Photo: Peter Duffy
Around his dealership, Howard Schwartz is considered a doctor, of sorts. OK, he’s technically not a qualified medical professional, but his colleagues at DCH Audi Oxnard (Calif.) refer to him as “Doc” since he’s been in the automotive industry for so long. Schwartz, 65, started out in his father Sam’s dealership, Wagon City in Inglewood, Calif., when he was just eight years old. He helped clean cars after school and when salespeople got too busy, he would step in.
After eventually working full-time on the retail side, he became self-employed and worked in wholesale and auctions for a number of years. He learned a lot from his father in those early days, he says, and now he’s passing that knowledge down to his Millennial-heavy sales team.
“I’ve been at this so long, it’s hard to believe I’m the oldest now, but I am,” Schwartz says.
Schwartz was hired in 2013 by Steve Handler, Audi Oxnard’s general manager, but the two have been friends since their fathers owned dealerships in the 1950s. When Handler was tasked with building a new sales team, he wanted a young crew with little to no sales experience. But he also wanted someone to show them the ropes.
“Howard is one of a kind,” Handler says. “Our entire staff is new to two years in. Green peas, except Howard. He’s been selling cars for 100 years,” he jokes.
Schwartz sells about a fifth of the 100 new and used vehicles the dealership rolls every month. Although he says he has “played every position in the business,” but, in terms of prospecting, he says he’s still learning. “A lot of people might think I’m at the back end of my career, but I view it like I’m at the front end,” he says.
“When you sell cars, you’ve got to wear it on your sleeve.” So anytime he attends an event or goes anywhere in the Ventura-Oxnard area, he hands out business cards. And not just any business cards: they have a picture of him wearing a stethoscope and he tells people he has a PhD in “automobilology.”
“It gets a smile and gets people laughing,” he says. “You’ve got to be sincere with people. Customers like people they can relate to.”
One way he makes himself relatable is to talk about family. In a largely Latino community, Schwartz often finds himself showing pictures of his kids and wife of 37 years, Raquel, who is from Mexico City (where the couple was married). And although he isn’t fluent in Spanish, he is conversational.
“I have a fondness for the culture. I show pictures of my family dressed in the regalia of that country, and it speaks to them and touches them,” he says.
Schwartz spends his days not only connecting with customers, but also with his colleagues. He says he has a lot of respect for his managers and wants his younger colleagues to succeed.
“I’m leading by example. They’ll watch me and listen and ask questions,” he says. He wants to instill important principles in them: Pay attention to the whole family. Learn how to be successful on social media. Build a following so you can get referrals. Have empathy. Never be argumentative.
“It’s not formal and it’s not my job, just sort of an unwritten thing,” he says, adding that the education goes both ways. “These young guys will always help me with the technology. Today’s cars are essentially computers on wheels.”