To be a successful salesman, you have to have charisma and knowledge about the product you’re selling. I had neither. I didn’t know anything about cars and I was repulsed by those who had the gall to want to buy one from me.
Tim Godfrey to the showroom for a customer, the secretary would page on any given afternoon.
An 18 year-old Tim, wearing a wrinkled, purple-and-pink striped American Eagle dress shirt and light khaki pants, sat in the breakroom during the middle of his second consecutive lunch hour.
“Rrr yoooo frrrrkkkkiiinnnggg kudding meeeh,” he says through a mouth full of a Po’ Boy sandwich, crumbs shooting out of his mouth like an open fire hydrant on a hot summer day.
Before I was an above-average writer, I was a below average car salesman.
There were two days that are burned into my memory from my time in sales. Here is the story about one of those days — my first day on the job.
There were no pages for me on my first day. I had no customers. No desk. I didn’t even have business cards. My tie was borrowed from my dad. My shirt came from the bottom of a hamper and thrown into the dryer because I was too lazy to iron it.
Thankfully, what I did have, was an overwhelming sense of fear.
How in the hell did you get hired, you might be asking.
In addition to fear, I also had family connections.
My grandfather started his own dealership back in the ’60s and through hard work and determination, he built an award-winning, nationally recognized dealership group that serves the needs of the city of St. Louis, the state of Missouri and the Midwest region!
For years, I viewed my grandpa — Paup — as a sharp businessman. But when he hired me, that view went right out the window.
Two hours before I first walked onto the showroom floor, I was pulling weeds outside of it. I was a porter, which meant I did everything that sucked. I pulled weeds, washed cars, cleaned bathrooms, emptied trash and picked up an endless amount of cigarette butts.
All day. Every day.
But I didn’t mind the job because it meant nobody was bothering me. I talked to two people at most all day and that was it. But on that fateful day, Paup was the third person.
He rolled up on the back of a golf cart, dressed in a full suit and tie despite being “retired.” He was a tall man with massive boots and bear paws for hands. His giant, square bifocals rested on the cheeks of his giant, square head.
“Timmy me boy,” he said. “What are you doing?”
“I’m pulling weeds, Paup,” I said. “What’s up?”
“How would you like to sell cars?”
“Oh, no. That’s okay. I don’t—”
“Good, I’ll call Michael and let him know you’re on the way.”
“Paup, I don’t—”
“Go home and get a tie and go see Michael.”
And just as quickly as he appeared, Paup whizzed away.
Michael was my cousin, manager, and the only reason I made any sales. Like Paup, he had tremendous faith in me despite the obvious signs that I was not cut out for sales. The biggest, of course, was that I hated interacting with people.
Which, as it turns out, is a big part of sales. Hell, that’s 99 percent of sales. The other one percent is sitting in your manager’s office with your head in your hands wondering why you haven’t quit yet.
On my first day, I stood in front of the plated glass window and watched for customers. What a sight that must have been from the customer’s perspective! As they scan the lot, they spot a sweaty, wide-eyed man glaring at them with his red face pressed up against the glass.
Fortunately, my first customer was half a football field away, completely unaware of me or my red face. Unfortunately, because I spotted him that meant I had to go talk to him.
For 50 yards, I rehearsed my opening line through quiet murmurs.
“Afternoon, sir. How can I help you?”
“What can I do for YOU, sir?”
“Like what you see?”
I went with my Midwestern instinct and “OHP! Hey! How ya’ doing there?” with both hands on my hips.
“Hello,” the customer said. “I’m just looking for Leo. He’s my salesman.”
“Oh, I think I just saw him inside. Let me get him for you.”
I walked back to the showroom in the best mood. I felt so good I almost skipped back. I came back to the showroom with the relief knowing I avoided the dreaded inevitable — serving a customer.
“What did he want,” Mike asked me as I walked inside.
“Oh, that guy is looking for Leo. Is he in?”
Mike’s eyebrows dropped down. His face went deadpan. He looked to another salesman to his right and then back at me. Seconds passed in complete silence.
“Tim,” Mike said. “Leo’s dead.”
My heart bellyflopped into my stomach and exploded.
“Yeah, Tim. He’s been dead for a while.”
That’s when I noticed a plaque on the wall that read, “In memory of Leo…The best salesman I ever had.” It was signed by Paup. Then I noticed Leo’s customer walking up to the showroom.
“Oh, God. I told that guy I just saw Leo on the showroom floor and I was going to get him.”
“What? Why would you say that?”
“I DON’T KNOW!”
Mike met the customer as he walked through the door. I was standing 10 feet away. I couldn’t hear what Mike told the customer but after Mike talked to him for 10 seconds, the customer looked right at me — the guy who just told him that he had seen Leo on the showroom floor.
The guy ended up buying a car from me. Well, Mike actually sold him the car and put my name on the deal. All I did was stand next to the desk in total silence, nodding every once in a while for no apparent reason.
The guy never said a word to me the entire time. After I explained all the features of his car — which I read from a folded up model brochure — I shook his hand and he left. We never spoke again.
He was the best customer I ever had.