He focused on relationships and was happy for four decades.
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My father just retired after 43 years of successfully running his own business called Jon’s Auto Parts. My dad’s business was unique, specific and kind of old-fashioned. He was what is known in his industry as a “jobber.” Basically, he was an independent, self-employed middleman in the wholesale distribution of auto parts. His customers were the mechanics at service stations who fix people’s cars, do oil changes and handle car maintenance every day. My dad had a truck, and every day he would drive around to his customers and refill their stock rooms.
In honor of my dad’s retirement, here are some sales lessons from his career as a solopreneur auto parts jobber.
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My dad started his business just by showing up. He kept going to the same gas stations, mechanics and auto service centers introducing himself and offering to help with their auto parts supply needs. He made a habit of showing up on a regular basis, and he just kept showing up. He kept stopping by. And he said, “If I just keep stopping by, eventually they’re gonna buy from me!” And it worked. He made a practice of consistently showing up.
In the same way, no matter what business you’re in, you have to be persistent. Keep doing the steady, unglamorous work of seeking out new business leads and calling customers, following up and being available. If your customers keep seeing you as a visible presence in their lives, they will keep buying from you.
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Run your business your own way.
My dad had such a unique business. He was a solopreneur before that word was popular, and the business was just him for 43 years. This almost goes contrary to so many businesses today that are so focused on growth and expansion and year-over-year increases. He never had an employee, and he was very content that way; he just wanted to do his own thing. He could have hired employees, made more money, had a fleet of trucks and a network of auto parts suppliers and really scaled the business. But he valued his quality of life. He loved his work-life balance. He’d leave the house at 6 a.m. and be home at 3 p.m., and he didn’t want the stress of managing anything else.
He loved his job, even when he retired. After 43 years, my dad would still say, “I never felt like I was actually working.” Loving your job is really important. Make sure that you’re getting what you need from your business, because if you’re not happy, what’s the point?
Focus on relationships.
One of the secrets of my dad’s success was realizing that customer relationships are crucially important. Nowadays, it sometimes feels like everything is so transactional, and everyone’s trying to compete on price. My dad made sure to treat all his accounts like family, and his clients never left him. Yeah, they could save some money, but they knew with him, and knew he would take care of them. They weren’t getting a new rep every few months.
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They just really loved my dad and wanted to keep working with him. And these relationships were more than just business; it was more like friends and family. Lots of my dad’s customers came to my wedding, and lots of these people running the auto shops now are second generation owners and managers. My dad was like family to them, and they had decades of experience having him show up to restock their auto parts.
Congratulations to my dad on the conclusion of a one-of-a-kind career. He gave his family a wonderful life, and he did it all by being himself, by doing business his own way and by spending his days having fun with his friends. Isn’t that every entrepreneur’s ultimate dream?
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