Giles Bowles became a car salesman at a time when John and Jackie ruled Camelot and four Brits named The Beatles were about to take America by storm.
He just retired from DuncanMercury Plymouth Dodge and Jeep in Rocky Mount, VA, after 37 years. Though that's a long time to some people, the 74-year-old Mr. Bowles still vividly recalls the first car he ever sold: a 1961 Ford Starliner.
Life and cars have certainly changed since the 60's, but Mr. Bowles philosophy hasn't: treat customers with respect and honesty and they'll come back.
It's an important rule to live by in the small town of Rocky Mount, where many of Mr. Bowles' customers are his neighbors, friends and even family. He's been very active in the close-knit community, taking leadership roles in the American Heart Association as well as on his church's board of directors.
"I've tried to be fair with customers and most of all, be truthful with them. I'm a firm believer in being honest with people. And I'm mighty proud to say that I've been able to sell vehicles to three generations of customers," says Mr. Bowles.
Mr. Bowles says some of his most rewarding experiences over the years have come from selling multiple cars to entire families, sometimes as many as 10 or 15 vehicles. Mr. Bowles has even sold an impressive 25 vehicles to one local family.
Ronnie Echols, general manager and co-owner at Duncan, says a huge emphasis on putting the customer first and strong prospecting skills garnered Mr. Bowles a solid reputation and phenomenal repeat business.
Says Mr. Echols, "He seems to be a 24-hour salesman; he can sell to the tobacco farmer or the brain surgeon. But he is not a high-pressure person; he treats customers the way that he would like to be treated which is fairly. And he takes it personally if one of his customers is upset; he really goes the extra-mile to make sure they are happy."
Praise for Mr. Bowles doesn't stop with dealership customers, though.
"Other employees have a lot of respect for him. Salespeople, especially the younger ones, tap him for knowledge. They turn to him for advice and expertise," says Mr. Echols.
Mr. Bowles earned the nickname "Grand Master" due to his membership in Ford Motor Co.'s 300/500 Masters Club, a benchmark for excellence in sales and customer service.
A small retirement party, made up of Mr. Bowles' family and dealership employees, took place at Jerry's Steakhouse, a restaurant located near Duncan Ford.
Gerald Duncan, personnel manager for Duncan Automotive Group, says the establishment was a natural choice for the celebration, as it is Mr. Bowles' regular lunchtime hangout.
"He often goes to the restaurant, where a lot of his customers also eat lunch, because he likes to shake hands and connect with people. He is always prospecting. I think he would have been as good a politician as he is a car salesman," says Mr. Duncan.
In an age of high employee turnover among dealership sales staffers, Mr. Bowles 37-year run at Duncan is truly amazing, says Mr. Duncan.
The new retiree plans to work on the cattle farm he owns and travel extensively with his wife.