In more than 60 years as a sales rep, Bob McKee has seen it all. Now, at 87, arguably Canada's longest-serving sales rep has driven off into retirement.
Murray Chev in Winnipeg, his employer for the past 43 years, marked the occasion of McKee's retirement with a reception in his honour on December 7.
"Bob McKee was an expert in building relationships with customers before the concept became popular," said Dan Murray, the dealership's president. "For years, he was always the first sales rep at our dealership to welcome new customers to our store, and he was always following up on his clientele."
Murray Chev sales manager Jim Chewka noted that while McKee never mastered the computer, he was always willing to learn and adapt.
During the course of his career, McKee sold more than 5,000 vehicles with a total value of over $100 million, Murray noted. And 30 times in his career, he earned a ranking in the General Motors Sales Guild, possibly a record.
"Bob was admired and respected by everyone," he said. "He was honest and forthright and had a very good work ethic. Even during the 1997 flood, when he was fighting to save his home, he still came in to work every day."
McKee grew up on the family farm just south of Winnipeg and still lives on the property. He remembers cars with wooden spokes, acetylene lights and hand cranks, recalling that he once broke his wrist trying to turn a crank.
McKee entered the auto business in the late 1940s after his family's crop was destroyed by hail. He started as an apprentice mechanic in Winnipeg, then relocated to Trenton, Ontario, to finish his training.
In the fall of 1949, General Motors employees went on strike, a walkout that lasted for six months. McKee was working at the time as a mechanic for a GM dealership in Trenton.
"Because GM was on strike, there were no cars to service and no work," he said. "After a while, I went to the local Ford dealer to apply for work. The dealer didn't need any mechanics but was looking for a sales rep. I figured I would give it a try.
"I found I was making more money in one month in sales than I was making in six months as a mechanic."
Shortly after his sales debut in Trenton, McKee moved back to Winnipeg and continued his sales career here. For the next 17 years, he worked for a number of domestic dealers and in 1969 joined the staff of Carter Motors. He's been with the same dealership ever since (Murray acquired Carter Motors in 1994).
Success in auto sales isn't rocket science, McKee said
"Service is the key," he says. "You put your customer's needs first. If you take care of your customers, they will take care of you."
He also praised Murray Chev.
"This is a good outfit," he said. "I believe that our service department is one of the best in the industry."
McKee isn't planning anything major in retirement. He expects to drop in to the dealership every now and then and keep in touch with former customers who have become friends over the years.
Birchwood Kia sales star
Ted Debrowski is another sales rep who knows what it takes to succeed in the auto business.
Debrowski is consistently Birchwood Kia East's top-selling rep and one of the best Kia reps across Canada. In November, he sold 19 vehicles (16 used, three new) and, in one month last year, sold 23 Sorrentos.
The secret to Debrowski's success is a combination of top-notch customer service and getting his name out there in whatever way he can. When you walk into Birchwood Kia East, the first thing that catches your eye at the front desk are a stack of calendars with Debrowski's name prominently on display. At his desk just to the right of the front door are piles of pens and fridge magnets with his name on them.
"I picked up the idea from real-estate sales guys who are always trying to get their names out there," Debrowski said.
The star sales rep also sends out a monthly newsletter to as many as 200 past, present and potential customers with information about new Kia products and awards the manufacturer has won. Like all Birchwood sales reps, he has his own website and sends out frequent e-mails.
"I have a goal of making at least 10 contacts every day," he said
The other side of the equation is customer service, and one of the conveniences that Debrowski offers is at-home shopping.
"Coming into a dealership can be a daunting experience for some," he said. "I make it easy. I will bring the cars to the customer. I will drop off a model and leave it with the customer overnight. I pick it up again the next day. That gives the customer 24 hours to make a decision on the model.
"I don't rush a customer into buying," he added. "I'm pretty good at sizing up a situation. I'm a straightforward type of guy. I try to make sure that I'm delivering the right vehicle for the customer's budget."
Unlike McKee, Debrowski came to auto sales relatively late in life. For most of his career, he worked at a senior level in the garment industry. That involved a lot of travel and long hours at the office. He became an auto sales rep just 10 years ago.
"My father-in-law was looking for a Honda one time," Debrowski said. "I went with him to one of the Birchwood stores. The sales manager at the time was Andy Haines, a fellow I'd worked with as a junior executive at the Bay. Andy suggested that I would do well in this business. That stuck in my mind and I decided to try it when I felt it was time for a career change."
Debrowski worked for the two Birchwood Honda stores for seven years before joining Birchwood Kia East team.
"After 10 years in this business, I'm still learning," he said. "The product and the market are always changing and you have to change and adapt as well.
"I'm not high-pressure, but I make sure that my customers are satisfied that I sold them the right vehicles."
Industry veteran, rookie join Auto Haus sales team
Like Debrowski, Phil Chow knows what it takes to be a winner in auto sales. Over the past 12 years, Chow has been a sales star and has had some management experience as well.
In early November, Chow brought his expertise to Auto Haus Volkswagen/Porsche as one of the newest members of the sales staff.
"There is a good dynamic here," Chow said of the dealership. "Volkswagen is a different kind of product from the vehicles I had before. Volkswagen has come a long way from the days when I was starting in this business. Back then, not a lot of people were looking at Volkswagens. Now, everyone seems to be."
Also new to the Auto Haus sales staff is R.J. Kreutz who started at the beginning of December after working in the agriculture sector.
"This is a good opportunity," Kreutz said of his new role at Auto Haus. "I received good training and I like the staff here."