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A Smile, A Handshake And A Thank-You.

I am back on a plane again, flying from our Indiana offices back to my home in Sarasota. Like all my trips to Evansville, it was a non-stop blur, but a productive one. I was fortunate to be able to find just enough free time to visit with four of my best friends, all of which read the magazine, all of which I have the utmost respect for their accomplishments, and all who won’t hesitate to praise or criticize my comments.

Typically I don’t drop names, but Tony Wolfe, the president of Wolfe’s Auto Auctions deserves the recognition for reminding me of some sound advice – something he probably won’t even realize he did. A brief bit of history for those of you that have never frequented any of their family owned auctions in Evansville, Terre Haute and South Bend, Indiana – you have missed one of the most successful auto auctions companies in the country. They certainly aren’t the biggest, and this takes nothing away from any of the other fine auctions in the country (of which I have experienced many), but I have never found a better one anywhere, with more loyal dealers, in all of my travels.

There are a lot of factors why the “Wolfe Pack” has been so successful over the years. Most are the very same ones that you find with nearly any successful dealer or business for that matter – good people, solid training, hard work, and never-say-die attitudes. However, you aren’t reading this column to learn that.

Their success is founded on something even more basic. Something that I experienced the very first day I walked into their auction in the late 80’s. Tony Wolfe walked up to me that day (I was one of hundreds of dealers present) shook my hand, looked me in the eye, complimented me on my shirt I believe, and most importantly thanked me for my business…and meant it. He did that every time I walked through those doors year after year. He does it with as many of his customers as he possibly can each week. So do his sons, and now his grandsons. I am sure his father most likely did it as well. Tony said he is having a record year, in an industry that overall consignments are down. I wonder why?

A smile, a handshake and a sincere thank you. How simple does it get? Didn’t we learn this in kindergarten?

Last week I toured five stores of another dealer, we visited five locations scattered over a thousand miles – most a long way from the city he calls home. Guess what, I witnessed the very same thing. At each location he went out of his way to say hello and spend time with every customer in his stores. You could see the reactions from the customers. They started out with sheer disbelief that the owner was spending time with them, then, total appreciation set in. Oh yeah, and everywhere we went they were selling cars to very happy people.

Think about it. How often do you go into businesses where you are greeted by smiling people that seem sincerely happy that you are there and want to make sure you are happy? At least from my perspective it occurs so infrequently that I really notice and appreciate it when it occurs.

Of course there is the antithesis. On the way to the airport recently, I stopped by a client’s dealership to say hello. I couldn’t help but notice when I pulled into the dealership that in spite of GM’s just announced program of 0% APR for 72 months the place looked like a ghost town. Not a customer in sight – anywhere.

I walked inside, walked by a sales manager and six sales people. While I waited for my client to finish with someone in his office, I walked around the showroom and waiting area. All told, I counted nine dealership personnel (including the receptionist) that I came within five feet of. If I didn’t know better I would have thought my deodorant had failed. Not only did none of them acknowledge that I was there, they avoided me like I was a leper. They worked hard to avoid eye contact, apparently fearing they might have to engage in discussion. They seemingly worked hard to make me feel like I was an inconvenience.

With a single day to go before the end of the month I asked the GM how the month was going to finish up. He said, to no surprise, it had been slow. Granted, I had just left Wolfe’s auction, where everyone is always made to feel welcome and appreciated, but I feel it is more than just coincidence that one team is excelling in a soft market, and another is underachieving.

This message is directed to the dealers and their executives in the marketplace. Many of you are Type A personalities. I will raise my hand and include myself. Learn from Tony Wolfe and my new southern dealer client (they are both Type A as well). Most Type A people run at Mach 2 with their hair on fire. Hear me loud and clear – make the time to visit with and thank your customers. I assure you that I failed at my own advice at times, using my “bat-cave” entrance to avoid the crowds – often feeling like I was too busy to get engaged in small talk. Looking back, it was a silly notion. People like to do business with people they like. Your customers vote every day with their wallets and checkbooks. They want value for their money and they want to feel appreciated. It is truly amazing what a smile, a handshake, and a thank you can do. Try it and see for yourself – it is a lot less expensive than investing in the latest and greatest gizmo.

Until next month,
Let’s shake on it.
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