Joe Girard was recently inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame. He sold more retail automobiles for 12 consecutive years on a one-on-one basis than anyone else in the world. His record remains unbroken, chronicled in The Guinness Book of World Records. His formal induction is Oct. 9 at the Ritz-Carlton in Dearborn, Mich.
In Girard's peak day he sold 18 vehicles; best month, 174; and best year, 1,425. He averaged six retail sales a day with the help of two assistants at Merollis Chevrolet in Eastpointe, Mich. He published four books and lectures worldwide on selling techniques.
Joe Girard grew up on Detroit's lower east side, near Concord and Kercheval, with a father who would sooner shame him than nurture his growth, according to a story by Maureen McDonald in the Detroit News. "You'll never amount to anything, Joey," his father said, loudly and often.
Girard, 72, who quit school in the 11th grade, had one wish that drove him for 50-plus years -- he would prove his father wrong.
The Automotive Hall of Fame in Dearborn, Mich., recently granted that wish: He was named one of the 176 legends of the automotive industry, sharing ranks with Henry Ford, Charles Kettering and Harvey Firestone. He is the first auto salesman to be admitted to the Hall.
"Every time I'd lecture at Northwood Institute, I'd walk past the photographs of Hall of Fame winners and pray I'd be included," Girard said. "Not just for me, for all the car salesmen in the country. If we didn't sell them, they wouldn't get built."
Girard was turned down several times, even though he made The Guinness Book of World Records 12 times for achieving the top vehicle sales in the world. He also was ranked by Forbes magazine in 1977 as one of the "Super Salesmen of the Century." Former President Gerald Ford presented him with the Golden Plate Award in 1975.
After building homes for 13 years, Girard turned to autos. He sold cars from 1963 to 1977, starting at 267 units a year, rising to an all-time record of 1,425 units and retiring at 855 units to write books. Girard had his own office at the dealership and hired two assistants out of his pocket, one to help recruit and market sales, one to prep new cars, assess trade-ins and coordinate service requests.
He sent out nearly 13,000 greeting cards a month to his customers, celebrating everything from Halloween to Groundhog Day. He paid out thousands to a network of people who referred sales -- priests, teachers, plant foremen, students and mechanics -- before that practice was discouraged by the Big Three.
He stocked a bar with 50 different types of liquor to soothe a customer's nerves, carried 10 brands of cigarettes, plus toys and balloons for children. If someone threatened to walk, he would get down on his knees and beg for the sale. If finances were a problem, he'd call friends, relatives, strangers out of the directory to get a co-signer for a car loan, according to the News.
What's next? Girard hopes one of the automakers will launch a sales academy that teaches the Joe Girard method.