Article

Life Among the Elite

Oscar Rodriguez didn’t come to the car business by design, but his desire, hard work and dedication led to Chrysler Elite status and Sales Pro of the Year honors.

March 2016, Auto Dealer Today - Cover Story

by Toni McQuilken

Oscar Rodriguez averages 48 units per month as a sales professional and Chrysler Elite honoree at All American Chrysler Jeep Dodge in San Angelo, Texas. 
Oscar Rodriguez averages 48 units per month as a sales professional and Chrysler Elite honoree at All American Chrysler Jeep Dodge in San Angelo, Texas. 

Last March, our Sales Pro of the Month was Oscar Rodriguez, a talented and driven sales professional at All American Chrysler Jeep Dodge in San Angelo, Texas, a Lithia Motors store. On top of earning national recognition from his OEM, he is also ADT’s 2016 Sales Pro of the Year. 

When last we spoke with Rodriguez, he was averaging around 40 cars sold per month. By year’s end, he was up to 48. That’s 576 cars sold in a single year. And those numbers aren’t just good for his dealership or even his region. Rodriguez has officially entered the sales pro stratosphere.

“He’s in the top 1% of Chrysler salespeople,” says Paul Hatcher, a multistore general manager for Lithia Motors. “It’s called the Chrysler Elite. At Lithia, he’ll be in the top three for the entire company. Just a dominant performance, again. And he’s been at the top for eight years. He hasn’t had a down year the entire time.”

Despite his success, Rodriguez, 33, remains humble and determined to remain at the top of his profession for the long haul. When Chrysler flew him to Auburn Hills, Mich., to meet his fellow Elites, visit corporate headquarters and take a factory tour, he noticed that most of the rest of the group were older gentlemen and ladies in their 50s. But that wasn’t all they had in common.

“They all had a certain confidence, like they felt they could overcome anything,” he recalls. “But some of those guys, if you saw him in the street, you would never guess he was a top salesman. Then again, they probably thought the same of me.”

Discipline Is Key

One of the keys to Rodriguez’s success is self-discipline. He puts in long days — often as long as 12 hours — but he doesn’t let the work consume him. In fact, he takes the time to go to the gym five days a week.

“I used to work out before work, but I’m not a morning person. I tried to work out at lunch, but every time I did that, someone needed me. Now I do it after work. I come in at 10:30 or 11:00 and stay until 7:00 or 7:30, then go to the gym for a couple hours. I carry my little lunch pail so I don’t need to be ordering pizza and burgers. I do see a lot of salespeople put on weight. It happened to me when I first started.”

He is so dedicated to keeping himself in top shape that he and his wife, Jessica, hired a service to prepare all their healthful meals for the week. That frees up Oscar and Jessica, a full-time nurse, to spend more family time with young daughters Brooklynn, Macie and Ellie Jade, despite demanding work schedules.

General Sales Manager Glenn Burkhart says that kind of dedication to creating a routine and sticking with it is evident in Rodriguez’s daily life at the dealership as well. “He’s just like a pit bull. He never stops. From the time he gets here to the time he leaves, he’s talking to a customer or trying to find a customer. I mean, he never stops. He doesn’t hang out at the door. If he doesn’t sell a car every day, he’s not happy. And of course, typically, he sells more than one car in a day.”

When asked if Rodriguez’s production has inspired the rest of the sales team, Hatcher answers, “I think everyone really just stands in awe. And not only does he sell more cars, but his CSI scores are the highest in the dealership. He sets the example for how you can sell a lot of cars and get a lot of volume but, at the same time, keep your customers coming back.”

The CSI scores just serve to highlight what the job really means to Rodriguez. All the hard work and discipline comes down to making his customers happy and connecting with them on a personal level. He doesn’t just want to sell a car; he wants to build a relationship fostered on mutual trust that will lead to referrals and repeat sales for years down the road. His database, he says, is steadily growing.

“You could interview my customers. I’m not the type who’s calling them, hounding them,” he says. “I don’t use any of the pressure tactics. Because they’ll buy the car and, two days later, back out because they really weren’t ready. I sit at my desk, get phone calls, text messages, Facebook leads. If they’re calling me, they’re ready. I do a lot of my deals over the phone, which a lot of people really like. I deliver all over the place.”

“He’s so levelheaded. And he has such a great presence about himself. What really sets him apart is his quiet confidence. And his customers feel that. They feed off his confidence. They really like working with him,” Hatcher says. “I will say that, in this business that we’re in, so many people do it the wrong way. He does it the right way. He always puts the customer first.”

It isn’t just the customers or management who are noticing either. Burkhart notes that his guys probably hear “Why can’t you work half as hard as Oscar does?” or “Why can’t you do it like Oscar does?” more than they would really like. But as he points out, when they pay attention, they see that doing it his way is the path to more sales and a higher income.

After eight years on the job, Rodriguez has built a database of repeat and referral customers. 
After eight years on the job, Rodriguez has built a database of repeat and referral customers. 

A Different Path

Rodriguez wasn’t always a car guy. In fact, he came to Lithia Motors after several years working as a corrections officer with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. He enjoyed the work, but it required long shifts and a long commute. In 2007, when Jessica was in nursing school and Oscar had left the TDCJ, she spotted an ad in a newspaper boasting $2,500/month in guaranteed pay. He agreed to go for it, but he had his doubts.

“I wasn’t confident at all,” Rodriguez says, noting that his new career almost ended before it could begin. “I showed up at the wrong place. I went to the Dodge store and said, ‘I’m here for the interview.’ They said, ‘No, you have to go to the Chevy store.’ And I was probably 20 minutes late.”

But he hit it off with the hiring manager, Shane Pettite, and soon got a call asking him when he could start. Still plagued by doubt, he showed up for work the day after Christmas. He quickly learned that, despite his inexperience, he brought at least one asset to the sales floor: Spanish-language skills. “There were 20 salesmen at the Dodge store and 20 more next door at Honda, and only a couple Spanish speakers. From the get-go, when they would get someone speaking Spanish, they would call me up. Just from the very start, it was get on or get off.”

Rodriguez quickly exceeded all sales goals and expectations, moving 21 units in his first full month and steadily increasing his production thereafter. Asked to recall his first impression of the new hire, Burkhart doesn’t hesitate.

“‘Good kid.’ That was my first impression. And then, of course, when I worked with him, his work ethic stood out for itself. I don’t think anybody in the car business expects, when somebody starts, that they’ll be as productive as Oscar has been. Did we think he would be good? Yes. But to be what he’s become? Absolutely not.”

So what’s next for Rodriguez? Hatcher notes that, if he ever wanted to, a management position would be his for the taking. But he doesn’t see that happening anytime soon. “Management would be a great fit for him if he wanted to do that. But he loves working with customers. He wouldn’t be out there having those relationships and I think that would be detrimental, in his mind. But he could certainly be a manager if that’s what he chose to do.”

Rodriguez agrees. “At this point in my career, I see myself just selling cars,” he says. “I enjoy what I’m doing. I enjoy helping the people who want to be helped and making them feel like winners. I don’t see myself promoting because it’s actually a pay cut.

“I’m enjoying my flexibility. I take three or four vacations a year. I come in when I want and work my own schedule. The managers really stress a lot. They have to worry about numbers and gross. I just have to worry about my sales.”

Toni McQuilken is a freelance writer with expertise in auto retail, F&I and agency operations. [email protected]

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