It is the dream of every dealer, everywhere across the country: a dedicated, long-term sales consultant with a list of clients who refuse to buy from anyone else. For the owners and managers of Lujack Honda, that dream has come true. The Davenport, Iowa dealership has seen several transfers of ownership over the past 25 years, but their top salesperson, Greg Rietz, has been a constant presence.
In fact, for the current owners, Rietz was one of the main reasons they bought the store. “We were certainly aware of Greg’s track record, and it most certainly had a positive influence on the acquisition process,” says Anthony Gomez, platform president of Quad Cities Automotive Group and Lujack’s Northpark Auto Plaza. “When you look at a business that employs one of the top performers in the country, it says volumes about the business and the employee and customer culture. We knew there was something special about Greg and Lujack’s, and we were excited to be part of that.”
Since 1989, Rietz has dedicated himself to the art and craft of building relationships, not just selling cars — although that certainly is his endgame. He says he realized early on that it was more important to focus on his customers and let the sales come to him.
“You gotta remember people,” he says. “You have to have a good memory. I can remember what they bought and what they traded in. It takes follow-through. If you don’t have follow-through, you’re not going to make it.”
Rietz starts his day between 4 and 5 a.m., Monday through Saturday. (The dealership is closed on Sundays.) He was issued his own key years ago. In the quiet, early-morning hours, he goes through his notes and writes letters — as many as 100 per day — to his personal client list. This year, he sent out 7,800 Christmas cards. He considers the letters and cards an integral part of his follow-up process, and the same goes for the 800 to 1,000 phone calls he makes every month. Each call starts as a friendly conversation, and Rietz keeps notes on index cards, tracking birthdays, anniversaries, children, health concerns and more.
“When I call, I don’t bring up ‘How is your car is doing?’ or ask for referrals,” he says. “People will volunteer if they know someone. I don’t grill people; people hate that. I call to say ‘How are you doing?’ and make sure everything is going good. ... All these [trainers] say to call your inner circle and ask for referrals, but those will come if you do your job. Build relationships and the sales will come.”
Gomez says he and Lujack’s management team strive to provide Rietz with all the tools and training he needs to remain at the top of his game. “Providing leadership to our people is a responsibility we don’t take lightly, especially in the case of those most successful in our organization,” says Gomez. “I’ve seen our industry be guilty of abandoning successful sales consultants in the spirit of autonomy, and we work hard to make sure that we’re never guilty of that. ... That being said, our organization learns as much from Greg as he does from us.”
His process appears to be working. Some customers stop by just to say hello or deliver plates of food from family dinners. They sometimes reach out for other reasons — one couple asked if he had a vehicle they could use to bring their wheelchair-bound son home for the holidays, and Rietz worked out a temporary trade with another family that he knew wasn’t currently using their specially equipped van. Their holiday was made complete, and Rietz was their hero.
The Sales Will Come
It might seem like Rietz spends a lot of time doing anything except traditional selling, but his relationship-building has paid off in spades. Today, he estimates that about two-thirds of all his clients come to him through referrals or repeat business, although he still takes his share of walk-ins as well.
“No one else even gets close to Greg’s numbers,” notes Lujack Honda’s general manager, Jayson Newman, who expects a good salesperson to sell at least 15 units per month. Rietz sells an average of 60, and his best-ever month was 94.
“If I hit 100 units, I am retiring. I don’t care. I’m out!” Rietz jokes.
Newman says Rietz has taken the concept of the entrepreneurial salesperson to the highest level. “From the new-car customers, we’ll hear, ‘That’s the fourth time I’ve bought a car from Greg. He’s a professional.’ And on the used-car side? He’s that guy that, even when the economy takes a downturn, he’s made us recession-proof.”
“Above and beyond the personal contribution he makes to our bottom line, he has a positive effect on everyone in our organization,” Gomez adds. “You’ve heard the old adage ‘You play to your level of competition’, right? Well, Greg makes everyone in our organization better.”
Dedication and Focus
Rietz began his auto retail career at Lujack, shortly after he walked into the dealership to buy a car. The sales manager liked him so much, he recruited him to join the team, and Rietz never looked back. He credits part of his success to the era in which he joined the industry.
“When I got into the car business, you weren’t allowed any time off,” he notes. “There was no flex time, no days off. So I developed a work ethic most people don’t want to do today. Most don’t want to come in when I do or work the way I do. They say I’ll get burned out, but I haven’t yet.”
Rietz says he hasn’t taken a lunch break since the day he returned to the store to find someone was helping one of his returning customers. His coworker spent only a few minutes with his customer and walked off with half the commission. “It pissed me off, so I don’t take lunch anymore. I bring my own.” Rietz is also hesitant to take time off for other opportunities, including speaking engagements.
“People in other sales industries have asked him to speak,” Newman notes. “He typically doesn’t do it. He doesn’t want to leave the dealership.”
The same sentiment holds for other employment opportunities. Rietz says his customers are his family, and he stays where he is because he doesn’t want them to think he has deserted them. They repay that dedication by remaining loyal through the years and down through the generations. He says he doesn’t mind when the occasional customer buys from another dealership. He continues to follow up and touch base, knowing no other sales pro will match his level of service and waiting patiently for them to return.
Two of his longest-term clients, a married couple, have been buying cars from him since 1991. He has sold to the mother, the father, their kids and their grandkids. Another couple has been with him since 1992, when he visited their home, sat in their living room and sold a Lexus to the long-term Lincoln fans. They later moved to Arkansas, and the family would plan their vacation trips around coming back to buy cars from him. Eventually, they moved back to the area to be closer to family. “I just sold their daughter a car a month ago, and she lives in the Twin Cities in Minnesota, about eight hours always,” Rietz says.
Many of his customers are so loyal that, in this day and age of instant gratification, they are willing to slow down and wait. Some have sat and waited for up to two hours or left and come back later, not willing to allow another salesperson to help them.
“You know it is loyalty when they’re willing to wait,” Newman says. “The customers can see he’s getting a bit frustrated because there are so many he can’t get to right away, but they want him and they’re willing to wait for him. We liken the car experience to going to the dentist’s office, and the biggest reason [people get frustrated] is time spent. Yet we have customers who will wait until he’s available.”
Rietz is full of stories about his customers, with tale after tale of loyalty and relationships that lead to consistently high sales. He believes anyone can build the same kind of following if they are willing to dedicate enough time and effort to the enterprise. He also has a few basic tenants to which he faithfully adheres: “Keep in touch with your customers, earn their trust and don’t lie to them. If you lie, you’ll never get them back, no matter how many cars you’ve sold them in the past. If you lie once, you’re done. Treat them like family and do what you say you will. Follow-through is important. Follow through with promises or you’ll never get them back.”
“The most often asked question I get where Greg is concerned is, ‘How does he do it?’ I don’t mind sharing with you that the secret to his success does not differ much from other masters of their craft in any other industry,” says Gomez. “Greg does the work. It’s that simple. He outworks everyone else. He outprepares everyone else. He outprospects everyone else. He has a level of daily self-accountability that drives him to perform and achieve on a level that only those one-percenters will ever know or feel. For me, for our organization and for anyone who wants to be the very best in their field, Greg represents what’s possible.”
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Toni McQuilken is a freelance writer with expertise in auto retail, F&I and agency operations. [email protected]