Automotive News 40 Under 40

Steve VanGorder

AGE: 38

POSITION: General manager, Jeff Schmitt Auto Group, Fairborn, Ohio

Steve VanGorder

Steve VanGorder has played a doctor, a waiter and a golfer on TV.

But his real job is running Jeff Schmitt Auto Group's seven dealerships.

VanGorder stars in the group's TV spots, where he plays various characters. He largely credits the spots for the group's growth from two stores to seven in less than eight years.

The spots started in 2005 and are "wildly popular" among Dayton, Ohio, residents, he says. They feature VanGorder in crazy scenarios belting out his well-known tag line: "Did you say something about buying a car?"

For example, two men are playing golf and one mentions buying a new car. VanGorder suddenly appears dressed in wild golf knickers and says, "Did you say something about buying a car?"

"The commercials portray a fun place to do business, and we don't take ourselves seriously," VanGorder says, "And I'm sort of a joke."

But VanGorder is no joke. At age 17, he started selling Fords to pay for classes at Park University in Mountain Home, Idaho, where his Air Force father was stationed.

"It was tough for me to sell cars. But I had a good mentor who told me to hang in there," VanGorder says.

His family moved to Dayton, and in January 1996 Jack Huelsman Nissan hired him. VanGorder never finished college, opting for a career with cars instead.

"In the course of paying for college I found my passion," VanGorder says.

Jeff Schmitt bought Jack Huelsman Nissan and Jack Huelsman Chevrolet in 2000. VanGorder's career took off. He held various jobs within the company before landing his current job in October 2010. He also has part ownership in two of the stores.

In 2012, the group sold 7,800 new and used vehicles and is on track to sell 10,000 this year, VanGorder says. He credits part of the success to recruiting and hiring talented people. VanGorder says he also developed a unique pay plan, which he declined to disclose. And, finally, he drives the finance and insurance department to produce an average per vehicle revenue of $1,600.

And then there are the commercials that are so well-liked that people call in suggesting new scenarios for him.

"It has become a little bit of a craze," VanGorder says. "I don't go anywhere anymore without people coming up to say, 'Hey, did you say something about buying a car?'"

-- Jamie LaReau