Auto retailing thrives on new. New vehicles. New marketing methods and advertising campaigns. And new blood. Meet the men and women who make up the fourth annual Automotive News listing of 40 Under 40 Retail: 40 up-and-comers who already are making their mark in dealerships. These individuals are applying the lessons of the past with the techniques of today to carry vehicle retailing into the future. And they're delivering astounding results.
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|POSITION:||General manager, O'Brien Mitsubishi, Normal, Ill.|
Ryan Gremore owes everything to the Mitsubishi Galant GTZ.
It was 1998, and Gremore, then 18, was working at a Mitsubishi dealership to earn money before college. He was more interested in playing baseball and chasing girls until the GTZ, with its potent V-6 engine and rear wing, caught his eye.
"It was crazy hot," Gremore recalled.
When Mitsubishi held a regional contest for salespeople to give a walk-around for the GTZ, Gremore won. He remembers getting a bearhug from his general sales manager and feeling motivated to work harder than ever.
"That was the moment when I finally felt there was something I could be the best at," Gremore said.
Within months, Gremore was the No. 1 salesman. Having made $60,000 in his first year on the job, he decided to forgo college. By 21, he was general manager of the store in Urbana, Ill., part of the O'Brien Automotive Team group, which has 15 franchises at six locations in Florida, Georgia, Illinois and Kentucky.
Then, in 2004, dealer principal Joe O'Brien asked the 24-year-old Gremore to take over a struggling Mitsubishi store in Normal, Ill., offering to make him a partner if he turned things around.
There, Gremore stressed fundamentals such as keeping the dealership clean, dressing well and being courteous to customers. He led by example, getting involved in sales early to teach salespeople his approach.
"It's hard to ask someone to do something you're not willing to do first," Gremore said. "I don't just sit in an eagle's nest and point my finger."
Employees were skeptical about working for a 24-year-old boss, but after a year, monthly sales had doubled. A decade later, at age 34, O'Brien became the youngest ever Mitsubishi dealer council chairman. Last year, O'Brien Mitsubishi ranked fifth among U.S. dealerships in Mitsubishi sales, and No. 1 among stores in smaller markets, Mitsubishi said.
After 11 years at the Normal store, Gremore still insists on knowing the details of Mitsubishi's products as well as his employees do. Quizzed on the base price of Mitsubishi's Mirage hatchback, Gremore leveled a guess: $13,745 with shipping. The correct answer was $13,805. Gremore shrugged it off with characteristic humility.
"I'll go study and I'll get better," he said. "The training never ends."