Lee Logan was the kind of man that was used to getting what he wanted. Not only did he own the most successful automobile dealership in south Orlando down on Orange Blossom Trail, but he had turned a run-of-the-mill family owned restaurant into a very successful regional franchise operation.
He was a difficult man to work for and even more difficult to reason with. The sales staff at the Nissan dealership had been finding that out for the last 10-years. His reputation for temper tantrums was legendary among ex-employees. More often than not those on the receiving end of one of Logan’s “fits” found themselves unemployed on-the-spot.
It was Tuesday morning, and Lee Logan was perched at his favorite position in the car dealership sipping on a white Styrofoam cup full of coffee. He was dressed in tan dress pants, starched white shirt, Gucci shoes and wore a pair of Rayban sunglasses. He was leaning up against a pick-up truck parked in the dealership’s showroom looking out over the front section of the car lot.
Logan had been watching a young couple walk around the car lot for about 15 minutes before abruptly getting back in their vehicle and driving away. He was steaming and so angry he could barely contain himself. He waited anxiously for the salesman to walk back in the dealership and after about 15 seconds could stand it no more, walked over to the phone and dialed the intercom.
“Mr. Reese. Please come to my office,” he said. “Now!”
Chad Reese, a recent graduate of Central State College, had just started working at the dealership a few days earlier. He had every intention of attending Washington University law school beginning in the fall semester.
A few days after graduation Reese decided to search for a summer job to set aside some spending money for the fall term. He already had a lot of school loan debt derived from the short fall between the funding provided by the scholarships he had been awarded and increasing cost of room and board at the college. During his senior year he had to finally break down and take out a student loan to pay for two semesters of living expenses and part of his remaining tuition fees. Money had gotten so tight that, he even sold the 200 shares of Wal-Mart stock he’d accumulated over the last several years purchased with money earned mowing lawns during summer vacations.
Reese answered an advertisement posted in the help wanted section of the Orlando Herald seeking automotive salespeople. The advertisement promised a potential $40,000 or higher annual salary, insurance, 401K, health insurance and a free training program. Reese fully intended to be long gone before the 401K would benefit him much, but the potential for making some quick money sounded good. Besides, what the dealership didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them.
He was especially enamored with the italicized section of the advertisement that said, “Experience Not Preferred”, which described him perfectly. Although he enjoyed reading about cars and dreamed of owning a new sports car someday after graduating law school, he knew nothing about the in’s and out’s of selling them.
Reese had just started working at the Nissan dealership a few days before. In car salesman terms, he was a “newbie”.
“You asked to see me sir?” Reese said nervously after knocking on the glass door and half opening it in an effort to obtain permission before entering the owner’s office.
“Get it here,” Logan commanded, pointing toward the square red carpet rug placed directly in front the desk.
Reese moved to set down in the chair placed on the left side of the desk, but was stopped abruptly.
“Don’t you dare set down. Stand right there,” Logan yelled, again pointing at the square carpet rug.
“Why did you let those squirrels leave? How many more do you plan to run-off today?”
“But, sir…I wasn’t running them off. They said they were just looking. I didn’t want to bother them, so I let them look around on their own for awhile to look at the inventory,” Reese explained.
“They said they were looking for a five-speed, Slate Grey colored Altima and since we don’t have any of those left,” he continued, “I figured I would just let them walk around and look at the colors we do have available. I gave them my business card and told them to come and look for me, if they have any questions.”
With every word, Logan’s blood pressure continued to rise. The man was so agitated that he was physically shaking; his face so red from the blood rushing into his cheeks that Reese thought Logan might physically collapse.
“I don’t care what they said, or what you figured," Logan responded in a stern voice that commanded attention. “Why didn’t you get them to take a test drive? Your job is to get them behind the wheel and drive the car. Test drives sell cars. People don’t just buy cars, they have to be sold.”
“You do what I tell you to do, the way we trained you,” he continued, “and you will make a lot of money. I spend about $243 in advertising for every customer that we sell a car to. We can’t afford to have you out there running them off. I spent $17,000 on radio and print advertising last month and here you are out there letting people leave without even driving the car.”
“If you keep listening to the customer and believing everything they tell you, you won’t last long here,” Logan explained, speaking increasing louder. “You have to get control of the customers. You tell them what to do, you don’t ask them and you don’t assume they are telling the truth. Buyers are liars, son. I’d be willing to bet your paycheck that the couple buys a car from another dealership within the next 48-72 hours. People don’t come to car lot for their health, boy. This is not an amusement park. People come here because they want to buy a car. “
“You take their keys. You put them in your pocket. You give them to one of the managers. Tell them you’re going to have someone evaluate their trade-in to give an estimated value, or throw them on the roof if you have to. You do anything to prevent them from leaving. Do you understand?”
