Originally created 09/30/97

Salesman breaks stereotypes, treats customers right



When Larry Stevens walks onto the lot of Acura-Kia of Augusta to assist a potential customer, it's like walking onto a stage.

"I have to be ready to perform," said the 34-year-old sales representative. "No matter what's going on in my personal life, I have to leave that at home and focus on the reason I came to work. If I do them right the first time, they'll be repeat customers."

Mr. Stevens has been selling cars for four years. His work philosophy is that there is more to the job than just trying to put someone behind a set of wheels and earning a profit.

"People stereotype car salesmen," he said. "But I try to build a rapport and let them know about me and make them feel comfortable and (treat them) the way I would want to be treated, or the way I'd treat my mother if she came on the lot."

Mr. Stevens, who has a criminal justice degree from Morris Brown College, said being a car salesman presents a new challenge daily, which is what keeps him interested.

"I got into this on a whim," he said. "Someone told me I'd do well based on my personality and people skills. So I've been in the business ever since."

There's more to the job than greeting customers and selling them cars. As an Alternative Financing Specialist, he usually puts on the hats of financial adviser, credit counselor, mechanic and friend.

Many times a customer will want to purchase a vehicle that's out of their budget. Mr. Stevens said it's his job to find other options that will please the customer.

"I attribute my success to being up front with the customer," he said. "I don't want to be stereotyped as the typical car salesman." After he sells a car, he said the relationship doesn't end.

"I've got to take care of the customer after the sell," he said. "I talk with them and make sure everything is going fine. I got a lot of former customers who are my friends."

To become a salesman, Mr. Stevens had to be certified, which included a series of training courses about the mechanics and history of the cars.

He also has to know about the competition so that he can tell the customer why they should buy an Acura over another type of car.

"People aren't stupid, they've done their homework," he said. "I need to know what Volvo has to offer them. I have to show them the advantages of buying an Acura."

He also advises customers with credit problems on actions they can take to improve their credit so they can eventually get the car they want.

Mr. Stevens said his day usually starts with a sales meeting and he usually works by appointment to guarantee each customer gets an adequate amount of attention. He must also ensure that the 10 cars he's assigned to are clean and in perfect working condition.

In his worst month, he sold 12 cars and in his best month, he sold 21. Mr. Stevens said he has won salesman of the month several times and is striving for salesman of the year.