Tom Fohr, 29
General manager, Kunes Country Ford
Achievement: In first year as general manager, increased dealership's profits to a 10-year high and sales to a 20-year high
Profits at Kunes Country Ford jumped 66 percent in 2015 -- growth made more impressive by the fact that they were flat two-thirds of the way through the year. That's when Tom Fohr, then a 28-year-old who had quit high school after 10th grade, became general manager.
Fohr says the dealership in Delavan, Wis., is doing even better this year, while spending less on advertising.
"I try to figure out where we're missing deals and maximize the traffic," Fohr said. "Where are the customers who slipped through the cracks? Every dealership has the traffic. You've just got to work a little harder on every single customer and be aware of every single customer."
As a result, the percentage of inbound calls that lead to a scheduled appointment has doubled. Fohr meets with the sales staff every morning to ensure everyone knows what each other is doing and how the dealership is performing.
"We talk more about the store overall than individual salespeople," Fohr said. "Now they're less worried about what their own numbers are and more about what the store's doing as a whole."
Fohr said 2015 was his dealership's best sales year in more than two decades. In a town of just 8,500 people, it now sells 150 vehicles a month and is on pace for $2 million in profits this year, more than double the $900,000 it earned in 2014.
"It's a small market, but we've kind of made ourselves a destination," Fohr said.
Fohr jumped at the opportunity to run the dealership, which is just four blocks from the home where he grew up -- and not far from the high school where he dropped out two years early, against the advice of his guidance counselor. Fohr, who bet the counselor that he would be the highest earner in his class four years after he was scheduled to graduate, finished his schooling at home before answering a help-wanted ad from a local General Motors dealership.
Three years later, at age 21, Fohr was promoted into management. He's been with Kunes Country, which has 12 dealerships in the area, since 2009.
"The majority of my salespeople were 40-plus years old," he said. "It was challenging to be able to show these guys that I was their leader. I had to prove it to guys who've got kids older than me that I can do it."