John the Used Car Salesman
By Swen Nater
I’ve lived in the Seattle area for almost nineteen years now. The first town was little Enumclaw, 30 milessouth east, at the base of monstrous Mt. Rainier (a 14,411 foot active and brewing Volcano, by the way). Enumclaw is so small, the “Welcome” and “Leaving” signs are back-to-back.
I was looking for a car that would fit me. I did fit in the one I had, but only because I took the front seat out. In town, there were only two dealers, GM and Ford. One Saturday, when it was not raining (I had to plan that), I stopped by the used car lot at Fugate Ford and was greeted by John, a middle-aged and average looking man. We shook hands and introduced ourselves. Immediately, I knew he was not like any car salesman I had ever met.
The first thing he didn’t ask me was if I was looking for a car. Instead, he respectfully said, “People ask you this all the time but you look familiar. Did you play basketball?” I told him I did. He invited me inside and for the next hour, we talked about everything except used cars, and I think I drank four cups of coffee syrup that, I’m sure, had been reducing in that glass pot since five that morning. In fact, I had to bring up the subject of the car. “I was wondering if you have a car that I might fit into.”
Almost surprised, John responded, “Oh yes. I might. Let’s go take a look.” We walked outside and he lazily led me through some of the isles and pointed out a few cars, but with very little enthusiasm at all. I was actually wondering if he was working hard not to sell me a car.
Finally, he said, “I tell you what. Why don’t I look around the area for a Bronco or something about that size? They don’t show up very often but I’ll keep my eye out. I’ll call you when I find something.” We shook hands and, strangely, I felt I had made a friend.
In the next couple of weeks, I learned I was right. I didn’t receive a call from him but I did see him in the grocery story, hardware store, cleaners, and at the Walk for Life fundraiser. Oh yes! We also met up at the Enumclaw fall parade which lasted from a half hour. The small town combined the Thanksgiving and Christmas parades. Both police cars were in the parade.
Where was I? Oh yes. Each time I saw John, he simply said, “Hello,” usually introduced me to someone, and didn’t say a word about the car. On one occasion, he invited me to his house for a barbecue. He didn’t mention the car at the BBQ either and it was starting to bug me, almost (I say “almost”) to the point I didn’t want to take a bite of that awesome smoked beef brisket sandwich until I found out whether he actually wanted to sell me a car.
One week later, John called me and said he had a Bronco, black, in great shape, with nice wheels, and even a car phone. Do you think I bought the car? You better believe I did and it was one of the most dependable vehicles I have ever owned. It was worth the wait, although I almost had another birthday.
If you are in sales, you’ve undoubtedly heard, “The first thing to do is build the relationship. Relationship comes before the sale.” But John didn’t believe that. He believed in building friendships, and perhaps once in a while, one of those friends might just buy a car.
I found out later, John was salesman of the year at Fugate Ford almost every year for decades. Why am I not surprised?