Her no-haggle car sales strategy is just part of a unique approach.
When Amanda Grappone Osmer entered college, she had no plans to join the family business started by her great grandparents in 1924. Once a gas station in Concord, New Hampshire, Grappone Automotive has grown to a successful 5-dealership group in Bow selling Ford, Mazda, Toyota, Honda and Hyundai. When Amanda needed a summer job, she figured working for her father at one of the dealerships wouldn’t be all bad. In the end, she learned a lot about the car sales business.
Still wanting to make it on her own, Amanda moved to San Francisco after college. Challenged by a saturated job market, she decided to sell cars to get by. Working on commission in the cut-throat environment of the busy city made her realize she was darned good at the job.
Homecoming, Personal Setbacks and a Happy retirement
When Amanda’s father began to think about retirement, he looked to Amanda and her brother to take over the business. After working together with their father for 5 years, her brother passed away. “Losing my brother shaped a lot of how I make decisions and my outlook on life,” says Amanda. “I asked myself, ‘What do I do with the days I have left?’”
Her first priority was to help her father retire. They worked together for 10 years before he said good-bye to his job of 42 years. He’s now living in Florida and loving every minute of it. Amanda says, “he’s only a phone call away if I need anything, but he trusts that I know what’s best.”
Cutting Commissions and Focusing on the Customer, Changes Mean Happier Customers and Happier Employees
Sales Director at the time, Amanda encouraged the management team to consider a shift to a flat pricing structure. This was a risk, but Amanda felt good about taking the family business in this direction. “By creating a commission-free environment and removing the hassles of negotiation, we’ve put the fun back into every car buying experience.”
Making this change was a big risk, she admitted, but her father supported her ideas. Do what you think is right, he told her. And at first, it wasn’t easy: 70% of the sales force left the business. Amanda saw this as a chance for “a complete reset.” She was able to hire people who wanted to follow the new sales model, including a lot of women. “Dealers are paid a set amount,” Amanda explains. “There have been no sales negotiations in nearly 5 years… I wanted to strip away the nonsense to be extremely transparent with our customers.”
A Positive Force for Change
Making changes to Grappone’s business model has proven successful for the bottom line. Repeat customers and referrals continue to grow. With a flat pricing structure, some customers feel they might be missing out on “special deals.” Amanda is forming a council of repeat customers to share their ideas on what special things the dealerships might do to make them feel appreciated.
She’s also enlisting students from a local university to help structure the program. She wants the next generation to help the business “see” what they may be missing. Grappone also creates internships and education programs for technical schools in the community.
Working on site nearly every day, Amanda is extremely open to customer communication. She wants her community to know that she is there for them. She wants to educate consumers on how good car buying and ownership can be. “I want to lift the image of this industry…. sales should be the result of how you treat people.”
Motherhood and hopes for the future
Amanda’s husband stays home with their children and she makes sure they understand what her priorities are. “My family knows they are number one.” At the end of each day, she asks her kids, “Were you honest, kind and curious today?” She is amazed by their answers. “They always make me proud.”
Amanda wants her kids to focus on taking care of themselves and other people first. She’d love it if they worked in the family business, but says it’s not necessary. She wants them to have an independent life before they decide whether or not to come back as 5th generation Grappone Automotive employees.
So, How Does a Woman Break into This Business?
Amanda advises any women interested in auto sales to do their homework. The industry has an average annual turnover rate of over 80%. “ Women don’t like negotiating or straight commission structure. When we switched our model, women started applying in droves.”
Unfortunately, harassment still exists in the industry so Amanda suggests women make sure it’s a psychologically healthy place for them. She also recommends “talk to the people that work there and see if what matters to you matters to them.” Car sales is not for everyone. “It’s important to love what you do and then do what you are passionate about.”
Guess Who Did a TED Talk?
Yes, it’s Amanda! This exalted stage for change agents was the perfect place for Amanda to share her ideas. She tells the compelling story of her decision to help change the family business model and inspires others to change their thinking, too. Because Amanda knows that’s where change starts: in the sharing of your journey so that others can follow, too.