There was just something about driving nails. Maybe it’s the accuracy of hand to eye coordination. Could be the good feel of the hammer in the grip of your hand when you sink that nail with a solid blow. I just loved it. I even liked the sawdust blowing in my face from the skillsaw. I just hated the payola though. It was terrible.
The summer after our second child was born, I needed to work. The wolf was at the door. The summer showers limited me to 22 to 26 hours a week. At near minimum wage, it didn’t add up to much.
Towards the end of ’76, I spent a rained out day looking for a new job. The Times-Union newspaper was my only job source. Most of the jobs listed in the want ads were dead end jobs too or required more experience than I had, at anything. I came upon an ad that read “WANTED 5 men to sell cars, $500.00 a week guaranteed. No experience necessary.
I found my only tie in the closet and went 6211 Walgreens Utility Road to apply for a job, at Crown Ford. Bill Morgan was the used car manager. He interviewed me. He asked if I had any previous experience. Bad as I needed the job, I didn’t lie. I told him no. I’ve never sold anything, not even dope. He surprised me when he said, “Great, that’s just what I want. Someone I can train, that doesn’t know anything but what I tell them.
He was sitting at the desk with his feet propped up on a file cabinet. He tilted his head back so that he was stretching his eyeballs to look at me through gold rim glasses. He said, “Do you think you can do that, what I tell you I mean?”
I wanted to say yes, I’ll do what ever you want, just give me a job, but I didn’t. I asked him about the money. “What about the $500. a week guaranteed?” He told me that if I did exactly what he told me to do, that I would earn a lot more than $500. a week.
He told me that I would get a draw check every Friday for $125 dollars. He said that my commissions would add up and at the end of the month, the company would subtract my draw from my commissions and I would get a check for the rest, minus FICA. He added that if my commissions didn’t add up to more than my draw, I would be in the “bucket.” Guys that end up in the bucket have to go to work for “Down the Road Motors.”
It really didn’t take me long to decide. On a good week of driving nails, I brought home about $79.00 after taxes. Plus Mr. Morgan told me that Ford put bonuses on certain vehicles from time to time and that would go directly to me.
I was eager to please my first day. So eager, I didn’t notice I had that I had ketchup on my only tie. Bonnie asked me when I got home, where I went for lunch. What lunch?
Mr. Morgan told me that my position was on the point. Stand on the concrete apron next to the parking area. Help people out of their cars. If they need parts, show them where it’s at, ask them how many payments they got left on their old ride, make friends, learn their names, get their phone number. I figured, why not, if it makes him happy. So I did it gleefully, thinking about that guaranteed $125 I was gonna bring home that Friday.
Along about 10 AM a guy pulled up in an old Ford and started to walk out towards the used trucks. I knew Mr. Bill was looking over my shoulder, my first step was to “meet and greet.” That’s when you introduce yourself, shake hands, compliment the missus and try to establish common ground.
The second step is find a vehicle they like well enough to drive around the block. The rule is, “A man won’t buy it, until he drives it.” Mr. Bill was pretty strict about that too. “Everybody rides.” I got to know each used car fairly well. I tried to make sure the radios weren’t turned all the way up and on what I though was a decent station. Nothing kills a deal worse than a dead battery unless it’s the radio blaring AC/DC at full blast when you start the car up.
The last step was have a seat. That’s it…..you got to get your customer inside the building, sitting in your office, to see what kind of deal you can work out with the boss.
3 Steps and 1 Rule. No Body Walks.
That meant if you’re so weak that you can’t get your customer inside to talk up a deal, you better not let them leave. You do what you have to, to keep them there until you can tell Mr. Morgan you need help. If you get help, it costs you half a commission or “half the deal” is what they called it. It’s called “walking, a customer,” if you don’t. A half of something is better than all of nothing.
Once, I almost let a customer “walk.” I held the door open for the lady to get in her car, when Mr. Bill got on the loud speaker and said, “See if they’ll give you a ride home, you’re gonna need it if they walk.” I grabbed a pocketbook that I saw on a nearby table and I chased the customer down the road as they were leaving. I kept hollering, “Your pocketbook, you forgot your pocketbook.”
