There were only a few customers wandering the lot at Sanborn Chevrolet on a rainy and overcast afternoon two weeks ago.
And with all the unpleasant news about the auto industry - Chrysler declaring bankruptcy, General Motors killing the Pontiac brand, and slumping sales that have hurt the entire industry - one would expect the mood inside the showroom to reflect the weather outside: pretty bleak.
But that wasn't the case.
Sanborn's staff buzzed with excitement over a sleek 2009 Camaro parked inside the showroom.
"In these times of doom and gloom, it's been a real uplift to have this vehicle," said Jim Peek, the dealership's fleet sales representative.
The Camaro is a symbol of hope during hard times. Local car dealers and sales people acknowledge that their business has suffered an historic drop off.
Yet for the most part, they remain optimistic, even energized. They are getting through these hard times, they say, with hard work, a variety of new models, strong incentives and an emphasis on customer care and service.
Two dealership gurus: In their own wordsDaryl Geweke: 'You've got to go out and get it every day'
I've been in sales ever since I came to California. Fortunately for me, I spent a small amount of time in the insurance business. … When I left the superintendent of training - I went out with the superintendent for training for better than two weeks - he gave me the policy book and the binder and he said, "You're on your own."
We'd sold a policy every day for 13 days. He said, "Daryl, you're on your own." I remember he said, "You've got a prospect every day."
In 90 days I was the No. 1 salesman on the West Coast. They flew in from Seattle and Portland and Los Angeles and drove over from San Francisco, wanting to know what this kid from Nebraska knew about the life insurance business.
It taught me one thing: I was never idle. I never waited for customers to come in, in the car business.
Before I bought the Ford dealership, I was selling, I went into management. I averaged (selling) 40 to 45 units a month.
Whether you're in the car business, the hospitality business or whatever business you're in, you've got to out and get it every day.
Make your plans, work your plans. If you stand on the lots, whether it's good or bad, wait for people to come in, it's unlikely you'll never make it.
There again, you got to care for people and you cannot be overcome by resistance. Everybody is a prospect if they drive a car.
To get the sales people to do that, (they have to have) a God-given personality. If you fall apart because of resistance, you don't sell.
Have faith in yourself and confidence. It's God-given talent. Not everybody can do it.
Daryl Geweke is a Lodi-based car dealer and entrepreneur.
Bob Zamora: A bright future awaits
There is a positive side, no doubt. You hate to benefit from the demise of others, but it is true that this is capitalism, this is America, and some will survive and others not. We have had an overabundance of outlets in this country to buy automobiles. That has been especially true of GM and Chrysler … and when the smoke settles, there will be fewer outlets and the pent-up demand will be there.
It will be very, very good for those that survive. I share that with our employees and I believe that paints a bright picture for them and I believe it.
In terms of our salespeople, we look for good communication skills. That is quite key, because you need to communicate without a sense of nervousness, but with a sense of confidence and warmth. A sense of being comfortable. A strong personal appearance counts.
Beyond that, and especially true now, we look for a sense of optimism. We want people who see the glass half full.
A positive attitude has always been a key to selling, and that's certainly true today.
Bob Zamora owns the Zamora auto group, which includes Lodi Honda.
And when the recessions recedes, they say, the dealers and employees still surviving should reap their rewards.
GM evolving, enduring
On the wall of the hallway leading to Richard Sanborn's office is a signed photo of former A's slugger Jose Canseco. It's a picture of a thinner, toned Canseco taken at a time when there were no steroids in baseball and GM, the largest manufacturer in the world, was rock solid.
GM may no longer be the biggest in the world, and it won't be the same company.
But it will keep going, Sanborn said.
It will endure.
The Camaro, with its striking design and a powerful V6, 304 horsepower engine, harkens back to a time when six out of every 10 cars on the road were built by GM.
Sanborn said everyone in the industry knew that the market was overloaded with inventory and the industry was going to see some major changes. But he points to the growing demand for the Chevrolet brand in Asia and the rest of the world, noting that GM is building a new factory in Russia.