“Ummm....yes...yes sir,” Reese stuttered nervously, “Will do sir.”
“O.k., now don’t let me see you do that again,” Logan said, beginning to calm down slightly.
Reese stammered as he stumbled toward the door. He couldn’t get out of the office fast enough. He was about to gag.
Reese was beginning to like his new boss less and less. This wasn’t the first confrontation with Logan. On his first day of work at the dealership Reese attended a training class for the new sale representatives. The trainer explained that while in the new hire training program, new sales representatives would be required to work from 8 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. each day and would receive an hour off for lunch. After the instructor released them from class on the first day a little after 5:30 p.m., Reese decided to go ahead and leave for the day. Logan had been watching him as he headed out of the building towards the employee parking area and followed him to his car. Just as Reese placed his key in the door lock to unlock it, he heard Logan’s voice approaching and turned to see what the commotion was about.
“And just where do you think you’re going?” Logan asked.
“I’m going home for the day,” Reese responded. “They told us in class that we would work from 8 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. while in training. It’s o.k., isn’t it?”
“Son, if you just want to do the minimum around here, you may not be cut out for this business after all. You need to give that some thought before you decide to come back tomorrow,” he grumbled.
Frustrated, Reese fumbled for the right thing to say, trying to convey that he would be glad to stay longer and that perhaps he had misunderstood what the sales trainer had said earlier in the day about the scheduled working hours, but the explanation didn’t temper Logan’s thirst to ridicule.
Reese didn’t realize that Logan liked to harass all his new hires on the first few days of work. He figured that if he could run them off before the first pay day, he would save money in the long run, because selling cars was a difficult business. From Logan’s viewpoint, it took people with fortitude and a burning desire to succeed to make it.
“Go on and get out of here. Don’t waste my money and your time coming back tomorrow if you’re a clock watcher,” he said as he turned to head back to the main building.
From then on, Reese arrived to work early and stayed late, always making sure that he arrived each morning before Logan and that he stayed at the dealership until after Logan went home each evening. He couldn’t afford to lose this job. He desperately needed the money.
You could question Logan’s methods, but it was certainly difficult to argue with the success that he had experienced in his life as a car dealer. His ability to make people buy cars, against their own better judgment, had made him very wealthy. He instilled the same win-at-any-cost attitude into all of his employees. Those that resisted his views, didn’t last long.
Logan was hard on his employees. He understood human nature and knew just what buttons to push to influence people to do what was needed. Whether that meant working 12-hour days or seven days a week; when Logan asked you to do something, you had better think twice before you refused to do it, or you’d be out of a job pretty quick.
He was equally hard on his customers. Logan nurtured a Wild West environment in the dealership that was reminiscent of the plot line from an old fashioned western. In the popular western movie genre, the town taverns were places cowboys and other drifters went to have a drink of whiskey or maybe play a game of cards and more often than not, the cowboys ended up in some sort of tussle with the drifter, not particularly of the cowboys own making.
The managers that lasted past the first few weeks working for Logan shared a lot of similarities the drifters of the movies. Wholesome, unsuspecting people in the market for an automobile often ventured into the dealership having no idea what kind of potential pitfalls that lie ahead on the horizon.
In the first couple of weeks Reese worked there he received a phone call from the owner of a turf farm who wanted to purchase three new pick-up trucks for his business. The customer was actually standing in the show room at another dealership across town and was about to make a deal to buy the trucks, when he decided to check one last time to make sure that he couldn’t get a better deal somewhere else. The caller asked Reese if he could purchase a white, five-speed, extended cab XE, with air conditioning for $13,900 out the door and explained that he made plans to purchase the trucks somewhere else, but wanted the best deal possible and would abandon the deal he currently had, if they could beat the deal by $100 per vehicle.
Reese placed the customer on hold and took the details of the deal to the sales manager. He reiterated the situation and asked the sale manager if he was sure they could make the deal, explaining that the customer had planned to purchase somewhere else if the trucks were not available at that specific price. The sales manager responded that they could sell trucks for that and he instructed Reese to invite the customer to come on in.
The customer arrived 30 minutes later to buy the vehicles and handed a company check to Reese who took it to the sales manager. The sales manager explained that they really couldn’t sell the vehicles for the requested price, but they would honor the price the previous dealership had offered. Enraged at the bait-and-switch technique the dealership used, the customer lost his temper and began yelling obscenities at the sales manager. Within a few seconds later the sales manager and the customer were rolling around in the show room in a wrestling match. The customer received a bloody nose and several other bumps and bruises. But, it was the sales manager who took the worst of it. He ended up with a contusion on his forehead gushing with blood and with several broken bones in his hand, before it was broken up by some other managers.
