Welcome to our Authentic Series. Our third interview in this series features Geno Walsh, Executive Manager of Operations at Qvale Auto Group.
When I sat down to talk with Geno Walsh, Executive Manager of Operations at QVale Auto Group, I didn’t quite realize what I was getting into. While requesting the interview and scheduling it we exchanged about three emails and as many words.
Our interview began as many do, exchanging pleasantries and talking about, in this case, sports. I remembered Walsh is a graduate of Ohio University, where I was heading the following weekend. When he found out I was visiting his alma mater for the first time, he described in detail, and for about 10 minutes, all the good places to eat and the types of food I would find at each one. Coupled with the description of the restaurant, he often added a short vignette connecting the place to a memory of his time at OU. The thing is I never tired of listening to his descriptions or stories. Throughout the course of our 90-minute conversation, plenty of stories emerged and one theme about Geno Walsh surfaced over and over: he’s a man who transparently pursues with passion nearly every detail and facet of his life. May his stories and accomplishments inspire you as much as they inspire us.
How did you get into Automotive?
I’ve been in automotive since 2001. I was a political science/ pre-law major at Ohio University, but after I graduated, I took my LSATs and came back home. I decided to take a year off before returning to school because I played college football, and it was like a job. I wanted time off for a mental break before going to law school. So, I worked as a bartender and a youth football coach, and I worked part-time at the United Way. I was only making $8.50 an hour.
Then one day after football practice, one of the kids’ dads that I was coaching said, ”Hey, what do you do for a living?” I told him all the little things I was doing for a living. He said, “Well, why don’t you come by and see me.” He handed me his card and I saw he worked at a bank. When I showed his card to my wife, she said, “Oh, man, you gotta meet with that guy.”
I went to talk to the guy at the bank, and then he walked me across the street to this big, huge open car lot with a double-wide trailer on it. It was a Buy Here, Pay Here dealership called Anything on Wheels. And literally, it was anything. They sold cars from $100 all the way up to $20,000, which was a lot of money back in 2001. I spent about eight hours doing the interview, then he offered me the job and said, “You start tomorrow.”
I was so grateful because I went from making $8.50 an hour to making 40 grand, and I thought, “oh my god, I‘ve made it!”
Within the first couple of weeks I realized “wow, I’m the only one here who can send out an email and fax.” (Remember, this is before a lot of technologies were in play.) So I said to myself, “Well, this is a pretty good opportunity. I will finish it out, and then I’ll still apply to law school.”
Within the first year, I went from a salesperson to a finance manager to an operations manager and before I knew it I was going from $40,000 to $100,000, and then it became a cost-benefit analysis. Do I want to go to law school or do I want to keep making $100,000? So I never went to law school.
Anything On Wheels
I kind of cut my teeth on the primordial level of automotive. “Anything on Wheels” was a single, non-connected used car store that didn’t get a single trade from a used car department or a new car department. I was driving to new car dealerships and meeting with used car managers and trying to buy cars from them because that’s what we used to do back in the day. I went to the auctions and I met with repo companies, and we bought hundreds of cars a month. I learned how to inspect cars. The devil was always in the details, like checking the tires, checking the pan, pulling the dipstick out, writing it down on a piece of paper, smelling the car, starting the car, listening for rattles, all that kind of stuff. I started my day at 5:00 AM at the auction buying cars until 9 or 10:00, then I went to the service department to sign off on ROs, meet with the paint, body, trim guys to try to get the best price on that. Then I went from there to the finance company to make phone calls, and work with the team on collecting our Buy Here, Pay Here receivables. After that, I’d go to the sales department, and I marketed the cars; I made sure the lot looked proper. I would be there until 11 PM selling cars, financing cars, and getting deals approved.
And I loved every minute of it, to be honest with you because it was so challenging. And it was so fun. It was new, and I was making three times as much as all my friends. I felt like the coolest person on earth. That’s perspective because I was in a Buy Here, Pay Here double-wide trailer in a shady part of town, and I thought I had the dream of all dream jobs. And I did because I had a boss and an owner who let me run with a whole bunch of things. We had a website in 2003, that I built from the ground up in my little closet office in the double-wide trailer, and that was my personal internet department. We were even one of the first dealerships in the United States that was a non-franchise dealer with a dealer.com website.
