If there’s anything that can be said about Ford, people feel an emotional connection to their favourite car. After all, they’re connected to it over a lifetime. This is equally true not only for the people that drive them, but also for the people that sell them.
Nowhere is that more true than with Bill Kramer of Royal Ford, whose remarkable career has spanned 40 years.
“Sales is a tough job, but it’s been a good run. I’ve seen ‘em come and I’ve seen ‘em go,” laughs Kramer.
“I’ve worked with some great people, but it’s time to hang it up.”
Before that, though, Yorkton This Week caught up with Bill to reflect on his remarkable career.
It’s a testament to Kramer’s skill and passion that he has had such longevity. Everyone knows Bill. People know him by name and, in many cases, have been buying cars from him for years.
In an industry where sales staff may stay at a particular dealership for, say, a few months, to perhaps a year or so -- sometimes switching brands or careers altogether -- Kramer has sold Ford vehicles, and only Ford vehicles during his entire 45 year career. Every single one of those years have been at Royal.
“I started in 1974,” remembers Kramer.
“I had worked for CP transport here [for] nine years. Then I decided to move to North Battleford because that’s where my wife was from. I got a job with the Ford company there, selling parts on the road.
“So, we were there six months; bought a house and everything, and got the Yorkton paper all the time. And there was an ad. So we thought, what the hell. Let’s go back.
“I came and saw Russ. He said, ‘Yeah, Move back!’ and that’s when I started. Never looked back.
Bill’s initiation to car sales from parts was a trial by fire, to say the least.
“Oh, God,” he laughs. “Well, the first day I worked, I knew nothing. I knew absolutely nothing. We were on 1st Avenue -- that’s where it started. Then we were on the corner of 6th and Broadway. Russ had bought that property. It was just gravel! And he would put used cars there. Well, they dropped me off there one day when I started.
“I went in there and one salesman was mad at me, boy, moving in there. The other salesman was good, though. He helped me out. If it wasn’t for him, maybe I would’ve quit that same day. But he helped me out and away I went.
“Lots of s*** happened,” he laughs.
“I had customers that bought years, and years, and years from me. People were dedicated. They didn’t wander, but when the computer age came out and you can go online looking. It didn’t matter where they bought.
“I had an older gentleman once, said ‘Bill, I gotta tell you something. He says, ‘I went shopping!’ I said [jokingly], ‘Shame on you!’ He felt bad! That was so cute.
“And the prices from 1974 to now. Like a Grand Marquis, you know -- a Lincoln -- we were selling Lincolns for seventeen nine in ‘79. That was the year they were changing. Well, they’re $89 000 now. Trucks -- $90 000, $100 000. But the trucks, they’re beautiful now. They ride like a Lincoln.
“Every year we had a Christmas party. That was always a good deal.
“I’ve been here 45 years, so lots has changed..
“I’ve had the odd guy get mad at me, naturally. We cool ‘em off though.
“Staff now have changed since we started. At first, there were only two or three of us in a one car showroom.
“Nobody taught me, either. It’s not like now. These young guys are being taught how to sell. Over there they just dropped me off and said ‘Have a good day’, so you learn pretty quick.
“So it was an experience when I started but I got on to it and away I went.
“When Terry had the grand opening of this place, the lady who was the president of Ford [Ford Motor Canada CEO Diane Craig], she was here. That’s a milestone because it was like, ‘Why would the President of Ford Motor Canada come to Yorkton?’ But she was right there. And you know she went out, and talked to some of the guys in the back. She was really nice. Smart, too. And we had the Premier here at the same time. President of Ford Credit was here. Mr. Karndoff, the owner from before was very impressed that finally met the President of Ford because he’d been with Ford a long time. So that was a good deal to meet all these people at once.
“The older guys, they still come here. They like the service. That helps us a lot.
“The name has been around a long time.
Are the same sort of cars popular now as they were in 1974?
“Back then, we had the Grand Marquis, and the T-bird [Thunderbird]. We had the Mercury dealership though at that time. There was another gentleman who had the Ford [dealership]. We had Mercury, so we had the Cougar. We still could sell the Mustang, but the Grand Marquis was a good seller. A very good seller.
“Then, when he [the previous owner] quit, Russ got both dealerships. So then we had the Thunderbird and the Cougar, we had the Grand Marquis, the LTD Crown Victoria. So we had a good selection of vehicles.
“We had smaller ones, like the Fairmonts and the Grenadas, you know. They sold. We had an Escort, a Pinto...Pintos, you know, they complained they blow up,” he said with a laugh.
“My daughter had a Bobcat. A yellow Bobcat. It had no air. No cassette. No nothin’! But she had it; she was happy. But now, well, holy shit. Can’t buy one of ‘em without air conditioning, power windows, navigation.
“Now, we’ve got four lines of SUVs. Very popular. And they’re good. They’re not junk. They’re just excellent, excellent vehicles. People aren’t buying cars. They’re buying SUVs. If they want a car they can go to Honda over here.
“Selling is a change. Selling has changed now. I liked it before. Before the computers and that, people came in. They came in to ask about the car. What’s the price. Now, you punch in royalford.ca and it even gives you the payments and everything. It’s different, but you still have to sell.
“Everybody’s different. Everybody that comes in, buys and sells...different, and you’ve gotta treat ‘em, well, you listen very carefully to them, and you find out their hotspots. You work on them from there. They know the prices already. The price is on the window. Years ago, we didn’t have prices on the window. So you could do what you want with the pricing, but we didn’t. But we used to put our own price on the vehicle if we thought it was right. Ford used to have the MSRPs, but then along came the stickers. Eventually it became law that you had to have the stickers around the window. But now, with the computers, they’ve got it all.
“They’re interested in a certain vehicle, you know? You can get all the information you want.
“But like I said, the young people, they’re a little different.
“I dunno, you look back 45 years. We’ve switched from commission to straight wages. No more commission. The whole dealership is that way.”
Not to say that there haven’t been some colourful incidents, especially early on in his career in the ‘70s.
“I grabbed a guy by the throat once,” laughs Kramer, “ ‘cause he called me a liar, but, eh, I was young. That was years ago.”
“After I retire, well, I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’ve met so many people. I’m going on a cruise to Alaska!
“We’ve got some good customers. But, you know, Terry’s been good to me. I can’t complain.
“See, when Terry started out, and he had the company, he went down to Alabama for two weeks on training. So salespeople used to get trained. Perfect, real well. Because we were busy, eh? Lot of people. Things have changed, though. Don’t have the training we used to. And, you know, financing. Back when we started out, we used to finance you. I did the appraisal, I did the bill of sale, I would phone the bank and write a contract. We had no financing. Then, when Terry took over, her started financing and I thought, what do we need him for?” Laughing, he admits it was a good idea “It all worked out, you know? We do most of the financing right here now. And we deal with all banks, doesn’t matter who you want. Plus Ford. So, it all fits, eh? Now we have a general manager, we have a sales manager. We have Jane here, who does marketing. So, different. It’s a real business now. We had business before, but it used to be a closer type of thing. It’s bigger now. But I have no complaints.
“And I’ve had no desire to go elsewhere, to be honest with you. I’ve had good staff and good friends. Real good friends.”