Photo: John Holstein
Ed Price’s first vehicle sales job was with Turnpike Ford in West Virginia in 1980 — the worst year for domestic car sales since 1961. His position lasted only six months, because, as he puts it, he “couldn’t have gotten into the car business at a worse time.” Price and several coworkers were laid off when the owner told everyone who had been an employee for five years or less that they wouldn’t be staying.
So Price joined the Marines and served for six years. Despite his rough introduction to the automotive business years earlier, upon his discharge, he decided to give sales another shot.
Aside from Turnpike Ford, Price’s only other sales experience was selling books door-to-door for Southwestern Co. in Nashville during his summers off from West Virginia University. Even then, he says, he had an inkling he might one day wind up in car sales, but he also considered real estate. He had earned his real estate license while in the Marine Corps, but he opted for auto sales when he learned he’d get paid sooner.
“They told me I could work in real estate, but it might be three months before I made any money. The dealership told me I’d get paid by the end of the month, so I went with that,” Price recalls.
He worked for Capital Ford of Raleigh (N.C.) for about seven years before moving to his current store, Stephens Auto Center in Danville, W.Va. Price, 62, has been with the dealership, which sells Ford, Dodge, Jeep and Chrysler brands, for more than 25 years, and he’ll retire this May. He averages about 12 new and used vehicles per month and is part of a team of six salespeople who roll out a monthly total of about 80.
He does a lot of business through repeats and referrals in Danville. His previous dealership in Raleigh averaged about 500 units per month, but he didn’t see any difference in his paycheck after switching jobs. He says that, because the sales team had grown from about 10 employees to 50 in the time he was there, he had to deal with a lot of competition for leads.
His current general manager, Richard Stephens, says that while Ed may not be the top salesperson every month, he appreciates him for his steadfast devotion to the auto industry and his customers.
“Ed is very steady and has had many, many loyal customers,” says Stephens, who also serves as vice president of the dealership. “Ed is also the type of employee who would do anything that my sales managers or myself would ask of him, without questions or complaints.”
Stephens adds, “We will miss him sorely when he retires.”
Looking back, Price is glad he made the decision to return to his and his wife’s hometown of Danville 26 years ago. He says he’s been able to connect with customers unlike he could in a bigger city like Raleigh, and the couple wanted to raise their two children in a tight-knit community. He spends so much time getting to know his customers, in fact, that he has discovered one to be a distant relative — on more than one occasion.
Another perk to working in Danville, he explains, is that most residents have already paid off their mortgages or are completely debt-free, which makes it easier to sell vehicles.
“It’s not like that in most parts of the country,” Price says. “When they don’t have a mortgage, they can afford a car.” So it just comes down to finding the right vehicle, in most cases. “When there are 400 cars on the lot, I’m usually able to find them something they really like.”
As to whether he’s glad he chose automotive over real estate all those years ago, he says, “Yes. I have absolutely loved it.”