Ryan Crooks, 33
Director of commercial vehicles, Swickard Auto Group
The business of auto retail is like a chess game, says Ryan Crooks.
“I enjoy the constant problem-solving and the psychology that goes into strategic planning,” Crooks said.
Crooks has leveraged that interest to catapult from industry outsider to becoming the youngest member of the management team at Swickard Auto Group. The suburban Portland, Ore., retailer represents 12 brands, including Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Volvo and Porsche.
Crooks was general manager of the group’s Seattle Volvo store, which he steered to become No. 1 in new-car sales in Volvo’s Northwest region at the end of 2018.
Last year, Crooks was promoted to oversee commercial vehicle sales for the group. Under his watch, the Mercedes-Benz store in Seattle finished fifth in the nation in commercial van sales, and the one in Wilsonville, Ore., finished sixth. Crooks says that was achieved through careful market assessment as well as thorough recruitment, training and sales processes.
Keeping up the sales momentum is more challenging now as the COVID-19 pandemic interferes with vehicle demand. The last few months have been “pretty crushing,” Crooks said.
“We had to lay off or furlough a significant amount of people,” he said. “Sales volume got cut by 40 percent to 50 percent, which was devastating.”
To conserve cash, Swickard Auto halted travel and noncritical spending.
“We put in tighter controls to ensure that if money needed to go anywhere, it was being put toward helping employees going through hardship,” Crooks said.
Before selling luxury cars, Crooks sold consumer devices. During a 12-month stint at a Portland Apple Store, he sold more than $1.3 million worth of Macs, iPads and iPhones.
Apple encourages creativity and honest feedback — skills, Crooks said, that have served him well in auto retailing.
“What I liked about Apple was that it was structured. It was all about culture,” he said.
But Crooks was soon ready for a more lucrative career. He found it in the auto industry in 2009, landing a sales job at Sunset Porsche-Audi in Beaverton, Ore.
Initially, Crooks was skeptical about the dealership business.
“To have a degree at a private college, and then jump into the car industry, where you don’t necessarily need one to be successful, I had reservations,” he said.
Crooks said he’s grateful Sunset took a chance on an outsider. But he thinks dealerships need to do more to lure talent from beyond the industry.
“I struggle with getting people from the outside who are willing to look at selling cars as a career,” Crooks said. “The stigma is still there.”
— Urvaksh Karkaria