Automotive News 40 Under 40

Chaz Gilmore

AGE: 33

POSITION: General manager, Grapevine Ford, Grapevine, Texas

Chaz Gilmore

Chaz Gilmore got his first car industry job at age 17: washing cars at a used-car store in Dallas. He was lousy at it.

"When we'd get real busy, I'd put down my sponge and sell cars," he recalls. He was much better at that, selling 13 cars his first month and 32 the second. Gilmore retired the sponge for good and went off to the University of Texas to study economics. But selling cars was in his blood. He dropped out of school and went to work as a finance manager for Toyota of Richardson, a Van Tuyl Group store in suburban Dallas.

Gilmore rose quickly at Van Tuyl, the nation's fifth-largest dealership group in 2012. Gilmore was eager to run his own store. He badly wanted it to be a Toyota store. So when CEO Larry Van Tuyl asked him to look at Grapevine Ford, a store the Van Tuyl Group bought from AutoNation in 2009, he was disappointed. After all, Detroit's three automakers were struggling for survival, and their future was uncertain.

Once Gilmore saw Grapevine Ford, his opinion changed: "I was amazed at how big and nice it was." He started studying Ford and the story of CEO Alan Mulally's transformation of the company.

"In June of 2009, I took the plunge," he says. Since Gilmore accepted the job, sales have tripled at Grapevine Ford. The store sold 3,087 new and 2,037 used vehicles in 2012.

"I think the biggest catalyst for us has been this digital piece," he says. Grapevine Ford has been the Van Tuyl Group's top Internet dealer the past three years and now has 16 full-time Internet-only salespeople and a sales director.

"We sell 400 cars a month out of our Internet department. We were religious about creating daily work plans for our salespeople, which would keep us in front of our customers for 180 days after the time they submitted the lead or called in," he says. "I can track 70 percent of our store's car sales to an Internet lead or phone call."

Overall, Grapevine Ford has grown to 183 employees, from 45 when the Van Tuyl Group bought it.

"We work really hard at building a culture. Our staff is really proud to be part of our family," says Gilmore. "I started out washing cars, so I never underestimate the potential of any of the staff regardless of their current position."

-- Bradford Wernle