The grandson of a local barbecue entrepreneur, Lee Logan turned away from the family business as a young man in an effort to rebel against his father. Deciding he would rather tout his own independence, he joined the Army. After a brief stint in the Military Police Corps (he’d been released on a medical discharge), he returned to Orlando and took a job at a Chevrolet dealership that his uncle Joe Logan had owned for 20-years.
From a young age Lee had a difficult time communicating with his father. Lou Logan had worked in the family business from the time he was old enough to chop wood with an ax. Lou spent his youth working side by side with his father stacking, splitting and hauling wood to stoke the fires at the restaurant. Lee on the other wanted nothing to do with the monotonous chores of barbecue, preferring instead to spend his time playing baseball or basketball with other kids in the neighborhood. He dreamed of someday playing in the major league and winning the World Series. It was something Lou never understood, because growing up in the Depression; he had no time for sports. He was instilled with a strong work ethic and tried to instill it in his son. Lou was always telling Lee that if he spent half the effort working as he did playing and daydreaming about sports, he might amount to something some day. And, the more he preached to Lee, the deeper it drove the wedge of Lee’s resentment. Lee thought his father was stupid to work so hard, and for such little money. He was convinced there had to be an easier way to make a living.
Proving his abilities at the car dealership over a period of a few years, Lee Logan, was given the opportunity of his young life, when at the age of 34, Uncle Joe fronted him the money to buy in to a Datsun dealership, as a minority partner. Uncle Joe became Lee’s surrogate father and had taught Lee about management and that working smarter was usually easier than working harder.
Lee learned what he’d suspected in his youth. There were easier ways to make money. He could actually “trick” people into buying things they don’t really need and manipulate them into paying more for them than they really should. Uncle Joe taught Lee about finances and investments and cash flow. Lee learned that calculated risks paid huge dividends for savvy investors.
The constant badgering and pressure placed upon Lee by his father fueled an inner drive to succeed and prove himself worthy as he grew older. Lee wanted to do it better, do it faster and make more money than his father ever had. Regretfully, Lou Logan did not live to see the successful businessman his son had become.
Lou became the majority partner in the family barbecue restaurant following the death of his father. He’d run the operation into the ground after three or four years, partly from a lack of management skill and mostly from a growing dependency on alcohol. Lou spent the last few years a bitter, wore out old man passing his days drinking Johnny Walker and his nights blacked out in the recliner, letting the restaurant basically run itself. Without the hard work and dedication of a couple of long-time employees that took care of the day-to-day stuff, the restaurant would have failed.
Lee Logan bailed out the family barbecue business with a cash investment to shore up the finances and hired a friend to run the place. The restaurant turned to franchising in the late 1980’s as a method of expansion, and had grown into a regional operation with restaurants throughout Central Florida, in Georgia and through the Carolina’s. The local Bubba’s Barbecue and a national chain called Tony’s were the only direct competition in Orlando, but it didn’t take long for Logan Family Barbecue to assume the role as barbecue giant in Florida.
Tony’s focused mainly on overpriced ribs and rumor was that the ribs weren’t really slow-cooked in the traditional barbecue style anyway—they boiled them and then grilled them just before serving after dunking them in bucket of seasoned tomato sauce. The restaurants’ local success in Orlando gained traction quickly with Logan in charge and Logan Family Barbecue expanded by opening locations into neighboring Clermont, Melbourne and Daytona in successive years. The restaurants began offering add-on items and selling a line of barbecue spice rubs, sauces, marinades and added a popular line of t-shirts and miscellaneous clothing items for barbecue lovers.
The growing popularity of barbecue had not been lost on Logan. Not only had the restaurant chain become a huge success, but he had been to the mountain and seen the Holy Grail of barbecue. After a visit to the United States Barbecue Invitational competition in Central City the previous year that was attended by upwards of 50,000 people during the span of four days, he decided the timing was right to begin promoting barbecue to the masses as family entertainment.
Restaurants by nature were capital intensive and there was a constant struggle to find real estate in affordable locations and at sensible prices, but barbecue contests on the other hand, were a different story. You could put a barbecue contest on film and promote it through corporate advertising, magazines, web sites, sponsorships, VHS, DVD, charitable organizations and local governments. Barbecue contests had become an unheralded cash cow. Mainstream Americans couldn’t see to get enough of it.
The vision Logan sought to make reality included expanding barbecue contests into every American city by harnessing the power of cable television, licensing agreements, syndication and mass merchandising.