We also had an Autotrader splash page for $99, and I bought a little sunsentinel.com ad box. That site had an old-school, newspaper format. In the left-hand corner of the newspaper were the time and the weather. But right above that was a little box and I owned that box. I knew everybody’s eyes that went to sunsentinel.com were going to go to that box. And so I always put ads there like, “anythingonwheels.com prices as low as $1,000” or “hurricane sale” or “fire sale” or whatever thing we were doing for each and every single month.
Could you attribute sales to that box?
Yes, I could but it was the old school way of attributing. My old school attribution was this: every single time before somebody bought a car, we asked, “how did you hear about us?” Before they could even deposit a $1 bill they had to fill out a form circling how they heard about our dealership. So that was our original attribution tool.
Since your career began, what are the most significant changes you have seen in marketing?
The move from passive versus active attribution is probably the most significant. I can partner with somebody like Clarivoy, and I can set it and forget it. Then I can do a review once a month over that DMS versus a solution like Clarivoy’s, which gives me a 1:1 match of a sale to a consumer purchase journey. As opposed to the past when a salesperson just checked off any random box for attribution.
Are you more of an auto man or a marketing man?
I’m more of a people guy. Let’s put it that way. I don’t think you can have one without the other. The cars don’t sell themselves. But I wouldn’t be very good at marketing garbage pickup and disposal, for example, because I’m not passionate about it. I’m passionate about automotive. I love cars. People react viscerally and emotionally to cars. Think about all the memories you make in your car. Your car is like your family member. Sometimes you’re mad at your family member. Sometimes you wish the family member would get it together.
What book are you currently reading?
Here are some recommendations:
“AI superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order” by Kai-Fu Lee;
“AI 2041: Ten Visions for Our Future” by Kai-Fu Lee and Chen Qiufan;
“Post Corona: From Crisis to Opportunity” by Scott Galloway
“The Infinite Game” by Simon Sinek
When you’re not at the dealership, where are you and who are you with?
I’m with my kids at a ballpark somewhere.
What words or beliefs do you live by?
Be completely willing to be wrong. Another thing that I can’t stress enough is “control the things that you can control,” which isn’t much except your attitude and your activities.
What’s one marketing tool you can’t live without?
Now more so than ever finding an attribution solution is critical. First, it gives you what I call the quantitative results, which is how many cars were sold, how many leads you got, and what’s your cost on that. And then there’s the qualitative, which I think Clarivoy does a much better job of, and that tells you, for example, you sold 50 Cars.com deals in the last quarter. But you spent $10,000 on that versus $8,000 for CarGurus, who sold you 40 instead of 50, or vice versa. If we were using just a CRM, we’d be thinking ‘well, 50 is better than 40 so cut CarGurus, right?’ But, it’s not just looking at the number of cars sold, but does it meet what your cost-per-unit produces?
One way I really get a lot of operational efficiency with our companies and stores is that I figure out how much it costs to sell a car. (I look at how much it costs to pay a salesperson, to pay for advertising, to pay for customer adjustments, and the cost per floor plan, your managers pay, and so on and so forth.) Sometimes, we get to the end of the month and my team thinks they’re doing a good job because they sold 200 cars. But they don’t realize that it costs us $700 every time they sell a car. So we actually went negative. You can’t see that with a lot of the other attribution tools that are out there.
I look at all these components that build this expense structure so that I can really get a full picture of what’s actually working. I get the full picture with the attribution tool that we currently use right now. And it’s all the details. It’s not one thing. It’s everything.
What are your technology goals for 2022?
We transitioned to what we call “transparent service.” And what I would love to do for 2022, mainly on the service, but also on the sales side, is to completely connect and 100% adopt the process so that consumers can basically do everything digitally 100% of the time. I also would like to connect all of our companies and tools together with our strategic partners so that we can get a better experience for the consumer. So on the service end, I want to get Google Analytics completely connected to not only the appointment scheduler, but I also want to get my attribution company connected to it as well.