"No" is a powerful word. Ask Duane Sparks, owner of Sparks Auto Plaza in Lewistown, Mont.
Years ago when he was trained as a car salesman, Sparks, now 62, said no to the high-pressure sales tactics that prevailed at the time. And it won him customers.
He said no again when other dealers wanted to ask the Montana Legislature to lower the state's minimum wage. That earned loyalty from his employees.
He also said no last year when General Motors Co. asked him to sign a wind-down agreement to terminate his Cadillac and GMC franchises after the automaker emerged from bankruptcy.
That made him a local hero.
"My son, Ryan, and I could have taken the easy way. We could have lived off my car-rental business," Sparks said. "But I would have had to lay off my employees. There aren't that many jobs around here, and they have house payments and car payments. The trickle-down effect can be devastating to the community."
When Sparks refused the wind-down contract, GM abruptly yanked his franchises. The store, which had posted annual revenues of about $10 million, lost about $4.75 million in new- and used-vehicle, parts and service revenue. Sparks' legal fees stayed under $10,000 because he used the services of a local lawyer who's a friend and got help from the Montana Automobile Dealers Association.
But Sparks' tenacity ultimately paid off. More than 1,100 of his customers sent letters and e-mails on his behalf to Congress supporting last year's federal legislation permitting rejected dealers to arbitrate their termination cases with the factory. Sparks avoided arbitration by entering a settlement with GM in July that reinstated his franchises.
"We had a date scheduled for arbitration, but a GM representative visited us and had a look around the store," Sparks said. "He told us we wouldn't have to go to arbitration. We could have our franchises back."