At 27, with less than 10 years in the business, Justin Russell is quick to credit his success to the mentors and coworkers whose advice led him to his current position as head of the Internet department at Legacy Ford of Pasco (Wash.). First among them is his father, Ross Russell, general sales manager of the Legacy group’s used-car operation in Walla Walla.
“My dad has been there from the very beginning,” he says. “He taught me from start to finish and still helps me to this day. You can’t be successful without other successful people in your life.”
Ross Russell began his auto retail career in 1982, working his way up from car washer to positions in service, parts, sales and, finally, sales management. Convinced he was destined for a different career, Justin left home to attend business school. After six months, he decided he would rather join the workforce.
“I realized I had a great opportunity to work with my dad. I worked with him for probably eight to 12 months and he said, ‘OK, you need to go find a job elsewhere.’ He was at a used-car store and he wanted me to get into a new-car store.”
“I pushed him out,” Ross confirms.
Justin was hired at Toyota of Yakima (Wash.), where he quickly set his sights on Internet sales. It was 2007, and online sales were “not really booming,” at least in Yakima, but Russell says owner Jim Cleary saw the potential and allowed him to start a one-man department.
“I didn’t know what I was doing,” Russell admits. “We started with pay-per leads. Obviously, I got a little smarter as time went on and learned how Google operated with SEO and getting your main website out and targeted.”
He was able to get the sales team on board and add personnel, including Jeff Johnson and Brandon Pittman, the latter of whom would serve as best man when Russell wed his wife, Kaitlin. During his time at Toyota of Yakima, the store’s market expanded to other parts of Washington as well as Idaho and Oregon and, eventually, Arizona and the East Coast. Word of his success began to spread, and the buzz culminated in a call from Josh Dykes, owner of Legacy Ford.
“He called me in early 2010 and said ‘Hey, I’ve heard a little bit about you. I want you to come work for me,’” Russell recalls. “I said, ‘Thanks, but I’m loyal. I’m going to stick around.’ He called again eight months later, again, ‘No sorry, I’m going to stay here.’ He called me again about a year later and I said, ‘You know, maybe this is worth a shot.’”
Justin and Kaitlin relocated to Pasco, where he once again set himself to the task of building an Internet sales department from scratch. At the time, he says, leads were passed out to salespeople with little or no tracking of appointments, shows or sales. With support from Dykes and help from new hires such as Adam Knutson (“one of the best Internet sales managers I know”), Russell began racking up sales.
“Last year I want to say we were well over 330. We’re knocking on the door of 30 a month,” he reports. “A million dollars gross front and back, that was one of my goals. There’s such a huge misconception that you can’t make money in the Internet department. Some dealers say the Internet department can only make $100 per copy.”
He believes online sales represent both the present and future of auto sales, and he has no plans to slow down. And with help from Dykes and others, he has recommitted to his Christian faith and found a higher purpose in vehicle sales. “I want to be a student of this game forever and I ultimately want to have a purpose in having a dealership — not to make a lot of money but to lead people and help them realize their dreams and aspirations. That’s been my dream since I started and it hasn’t changed.”
Asked to guess where his son’s dreams will lead him, Ross Russell is unable to conceal his pride. “His future is, he’ll have his own store. No doubt about it.”