Chris Eckert spent his days growing up in the small town of Abilene, Kan., dreaming of cars and keeping tabs on the latest designs coming out of Detroit. “We’re talking even when I was a kid,” Eckert said of his lifelong fascination with the automobile.

Little has changed for Eckert, who is now 52 years old and lives and works in the same “city of the plains” in the heart of Kansas. He still keeps tabs on the latest models coming out of the Motor City, particularly those on the lot of Holm Automotive Center Inc. It’s there that he’s turned what was a youthful obsession into a job. “I just love helping people buy cars,” Eckert said of his position at the Chevrolet, Buick and Cadillac dealership.

Matt Holm, Eckert’s general sales manager, said his top salesman’s enthusiasm, compassion and knowledge are the ideal combination for success in the business. He added that Eckert’s confidence and competence is what helps put customers at ease with their buying experience. But what impresses management the most about Eckert is his energy and work ethic. “You have to be on your game to keep up with Chris,” said Holm. “It’s like the guy doesn’t have an ‘off’ button.”

Eckert consistently averages more than 20 sales per month as part of a small sales team. And a big portion of his sales are made to referrals and repeat custom- ers, which account for as much as 75 percent of the dealership’s sales. “The main reason we are so successful is we try to keep our customers happy,” said Eckert. “If you’re not greeted at the door, that’s the exception, not the rule.”

Holm said in mid-December that the dealership expected to end 2012 with more than 1,300 new and used vehicles sold. “Chris is a huge part of that and, for sure, a leader on the sales floor,” Holm said. “He will end the year with approximately 250 retail car deals.”

Eckert said his best monthly total was 28 units sold. The dealership typically employs about 10 salespeople, and the general sales manager said Eckert’s exemplary performance is easily explained. “He doesn’t have some magic formula for generating business,” Holm said. “It’s simple: He’s either in front of a customer or doing something to get in front of a customer.”

Preferring to stay humble, Eckert attributed his success to management and his peers on the sales floor. “I’m not the only good salesman at the dealership,” he said. “There are several people who work here as hard as I do and are probably as deserving. I’m just part of a team.”

That team includes those at the top. “The owner of the dealership is very inspiring,” Eckert added.

Eckert’s sales career began auspiciously in 1984 after an employment ad caught his eye while sitting in a café in Hutchinson, Kan. To support his new family, he took a self-professed dead-end job hawking veterinary supplies. Then, one day, he found an opening in auto sales. The job offered $1,800 per month and a demo. He landed the job, packed up his wife and young daughter and moved them 90 miles southwest of Abilene.

“A couple of the salespeople (there) told me I wouldn’t make it,” Eckert recalled. Three years later, however, he was named sales manager. But in 1988, he returned to his native Abilene as the sales manager at Holm Automotive.

Eckert stayed at Holm for 18 years before deciding to try another dealership. But he wasn’t gone long, returning to Holm two years later as a salesman. “I decided being a manager wasn’t the way I wanted to end my career,” Eckert said. “I enjoy the face-to- face with the customer.”

Eckert said he plans on giving car sales another 20 to 30 years before calling it quits. “That’s the nice thing about the car business, you can do that,” he added.

While Eckert and his buddies used to spend time away from work at the golf course, those interests have changed. These days, the grandfather of two has put away the clubs in favor of doting on the grandchildren.

Congratulations to Chris Eckert, Sales Professional of the Month, and thank you to Matt Holm for bringing him to our attention.