Tim Deese is one of the more colorful characters in the used-car industry — an arena filled with many vibrant folks.
The former franchised dealer uses his story-telling gifts to, well, tell stories. And to offer homespun philosophy. And to sell cars. And, in more recent times, to show how to sell used cars.
“Every pre-owned car has a story,” says Deese in a Southern accent from Columbus, GA. “But if you can't tell it, you can't sell it. The telling of that story to move that money and product is why we get a paycheck.”
Deese is a proud and dapper old boy who's partial to shirts with French cuffs and double-breasted suits. He began selling cars in 1971. Two years later he became a sales manager.
In 1977 at age 27, he became the youngest self-made dealer ever to land afranchise. It was a challenge because Chrysler Corp. was a financial mess at the time. In 1981, Deese sold two franchised stores. He then focused on running Progressive Basics Inc., a training company he founded for used-car managers.
Deese regularly attends industry conferences. He served as master of ceremonies at a recent one, the Conference of Automotive Remarketing in Chicago.
His affable and anecdotal MC style and scene-setting introductions of speakers played off the data-driven presentations that followed.
He's folksy — with a point and purpose on various industry topics. Such as a car's cycle of life:
“A car never loses a dime itself. It's how we sell it. An old dealer once told me that manufacturers sell to dealers for a profit, the dealer sells to the customer for a profit, he later does a trade-in on the car for a profit. The car is resold for a profit. Ultimately the salvage yard makes a profit by selling the metal that's sold back for a profit to the manufacturer to make another car.
“The car never quits. The risk is our quitting on it along the way.”
The used-car industry plays a critical role in the overall scheme of things, he says.
“The American new-car industry is a great industrial force. But it needs the used-car industry to remarket those products and keep the product flow going.
“Without that flow, we get a glut in the economy. The used-car industry is why the new-car industry stays strong.
“The manufacturer with the strongest remarketing arm will prevail in the marketplace. The fact of life is that the dealer base with the strongest pre-owned operations has the market share.”
His automotive career began as a teen working down at the car wash in hometown Columbus. He then took a job across the street at a used-car lot. He worked there as a detailer. That job paid modestly. But it offered a great perk to a 16-year-old with his first driver's license.
“At 4 p.m. on Saturdays I got paid $10 and was given my choice of using any car on the lot for the weekend. Cars like a 1961 Chevy Impala Super Sport and a 1964 Pontiac GTO. With a full tank of gas. I was in heaven!”
His father was a town banker. His brother, now a surgeon, put himself through medical school by working as a pie taster at a pie factory. “Some people don't believe me when I tell them that.”