RIDING THE WAVE OF CHANGE IN THE AUTOMOBILE BUSINESS

Article by · July 13, 2021 ·

Rich Mahon struggled as a car salesman. His full-on sales pitch was not working. Nary a customer bought an automobile from the young salesman. Without a sale, he would be forced to return to his previous employment as a waiter and bartender to pay for his college education.

   When he analyzed his situation, it became apparent he needed to change his ways.

   “I knew if I tried to sell, I failed. So, I decided to try to make friends. I decided to do what makes the customer happy,” he said recently in his office at Toyota South in Morrow. 

   Mahon began to greet his customers by saying, “I’m Rich, and I’ll be your Tour Guide today.” It is a method he still uses.

   His philosophy sent his career into overdrive (pun intended). By the time he was 23, he would rise to become what he believes is the youngest Finance Director for a dealership. 

   “Most of the people were much older than me. I had to work hard to earn their respect,” he said. “What I realized is that most people did the bare minimum every day. I realized that if I worked hard, I could get ahead.”

He was born and raised in Upstate New York, near Buffalo. A place known for “high snow and high taxes,” he said. The ethnic melting pot of the Northeast gave him a foundation of acceptance. Living with different cultures taught him that there is no room for hate in this world. 

   Mahon attended classes at the Buffalo Performing Arts school for eight years. It was a great experience that brought him out of his pre-pubescent shell. Unknowingly, it would teach him how to get people’s attention while on stage, a trait he would transfer to his car sales career. 

   “Interacting is what it is about, which is what you do on stage,” said Mahon.

   While studying for his Business Administration classes in college, Mahon was intrigued by an ad from a local Chevrolet dealership. They were looking for people to sell cars part time. It sure seemed easier than being a waiter or a bartender. It would pay more, too, if he sold a few cars.

   Plus, Mahon had never owned a new car in his life. He calls his rides to that point as “beater cars.” Working at a dealership would earn him a discount on one of those new automobiles. He took the position and, after his initial failures, suddenly found his calling.

   “I loved the cars. It was like being in a candy store,” he said.

   Mahon was on his way to a new path in life, and a new place to live. He moved South and became the Finance Director for AutoNation, then shifted to Toyota Mall of Georgia. A brief move to Florida saw him becoming the General Manager of the Volkswagen dealership in New Port Richey. That is where he came to the attention of Jerry Gresham, who had been in the business for almost four decades in metro Atlanta. 

   “He flew up to meet. I found him to be a smart guy, articulate, hard-working, and honest,” said Gresham, who had two Toyota, a Honda, a Kia, and a used-car dealership in his portfolio at the time. “I saw his ability to make things happen. He is tech savvy.”

   Without a contract or even an agreement, Mahon agreed to become the Vice President and General Manager of Toyota South. Since he made the move in 2014, he said the two have never had a fight or disagreement.

   “We are completely aligned,” said Mahon. “Jerry’s philosophy is ‘I don’t want to sell you a car; I want to help you buy a car.’ He gave me the latitude to make changes when necessary.”

Rich Mahon, VP, Toyota South Atlanta

   Under Mahon, the dealership has expanded in size and doubled the service department. The Clayton Chamber of Commerce named Toyota South the Business of the Year in 2020. It has been awarded the Consumer’s Choice Award for the past eight consecutive years. When he took over at the dealership, Mahon put an ad out to recruit new salespeople. He got very few responses. He then changed the ad to say they were looking for “Brand Ambassadors.” He was nearly overwhelmed.

   “We were hiring good personalities, someone who could take our customers through the buying journey,” said Mahon. “We pay them based on the customer experience.” Rather than straight commission, Mahon pays his staff a non-commissioned wage plus bonuses.

   On a recent spring morning, the showroom at Toyota South was crowded with potential car buyers. Taking a cue from the Delta airlines Sky Lounge, Mahon has created a VIP room so the customers have a place to relax during the buying event. He even installed a small arcade to keep the kids busy. 

   In the near future, every Brand Ambassador will be supplied with a tablet so they can communicate with the manager. In other dealerships, the salesperson is constantly getting up and going off to confer with a manager in some office. Keeping them connected via the tablet means the Brand Ambassador never has to leave the customer.

   “This improves the entire buying process,” said Mahon.

   During his time in the industry, Mahon has seen vast changes in how car dealers interact with their customers. “9/11 changed everything. Zero percent financing came in. Not long afterwards, the computer and internet came in,” he said. “There was no combating it; you just have to embrace it.”

   The pandemic brought even more radical changes to the car industry. Along came several websites that sell cars without a showroom. Just click your choice and it is delivered to your door. Mahon has pivoted with his dealership into what he calls a “Door-to-Door Toyota Store.” He has delivered Toyota across the state and region to customers who buy their autos without ever stepping foot in the showroom.

   “But we will always have a showroom and a service department. We are going to expand our service hours and bring service and even basic maintenance directly to you,” he said in the near future.There is another aspect of the pandemic that has Mahon very concerned: the loss of an entire generation of blue-collar workers. He has been finding it hard to fill some technician positions. But with scholarships and internships, Mahon intends to grow his own group of certified technicians. He is donating a used car to the automobile repair class at Lovejoy High School. “They’ve been using the same two cars since the Eighties. Cars today have so much new technology they need something more up to date,” he said. “A starting Technician can make around $35,000 a year to start while a Master Diagnostic Technician can make upwards of $150,000 per year.” 

When you are passionate, there is never enough.

Rich Mahon

   When students return to the classroom, Mahon wants to donate a Prius so students can work on a hybrid. To further support the schools, Toyota South donated $10,000.00 to the Clayton County Public Schools Foundation last summer. 

   Mahon is the father of two grown daughters, one of whom went to work for the Philadelphia Eagles and the other just started school to be a fashion designer.  He still follows his old hometown Buffalo Bills, loves NASCAR, and is a self-described “weekend hacker” on the golf course. 

   Yet his passion remains cars. At some point in the near future, Jerry Gresham intends to turn over the Toyota South dealership entirely to Mahon, who vows to continue changing to fit the car buying times.

   “To this day, I don’t feel like I’ve made it. I’m always chasing it,” said Mahon.    “When you are passionate, there is never enough.”

3 Comments

  • comment-avatar

    Layla Cunningham

    I met him in the dealership once. He seems like a nice person. The article is a good read.

  • comment-avatar

    David Carthwright

    Congratulations on your successful career. Generally, your service is great.

  • comment-avatar

    MaryJane

    Good read. Congrats Rich!