This year, Norman Roy will turn 70, but he still plans to remain behind the wheel at Weir Buick GMC in Red Bud, Weir Ford in Red Bud and Weir Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram in New Athens. He has worked at the dealership since the first lot opened in Red Bud in 1967. He recently sat down to talk with business writer Will Buss about his time in the car-selling business:
Q: What drove you into car sales?
A: “I’m from right down the road in Prairie du Rocher. I was born and raised there. I drove cars a little bit while I was in high school. I got into parts a little and then went to St. Louis after high school and went to Brown Business School. I thought I wanted to become a bookkeeper or an accountant or something like that. I came from a large family, so we didn’t have any money and I had to work. I got on as a night-time cashier on the parts department at George Miller Chevrolet on Lindbergh and Lemay Ferry. I’d go to school during the day and shuffle a couple different buses and get out there and work for about four hours every night. And after about nine months, I got tired of school and went to work for Weber Chevrolet, which back then was on Sarah and Lindell, where their parts operation was. I worked there for about a year and a half and that’s when Vietnam was just kicking up and so I got drafted for two years and went to work for a parts department in Thailand for a year, which taught me things not to do. After two years, I came back to the job at Weber. It was still there, but they had moved out to I-270.”
Q: When did you start selling cars?
A: “When I came back, I started out in the parts department, and four months later I was selling cars. I worked my way up and ended up marrying the boss’s daughter, which is one of those things that just happen. By ’73, ’74, I had started running it, and in ’75, my father-in-law passed away, and that’s when I got the opportunity to buy the operation from my mother-in-law.”
Q: How have you kept business going all these years?
A: “A big part of our operation is the parts department, which everybody knows. They see all of our red trucks running around. We just happened to hire the right guy. He’s been with us 44, 45 years as our parts manager. For a town of our size, 3,600, 3,800, we do rather well for the size of the population in town. We went from 10 employees to today, we are 180.”
Q: Why did you keep the Weir name?
A: “That was one thing my mother-in-law did ask was do you mind keeping the name the same instead of changing it? My last name is Roy, which is a good French Catholic name from Prairie du Rocher. But we kept the name and I think is a very good, solid, honest name in the car business. I get involved in hiring people, and I tell them the one thing that sells well is honesty.”
Q: Do you plan to retire?
A: “I don’t know. I said I was going to semi-retire at 52 and at 55. I get out of here more and more every year. I travel. I’ve been going to Hilton Head, South Carolina, for the past 30 years. So I go down there and have had a lot of trips with GM over the years and have been to places here and there. So I get out more. It’s still fun. We’re still making money. It’s still fun. I enjoy the employees I’ve been working with. We have a lot of them have been with me 10, 20, 30 years. We had a parts manager who was here 40-some years. So we have had a lot employees who have been here for a long time and seeing customers come in. We get a lot of repeat business.”
Q: What has kept you in this business for so long?
A: “It is still fun and my health is good. If somebody calls and says let’s go play golf this afternoon, chances are I’m probably going to do it unless I have something scheduled, whereas years ago I wouldn’t have done that. It’s still fun, but a totally different ballgame than what it was 30, 40 years ago.”
Q: How has the business changed in that time?
A: “Instead of a newspaper ad, it’s the Internet. Internet is a big source for our leads. It’s amazing that the young and old look at the Internet; they kind of do their homework before they come in. They shopped on the Internet. So that’s a big part of it. At this time of year, we renew our workman’s comp and our insurance. The liability and the workman’s comp is just ridiculous compared to what we did pay. We’ve got more employees and more opportunities for wrecks for the insurance companies use for their calculation for what’s going to happen next year, so they can charge you for it. We see a lot of cash in this area, where it’s rural. It’s amazing sometimes what they buy. Sometimes they come in here wanting to buy a Chevy Cruise and walk out of here with a Tahoe. The cars run longer better because everything is so engineered today and precisely made that if you do the maintenance, and preach that all of the time, if you get the maintenance, you can get a lot of miles out of cars today. But there are still a lot of people that like to trade on a two- or three-year basis. They love that new model and love that fresh smell. So some things have changed a lot of other things have not changed at all. The dollar amount you’re financing today is $20,000, $30,000, $40,000, $50,000, versus years ago, when the car was only about $3,000. So there have been a lot of changes.”
Job: Owner and president, Weir Buick GMC in Red Bud, Weir Ford in Red Bud and Weir Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram in New Athens
Outlook: “It’s still fun. I still like the challenges.”