I grew up in the Bronx, in a lower middle-class family with nine siblings. My dad worked for the city of New York, a very blue-collar job but ultimately became an engineer. We weren't poor, but we didn't really have much. Through high school and college, I worked in the city schools of New York, shoveling coal to heat the schools, stripping floors, and cleaning bathrooms.
I saw an ad in the paper that said, if you sell X number of cars, we'll give you a demo. I didn't have a car at the time, so I took it. I realized that while I might not know as much as the people around me that had been there for a long time, I would work harder. I hadn't learned how to work smart yet, but I had learned how to work hard. I realized I could gain experience and knowledge, and I could bring initiative and drive that most people didn't have.
"I learned to wear a suit and enjoyed dressing up for work."
I started excelling, making money and moved into finance. Within five years, I became a General Sales Manager and later a General Manager for seven or eight years.
I went to work for Roger Penske and was part of the first automotive company to go public. At that time, there were no consolidators or public companies in the industry – it was all family-run type businesses. When the public sector got involved, the automotive industry and the public environment didn't understand each other. The group I got involved withbought 14 stores in the New Jersey / New York area as their first holdings.
Some stores weren't performing well, while others were. Within two years, they realized that the public environment would invest money if they saw growth. Interestingly, a store losing a million or two a year and which then broke even the following year would create enthusiasm in the investment community. It was better to turn around stores that were losing money than to have a store that made a steady profit with no growth potential. I was asked to take a group of three stores that were losing a million a year combined and turn them around. I had nothing to lose at the time; failure was just another learning experience for me.
We made $5,000 in a quarter and raised the earnings per share by 40 or 50 cents for all the outstanding shares, turning into real money when multiplied by several million shares. I then repeated those successes in Danbury, Connecticut, and Jersey City. I had created a reputation for myself in the public sector and started to get rewarded with stock options, which I knew nothing about at the time.
I spent seven years with the Penske organization, moving to Danbury, New Jersey, and ultimately to Palm Beach, Florida, where I had a group of nine stores. I turned them into $3-4 million winners. I started getting recruited by other public companies and took a large contract to work for a company seeking someone with my skills.
"I didn't realize at the time when you are doing that kind of a job, not only is it a bit of a grind, but by the same token, you can't fail."
Because if you fail, you're done. After 20 years in the public sector, I wanted to go out on my own. My brother and I bought several stores in the New York area, owned them for eight or nine years, and sold them for a sizable profit.
I wasn't looking to work again, but my current partner reached out to me with an opportunity to join Gold Coast Cadillac and turn around one of the largest Cadillac stores in the world. He flew in, and I became his partner because I thought highly of him, the franchise opportunity, and the location.
It's been a great ride that I'm not yet ready to end. I learned early on that I should never distance myself from my business to the point where I couldn't affect the outcome. You should always be prepared to do the work. In customer satisfaction and engagement, the reason we have so many processes, policies, and procedures is that the individual person's behavior is normally very self-centered.
It takes selfless behavior, and I think our culture plays a significant role in this. I'm personally involved and present at work five days a week, and my drive to work is 114 miles one way.
"I'm more about people's behavior and what drives it than I am an aficionado of anything else in life."
I create as many self-policing mechanisms as possible so that I don't have to micromanage. You'll see my mobile number on a lot of things that I do. It creates a lot of dynamics, not just because the customers can reach me but because it brings enthusiasm to the conversation. My salespeople know that I will only get upset with them if a customer has a problem and they don't have my cell phone number. If a customer calls me, I'll never give a salesperson a hard time. I'll resolve the issue.
We focus on building relationships with our customers, and we have low employee turnover rates. When customers know they will see the same employees again, they feel more comfortable and less likely to focus solely on price. We strive to create a sense of familiarity and comfort for our customers.
At CXAUTO2023 in June, I will discuss the customer service experience. In today's world, we often overlook the simple human aspect of being the best version of ourselves to people.
The goal is to build value into the process.
Catch William Camastro live at CXAUTO2023 in Marina Del Rey, The Ritz-Carlton, California.
June 20th - 21st 2023.
Head over to https://tlsummits.com/ for more information and to understand why CXAUTO2023 is one of the most exclusive and sought-after events in the automotive industry.
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