Sanborn is confident that after more than 30 years of doing business in Lodi, his company has a solid future.
"It would be awfully hard to keep people motivated if you were a Pontiac dealer," he said.
A hot Mustang and great deals
At the Geweke Ford dealership up the road from Sanborn, there may not have been a new Camaro on the showroom floor, but the dealership does have a Shelby Cobra Mustang that has a supercharged V8 engine that drops 541 horsepower. The collector's edition car has a sticker price of $125,000, but the dealership is offering it at $75,000.
The Mustang may be emblematic of Ford's muscle, but the dealership's sales staff say it's the new Ford Fusion hybrid that is drawing the most demand.
The car has a whisper-quiet engine and gets 41 miles to the gallon.
Salesmen Greg Sattler admits it's been tougher to move cars. And on a recent Friday afternoon, the sales team stood huddled around the main desk, periodically scanning the lot in the hopes of seeing a someone pull into the customer parking spots.
Sattler said staff try to work with potential customers, helping them do research on particular features or car models.
"Right now the deals are better then they've ever been," he said.
Jason Park, a salesman at Geweke's Toyota dealership, said he's been in sales for almost nine years and the current market is tough. He recalled that you once could see a fresh customer on the lot about every 30 minutes. Nowadays, he said, you have to "maximize" every sales opportunity.
That means when there isn't a potential customer checking out cars on the lot, Park is working the phones or the Internet following up previous contacts. He said he also has to know precisely what the inventory is on the lot each and every day.
With a sharp snap of his fingers, he said he needs to be able to have an answer for any question on any Toyota car.
"I walk the lot, check inventory, I'm writing letters, calling people," he said. "I'm not just sitting around here."
On his daily plan, Park said he has a simple goal for how to succeed: "I need to sell a car."
Park said the dealership has scheduled several promotional events, and remains committed to helping local sports teams and nonprofit groups.
A belief in the brand
Not far away, at Lodi Honda, Jeff Wright recalled that several people asked him if he really wanted to join the industry, because of its current struggles.
So the Lodi resident decided to do some research, and he said he eventually decided that he wanted to sell Hondas because of the brand's customer loyalty.
"I'm very fortunate to be selling Hondas," he said.
The dealership has its busy days and its slow days. When it's slow, Wright said he makes sure the lot is clean, helps move cars around the lot and follows up with potential customers by making calls and sending e-mails.
He said the key to making a sale is honesty.
"Fake does not work," he said. "You have to be yourself and make customers comfortable."
GM recently announced that it has plans to sell 1,000 of its dealerships.
At Sanborn, sales manager Jack Stone said he's been in the industry for 30 years. He said he's never seen anything like the current market.
As Stone talks about the car business, another of Sanborn's salesman paces back and forth in the showroom, keeping an eye on the lot and looking for new customers. Another jokes with two men who have stopped by to chat.
"You don't really measure the strength of a dealership by the number of cars sold," Stone said. "You measure it by repeat business and the service department."
Sanborn has benefited, Stone said, from its strong relationships built on 30 years of doing business in Lodi, and also by the demise of other GM dealerships. After the Plummer Automall closed, many of that dealership's customers turned to Sanborn for service.
That gives Stone confidence that Sanborn won't be one of the GM dealerships to close. He also said he has confidence in the dealership's sales team.
"We're treating every customer like it's our last customer," he said.
Jeff DeVine, Sanborn's finance director, said the only downtime a salesman has is when he's off work.
He said there's always another customer to call and described the Internet as "today's phone book."
Sanborn also relies on training videos and online sales seminars to help their staff stay busy.
DeVine also said that sales come from not just closing a deal on the lot, but through customer service. He said that after someone bought a car there recently, the new owner suffered a flat tire. It being late in the day when he took the call, DeVine said he couldn't find someone in the service department, so he went out and changed the woman's tire himself, wearing his dress slacks.
"I hope to retire here," he said.