The people stopped. I told them that, “my boss said you forgot your pocketbook. The lady showed me her purse and said no, it wasn’t hers. I convinced them to come back and tell my boss, so he won’t think I lied. When we got back to the dealership, Jim James came out to greet us, shook hands, brought them inside, sat them down and asked what type of cars had they been looking at. I remember the magic words he used that day. “If I can get you enough money for your trade in, will you be willing to do business today? He sold them a new ’77 Granada, jade green. I got half the deal. Mr. Morgan just told me, “Go get another one Sport.”
Getting back to my story on my first customer. I got him past steps 1 and 2. He liked an 1975 Ford Explorer pick up. We were in the office, sitting down. I even had the buyer’s order filled out, partially. When it came time to ask about a trade in, he got up to go. With panic setting in, I found out that his trade in needed a timing gear and chain. He was here to get parts and just took a minute to look at the trucks. He said he couldn’t trade until he got it fixed.
I told Mr. Morgan what was up. He noticed that the guys trade-in was a 1971 Pinto. He told me to sit the fellow down and find out how much he wanted for his 1971 Pinto with a bad timing gear. Long story short, We made a deal. $750 trade allowance pending appraisal of trade.
Mr. Morgan said it looked like I earned about 250 on that one, go get another.
I noticed some of the other salesmen hadn’t made a sell yet, but they were going to lunch and returning. I was getting hungry too. Still, I did like I was told and caught a new car up and was busy for the next hour and half until she was over the curb and burning gas. The lady bought a 1976 white Granda while the ’77s were coming out. They sold new cars cheap sometimes. I made $50 commission and a $50 dollar spiff from Ford. Good deal. Half a day went by and I’ve earned $350 bucks. I was the only guy to have his name on the board today, surly I can go get some lunch.
Mr. Morgan told me when I asked, that the coverage on the sales floor looked kinda thin. He said he couldn’t spare me right now.
Robert Harris, of Harris Trophy’s on Lem Turner came in. I greeted him, he wanted to order a new Ford E-150 van for his business (I think he showed dogs on the side). We sat down with the catalog and wrote down everything he wanted. He pretty much paid the asking price, paid cash. I believe it was a $1,600 dollar deal and my cut was $400 bucks. Not a bad day. We located him one a week later, almost exactly like he wanted, painted Champagne with the bat wing side doors.
I didn’t ask to go to lunch this time. It was going on 6 o’clock. I noticed a guy leaving the parts department and I flagged him down. I got him to drop me off at Hardees on the other side of I-95 and Golfair and I walked back.
When I got back Mr. Bill asked me if I had been put on a schedule yet. He told me that I was on A team and that I could take the rest of the day off.
It never got old to me. Mr. Bill kept me on the point. Pretty soon we developed a rapour . He got to where he trusted me. If I told him that the guy I was working was a “Preacher, painter or a pipe smoker,” that meant he was bogus. He’d tell me that if I could get them to kick a tire where he could see it, it would be okay to let them walk.
Wade Mallory was our Finance manger. He was a young energetic guy. It seems like he was always ruining my customer’s credit. According to them, their credit was always “aces, straights and flushes.” The reply from the bank would be “El Paso.” A real stinkeroo non grattis. I’d end up with a busted flush.
T-Birds, back in ’77 they were hot. Ford was on strike, we could only get a few. They went for 2,000 dollars over sticker. I catch an “up” one day. The guy wanted a new T Bird. He kind of looked familiar to me. The only one we had was on the show room floor. I got it off the floor and took the man for a drive. I let him drive on I-95 and back around coming up Norwood to Golfair. That’s when he showed me his chemical business and pool supplies. Jake Godbold. I’ve heard the name but I couldn’t place the face.
Mr. Jake liked the car and he said he’d take it but he only wanted to pay a hundred dollars over cost and wanted to see the invoice. Here I’ve been with this cracker all day. I knew my boss wouldn’t take a skinny-mini deal on a new T Bird from any body. To add to it, Firestone was on strike too. No spare tires, just a metal rim in the trunk. Mr. Jake wanted Crown Ford to throw in the spare as part of the deal.
