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Local auto dealer uses higher power for business model By: Dana Martin, Community Contributor Topics: Posted by sunnica Tue Oct 30, 2007 13:00:23 PDT Viewed 663 times 0 responses 0 comments larger view larger view larger view larger view larger view Used car dealers must wear the stereotype of those before them as they would a borrowed suit. For some, like Leon Garland, the comparison to slick and sleazy used car salesmen of 1970s T.V. commercial lore fits about as well as a polyester leisure suit two sizes too small. Embarrassing. Inappropriate. Not applicable. But Leon wouldn’t say that. He oozes humility. Leon Garland is to used car dealers as Paul Newman is to celebrities: unassuming, decent, classy. You won’t find Leon on his lot chasing customers to explain the reasons his vehicles are the best, anymore than you’d find Paul Newman at the grocery store extolling the virtues of his dressing. Leon doesn’t have to. The quality of his inventory and the speed with which it moves speaks for itself. “We believe in being low key, no pressure, and genuine,” says Garland, as he stands in front of a wall of Polaroid snapshots taken of beaming customers who purchased vehicles from his dealership on Rosedale Hwy. When asked the significance of his wall of photos, Leon smiles warmly and refers to it as his “evidence manual.” Leon knows business. Not only did he graduate from Cal State Northridge with a degree in business, he also co-owned a Ford dealership in Los Angeles, where he credits his success there to customer service. He maintains that philosophy today. “If we can help a few people, then we’ve done our job,” says Garland of Rosedale Auto Sales, his self-labeled “mom and pop” venture since 2004. So, the photos are people he’s “helped,” and he uses them in the way a model uses a portfolio: examples of prior success, evidence of achievement. It’s difficult to be grumpy in the presence of the wall. The faces in the photos seem to say, “This is the happiest day of my life!” And for many of those pictured, it is. Some are retirement age, some have traveled a hundred miles to claim their vehicle. Some are new drivers, 16-year olds getting their first car. How could they be unhappy? I should know; two of my own grinning new drivers have a place on Leon’s wall. When considering new drivers, parents seem to adhere to three commandments while searching for that first car: thou shall be safe, be reliable, and thou shalt not break thy bank. Leon agrees. He also relies on another set of Commandments when dealing with customers. When asked to describe his business model, he doesn’t hesitate. He points to a framed print of The Lord’s Prayer centered above the office’s fireplace. “That’s it,” he says. “Treat people the right way.” That seems simple. For customer Dan Scales, Leon’s faith and principled business practices have led to two different transactions. “I think there’s a lot of integrity there,” says Scales, who purchased a car for his son’s graduation. “Leon’s a real decent guy.” Scales, like many new customers, found Rosedale Auto Sales because of its prime location at the southeast corner of Calloway Dr. and Rosedale Hwy. Sitting at the red light, it’s difficult not to stare at Leon’s sparkling inventory. Many of the cars look new. Several have shiny rims and tinted windows. Lift the hood and you’ll see engines cleaner than most kitchen floors. Leon takes pride in acquiring quality merchandise with low mileage, and he also sells vehicles on consignment, a service he started by request. “There were so many locals that liked the location. They asked if we could help them.” So, he did. Dan Scales entrusted his used truck to Leon, and in four days, it was sold. Is it magic? Location? Leon understands the importance of location. The heavy-traffic at the intersection was the prime reason Leon opened his business on Rosedale Hwy., but he was also attracted to the similarities of Rosedale to his hometown of Houston. “It reminds me of the good ole’ boys of Texas,” he says fondly. “It was the right fit.” Perhaps another likeness to Houston is that the people of Rosedale, and Bakersfield in general, favor pickup trucks, as pointed out by another customer, Julie Etcheverry. “Bakersfield people want trucks. Ford, Chevy, Dodge, extended cabs, extra cabs,” she says. Three years ago, the Etcheverry family was in the market for a truck and found Leon’s lot, which is typically teeming with various makes and models. “There were five or six trucks,” she remembers, “[models] from 2000 to 2004.” Etcheverry says that the nice looking variety of trucks is what drew her in, but that she found Leon “very personable.” When asked if she would ever consider purchasing another vehicle from Rosedale Auto, Etchevery didn’t hesitate. “In a heartbeat.” That is the kind of word-of-mouth on which Leon’s business thrives. Drive-by customers frequent the lot, but the repeat or referral customers contribute the majority of his business. After 18 years in the auto business, perhaps Leon has something figured out. We recently purchased our second used vehicle from Leon, for another 16-year old, and he shared something personal with me the day I drove it off the lot. “I pray over the cars sometimes. It’s something I do.” You know — because the car is for a brand new driver. A teenager. Well, every little bit helps. On Earth as it is in Heaven, indeed.