Alix Jones, 36
Commercial van manager, Mercedes-Benz of Brooklyn
The drawbacks of selling commercial vans are straightforward. They consume more space than a car. They don't make a high margin. They typically require a dedicated person to do it right. Their customers require more care than an average car buyer.
But the benefits? They involve helping small businesses and entrepreneurs hit the road. Or helping campers craft the vehicular portion of their #vanlife dreams. All while establishing a prominent niche.
"My first customer wanted to build a camper and my second guy ran a mobile dog-grooming unit," Alix Jones says. "I was like, 'Wow, this is so cool.' You're making something with them and bringing it into the world."
Vans have been her primary interest for the past eight years, and over the last three at various dealerships, they've been her sole focus. She has established herself as a go-to resource for companies searching for vans throughout the East Coast at a time when delivery services are clamoring for them and van enthusiasts are customizing them for life on the road.
Jones' results are clear. Before starting her current job last June, Mercedes-Benz of Brooklyn had sold four vans year to date. In the second half of the year, the dealership sold 159. So far in 2021, she has sold 120 at the dealership.
At her previous dealership, Silver Star Motors in Long Island City, N.Y., Jones engineered a similar turnaround, bringing the dealership from 90 van sales one year to more than 400 the next, thanks to a variety of fleet clients she delivered. While working at a Seattle-area Subaru dealership prior to a cross-country move in 2012, she was a top 10 salesperson her second year on the job.
"With the dealers around the country, there's probably not a dealer who's not annoyed with me and my persistence to get a van for a customer," she said. "I'll get one from Puerto Rico or Hawaii or anywhere, if I can find a van for a customer. I've had several of them tell me, 'If I was going to buy a van, I'd buy it from you because you're really annoying and persistent.' And I'm like, 'Yes!' "
Vans have always been foremost in her mind. Her father worked in car parts and services, which helped spark an automotive interest. Early on, she dreamed of buying a '68 split-window Volkswagen Microbus, something Jones still talks about with affection on her "Van Bae" YouTube channel, on which she offers van-buying and maintenance advice.
Jones keeps her work confined to the 9-to-6 hours. When she's not working or making videos, she spends time with her wife, Kelly, a personal chef, and their two young sons who love to ski in the Poconos. It's her favorite respite from work, but she is always eager to return.
After graduating from the University of Washington, she considered law school and a career in law enforcement, but her heart was in cars.
"My mom was just like, 'Get a degree, and then you can do whatever you want to do,' " Jones said. "I jumped right into the car business. I just thought it was a really cool place to be."
— Pete Bigelow