I have to admit I’m a little nervous. It’s my first day on the sales floor at OpenRoad Toyota in the Richmond Auto Mall and I keep thinking of Jimmy Pattison, who used to keep the sales kernels popping in his car-dealership frying pan by firing the bottom sales person at the end of each month. I’m relieved to find the mood disarmingly relaxed.
Sales manager Chris Mah greets me warmly and the members of his assembled sales team smile and nod. They have reason to be happy. OpenRoad in Richmond is one of the three busiest Toyota dealers in the country, on track to sell as many as 3,300 vehicles in 2006.
On a Saturday afternoon the place is as crowded as the PNE on opening day, so there are more than enough paying customers to keep everyone happy. It’s easy to see why top sales people are pulling in over $100K a year. The first thing I try to do is look busy. This turns out to be a good idea because a few minutes after opening, OpenRoad’s 36-year-old president Christian Chia comes bounding down the stairs. He’s in a hurry, but he stops long enough to shake my hand before flying out the door to attend a New Car Dealers Association of B.C. meeting. He’s part of a movement to shake off the stigma of untrustworthiness attached to the car business, he tells me, and the NCDABC is the vehicle he’s using to drive his ideas to market. Chia has a reputation for giving a lot of respect to his workforce of almost 400, and he gets plenty of it in return, which goes a long way toward explaining why OpenRoad has expanded in 10 years from one car dealership to eight. Last year, it ranked number 78 on BCBusiness’s list of top 100 companies, with 2005 revenues of $244 million. In total, the company will move some 7,000 units this year. It’s a good thing the company is expanding, because that seems to be the only way anyone stands a chance of getting a job, says HR manager Raquel de Munain. Nobody wants to leave. One guy who says he’s in it for the long haul is Shawn Hashimoto-Stone, a four-year sales veteran whom I assist in delivering a new Corolla to a middle-aged gentleman in a tweed jacket. “That’s the second car I’ve sold him,” Shawn says to me over his shoulder as he waves the man off the lot. “What’s so great about this place?” I ask him in a cynical, conspiratorial tone. I’m hoping it will encourage him to tell me something he doesn’t like about his job, but no sale. “I don’t care if I work here forever,” he cheerfully tells me, adding that the company’s policy of hiring from within means he has a good shot at management. While he’s distracted by another customer I sneak off to the service area, where I find Brian Voth, 33, who started with OpenRoad 11 years ago as a lot boy, and is now assistant service manager. He takes me into the shop to meet the mechanics, including Gord, another guy who started on the lot, 21 years ago. “I plan to spend my entire working career here,” avows Gord. By quitting time I haven’t managed to sell so much as a hubcap, but no matter. My worst fears of being sacked have been assuaged, and I’m positively beaming as I head out the door. See also: Best companies to work for in B.C.