December 2013, Auto Dealer Today - WebXclusive
Chris Ashley of Lithia Toyota of Abilene (Texas) will take you from the beginning to the end of your car-buying experience. He’s a 14-year industry veteran who has tried just about every position his dealers have offered, including finance manager. Today, he is a hybrid sales and F&I professional who averages 17 to 18 units per month for a dealership that averages about 225 total.
“I do the selling of the car, the signing-up of the car and the financing of the car. Some days, I feel like I even do the washing of the car,” Ashley jokes.
Abilene is a city of about 117,000 residents, many of whom live and work at Dyess Air Force Base. Ashley was working at a Dillard’s department store when a customer suggested he might make a good car salesman. Lithia Toyota’s clientele includes people from a number of different backgrounds, which gives Ashley a chance to perfect his customer-service skills. He says the face time he gets with his clients is the part of the job he loves most.
Ashley typically works 10 hours a day, six days a week, but he’ll always stick around for latecomers. “If someone is raising their hand to buy a car, you’re never going to tell them to come back later,” he says. His dedication to his clients has helped Ashley earn multiple storewide “salesperson of the month” honors and last year’s “salesperson of the year” award. He also has a perfect score of 5.0 on DealerRater based on 42 reviews.
Part of Ashley’s appeal to clients could be his quirky charm. He tells a caller to “hang on two shakes of a lamb’s tail” and his GM reports that his office walls are decorated with comic book drawings and pictures of Elvis. He settled on his hybrid position after trying his hand at assistant sales manager, sales manager and finance manager.
He recognizes that he is in a unique situation, but he wants to keep doing both jobs. “The fact that I don’t need to hand off a customer to someone else means I have my hands in it through the whole process. I get to be in control of it, which, of course, is good and bad,” he says.
His success also has earned Ashley the right to make his own schedule — though he often comes in on his days off. “I’m very grateful that the management staff has instilled a level of trust to do what is right, not only with the dealership, but with the customer as well.”
In the little time Ashley does take off, he can usually be found training for a 10-mile run, a challenge he began when Lithia’s employees undertook a campaign to improve their health.
Ashley says his secret to success isn’t complicated: repeat customers, service department referrals and good, old-fashioned conversation. He tries to learn about his customers, including where they’re from — he particularly enjoys meeting people from places he’ll probably never visit. “Heck, even if they don’t end up buying a car, talking to people, for me, is more fascinating than the Discovery Channel,” he says.
Ashley often comments on how lucky he is to have found a job that he enjoys, is good at and where his talent has been recognized. He believes that, in an industry like automotive retail, you get back what you put into it. “It’s a shame that our society doesn’t emphasize more that if you work harder then you get rewarded, but I certainly do,” he says. “The grass is never going to be greener than the patch that I’m sitting on right now, and I’m truly blessed.”