota. I had successfully turned around a small dealer in the rural southwestern part of the state. My second wife and I had found houses to look at, we were packed up. We'd bought a trailer to stuff everything in and we were ready to move. The dealer I was working for regularly pestered me to move seeming to think I wasn't really going to do it. I finally announced to him that I had gotten rid of my house in Lewistown MT and I was moving everybody to Minnesota. His reaction? He fired me. I was now homeless and jobless at the same time. I took the first job back in Montana that I could find as Used Car manager for Bozeman Ford and we moved to Gallatin county.

Then there was the job where I was hired to be Finance Manager in Billings MT and let go about three weeks later. After I quit my job to take theirs, they suddenly started acting like they didn't need me and I waited a week to start. Then I found out I'd been lied to about how many people were working in that job description that I was supposed to occupy all by myself. I had been sold the job on the basis of the dealers expressed evangelical Christianity. He's since gotten in legal hot water for massive fraud and gone bankrupt. The summary? He delayed my start date for a week. Acted like he regretted hiring me. Fired me, hired me back, then fired me again, all in three weeks.

Did I mention the job in Helena that I took where the guy hired me, then told me he'd decided against it and I had to go beg for my old job back?

Did I mention the one where I got hired, worked three days, and then the new owner of the dealership pretended he hadn't hired me and I had to sue him to get paid? It's little comfort to know that he was gone shortly after that.

A few jobs later (it's like that, remember the 80% rule) I was out of work this spring. My wife had just gotten a job in Whitefish MT and we figured we could hold out until I found new work around Kalispell and Whitefish with my unemployment and her income. I got a job offer 135 miles away from a dealer that had (shock) kept their last Finance Manager for 16 years. He had RETIRED from the job. Not FIRED, RETIRED. I was thrilled. I was very careful in the interview to not oversell myself to the two owners. I discussed my pluses and minuses. I went to work the day after memorial day, my wife quit her job.

We'd been living out of our RV and we moved down to be near the job. Ok, not exactly Kalispell where we wanted to live, but about the next best thing in terms of scenery. I worked three days and was delivering cars like a house afire. I'd walked into the middle of a sale. They were making money and were happy it seemed, or so they said. Then the sales manager (who I had never met) started asking me questions as if I were INTERVIEWING for the job. That night I got told that the receptionist "didn't like the music" I was listening to in my office and the sales manager thought I was "Passive Aggressive." Me? Passive Aggressive? I was also told that I worked for him. Now that is a five alarm fire right there. I was not told I worked for anyone other than the owners, now I work for the Sales Manager and he has taken an immediate dislike to me. After 6 straight, long, busy days and making them a lot of money I was given my paycheck and told "it wasn't working out."

Now I'm in the middle of the longest period of unemployment in my life. I have worked only 1 week out of the last 9. This has NEVER happened to me before. I figure in about a month I'll start going so far behind that I'll have to consider going bankrupt. In two months, I will. I'm in the middle of nowhere (Arlee) and I fear my reputation as a polygyny advocate is starting to get well known enough that I might just be out of work for a long, long, long time. I'm 54. I don't like the way it looks.

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kbp said...


The next hot item until gas seems affordable.

Anonymous said...

have to agree with that one.