In December 2007, shortly after leaving his job as a correctional officer for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Oscar Rodriguez saw a help wanted ad for All American Chrysler Jeep Dodge of San Angelo, a Lithia Motors store. The ad guaranteed $2,500/month for new hires, and Rodriguez was intrigued. He mentioned it to his then-fiancée and high school sweetheart, Jessica, but only in passing.
“I was against the idea,” says Rodriguez, 32. “Selling cars had never crossed my mind.”
Paul Hatcher, a multistore general manager for Lithia and an ADM contributor, has heard this story. “He didn’t think he could sell cars. But she told him, ‘You need to apply, you can make a lot of money.’ He had a great interview and we hired him. He wound up selling 20 cars his first month and he hasn’t looked back since.”
“I guess it was my calling,” Rodriguez says.
His first sale was to a young woman who had totaled her previous vehicle. She and her mother had already done their research and selected a make and model when they arrived. Rodriguez caught the up, closed the deal and had a revelation: His sales career would depend less upon product knowledge, which would come with time, and more upon connecting with customers and guiding them through the process. Hatcher, a proponent of low-pressure sales tactics, says the soft-spoken Rodriguez fits the mold of the modern sales pro perfectly.
“He is very, very down to earth. When you start talking to him, you don’t think he’s even that salesperson Type A personality,” he says. “The customers love talking with him and love doing business with him. He’s like a fish in water. It has been fun to watch.”
Rodriguez, who rarely catches a fresh up — “I usually get caught by an up,” he jokes — has built a sales empire fueled by two dedicated, part-time administrative assistants and a powerful database of repeat customers and referrals. At last count, he averages 40-plus new and used vehicles per month and often delivers three or four units in the course of a day’s work. In 2013, he sold 537 vehicles and earned nationwide recognition as one of Fiat Chrysler’s top salespeople.
“You gotta have a great work ethic, and he has it,” Hatcher says. “He is obsessed with being the best. He works hard, he works smart and he does a lot of follow-up. … He epitomizes self-discipline and leadership.”
His success has led to talk of promotions, and Hatcher believes Rodriguez could serve the industry in any capacity, including as a dealer or general manager. But a promotion would almost certainly result in longer hours and a significant pay cut, and conversations about moving up the chain of command typically end on that note.
“I don’t plan to go anywhere,” Rodriguez says. “I have great flexibility right now. I don’t want to promote and I don’t see myself doing anything else. I see myself retiring as a car salesman.”
Remarkably, by working 10- to 12-hour days and relying on his staff to set appointments, Rodriguez is able to take two months of vacation time every year. He spends it with Jessica, whom he married in 2008, and daughters Brooklynn, 4, and Ellie, 2.
“I don’t enjoy the long hours,” he says. “But someone has to make the sacrifice in order to give my family the best future.”