When I told Mr. Bill, he leaned back in his chair, feet on the cabinet and looked at me again through those gold rims glasses and said to me, “Go tell Mr. Godbold, he can kiss my ass. Did you hear me, what did I say?” I repeated my directions and I know Mr. Bill was in hearing range when I told Mr. Jake that, “My boss told me to tell you to kiss his ass.”
His race got red all of a sudden. I thought maybe he was gonna blow a gasket, when all of a sudden he busted out laughing and said, “Fair enough.” He shook my hand and thanked me for my time. A few days later I see him again lined up at the service desk with a new jade green T Bird. That rascal. Instead of spending his money in his neighborhood and supporting his neighbors, he went across the bridge and bought a new car from Lynch-Davidson.
Mr. Morgan got a stapler in his hand and went outside to the Service Isle. He told Mr. Jake he could just take that car back across the river and get Lynch-Davidson to do the free service work on it. They argued for a minute, Jake left mad. He was still mad when I saw him at the dog track on Commonwealth a year or two later. (but that’s another story).
My first month, I sold 22 cars. I made salesman of the month. That garnered me a $100 dollar bonus. All told, I earned just under $2500 that month. I never wanted to drive another nail. I worked for the Holcombe family, (Jim, Mark and Charlotte) they owned Crown until they sold out, over a year later.
My second month, I could only get 12 cars over the curb. Mr. Morgan took me to one side and asked me if I knew why? I told him no, I don’t. He told me that, “I quit doing what I was told. Now you act like you know it all. Let me tell you son, you won’t ever know it all.” My third month, I went back up to 21 and I never sold under 20 cars a month again, ever.
A couple days after my first sell, a wrecker was coming up Walgreen Rd. toward us. It was dragging and old blue 1971 Ford Pinto. My customer was riding up front. He said he love his truck and wanted to finalize our deal and get his Pinto appraised. I went in to tell “Wild Bill.” I was cringing, thinking my deal might go sour. That Pinto wasn’t worth the tow bill.
Mr. Bill told me to ask the customer if he would be willing to buy that car back for 20 dollars. To which the customer gleefully complied. I was both surprised and in awe when Mr. Bill handed me the $20 and said, “Here Son, I owe you a lunch.”
I left out the part where I sold a guy from Ecuador a couple new pickups. He ordered a lot more and put up strong deposits. He was driving down I-95 from New York and buying and shipping new trucks to Guayaquil, Ecuador. I was the only guy in the building that spoke any Spanish, so I guess he was my up.
After making a deal on two trucks and ordering four more, He pulled down his pants in my office. There to the inside of his pants pockets he had wads of American cash sewed in. He dropped his drawers pulled out the cash, pulled his britches up and paid me all of it on the spot.
I found out later what he was doing. He would buy any flashy looking new truck he could find. Then remove the “Custom” emblems and install ones that read, “XLT.” From there he would just add things that he could buy over the counter to make them look like they were high dollar. Chrome mirrors, chrome step bumper, any thing flashy. His trick was he was taking them to Ecuador, where the “Indios,” as he called them had just discovered that their land was covered in diamonds and gold. The Indios didn’t know know hide nor hair about trucks but they knew that “XLT” was top of the line.
At first, I would deliver the trucks myself to the Port of Entry, Miami Beach. Leave the keys and the MSO (Manufactorer’s Statement of Origin) in the glove box. Two months later he would show up and buy more. The last I knew, there were 4 trucks that had been sitting over a year waiting for him. I can only guess that the Indios caught on.
Crown Ford was an island. A small place on a dead end road, next door to a furniture store. We didn’t get much traffic. It was tough sometimes. Mr. Morgan told us that if anyone came here, they were either looking for a car or looking for a salesman. Mr. Bill left after about a year. Wild Bill went back to Dallas. Bewildered, I wondered what was gonna happen to me. Before he left, Mr. Bill told me, “Son, if you can sell cars here, you can sell cars anywhere.”
Now, all my ties have ketchup stains.