Automotive News 40 Under 40

Evelyn Sames

AGE: 32

POSITION: Owner, Sames Kia; General manager, Sames Motor Co., Laredo, Texas

 
Evelyn Sames

As a freshly minted Texas Christian University graduate, Evelyn Sames was determined to chart her own path outside her family's century-old automobile retail business.

"After many summer jobs at the dealership and moving away for college, I said I'll never move home and I'll never work in the car business," Sames says.

Ten years later, not only is Sames in the car business; she is putting her own stamp on Sames Auto Group's six new-car dealerships, most of which are in the Texas border town of Laredo.

Having overhauled Sames' underperforming Honda store and opened a Kia dealership in less than three years, Sames now oversees the group's flagship Ford dealership as general manager and the fifth generation of Sameses in the family business started by W.J. Sames in Laredo in 1910.

Her conversion began a decade ago, when she took a part-time position in the group's marketing department after becoming disenchanted with her first job as a buyer's assistant for a retailer. Three months in, she was hooked -- working 60-hour weeks "and not even realizing it."

After creating and running an ad agency to handle all the Sames group's accounts over the next five years, Sames got more involved in operations. By 2010, after her graduation from the NADA Dealer Academy, Sames was tapped by her father to be general manager of the group's then-unprofitable Honda dealership, which had failed to gain traction in Texas truck country.

Sames says she arrived at the Honda store to find an unfocused sales operation staffed by employees pining to jump to the Ford showroom, with no lease business to speak of and little activity in the service bay.

During her tenure, average monthly sales doubled to about 50 new vehicles. Sales have continued to grow, hitting a record 104 units in May, Sames says, and the store is now profitable.

A big part of that growth was a focus on leasing, which now accounts for about two-thirds of the Honda store's new-vehicle sales.

The turnaround also was built on hiring a new staff, expanding inventory to support a faster sales pace and emphasizing sales in the service drive.

"The big thing was training to sell," Sames says. "When I got there, they were taking orders for oil changes instead of performing multipoint inspections, walking the customer around the car, going over results and upselling from there. That was the main focus in service."

Sames' next coup came in May 2012 when she opened Sames Kia, overseeing every aspect of its launch, including the construction of the store. Sames' father, Hank, lent his daughter the money to open the store, but she's the owner and is working to pay him back.

The dealership sells an average of about 50 new Kias a month, roughly 35 percent above the store's objective, and earned a profit for eight of its first 12 months in business, despite having a scant 300 Kias on the road in the local market to support the service and parts departments.

Now that she's at the Ford store, Sames has her hand-picked general managers running her Kia dealership and the Honda store.

Sames also has installed compensation, training and other employee-focused best practices across the group's stores. Before, each Sames dealership had its own compensation system. Now, all salespeople operate on the same tiered scale. Depending on their volume, they can earn as much as 28 percent of the gross profit from each vehicle they sell.

Other benefits kick in at each compensation tier, such as cash bonuses of up to $5,000, or a week's paid vacation if a salesperson sells 25 or more cars a month for nine months in a year. For further motivation, big closers are exempted from having to blow up hundreds of balloons that get tied to cars during weekend sales events, Sames says.

She says her father was apprehensive about the compensation system, as most salespeople in their market earn about 23 percent of a vehicle's gross profit on average.

"It's a pretty aggressive pay plan," she acknowledges. "But the only way to get the best of the best and have a great sales team is to compensate them for what they do."

-- Ryan Beene