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Focusing On Your Team To Build A Successful Dealership With Delano Palmer

  • July 1, 2022
28 min read
Focusing On Your Team To Build A Successful Dealership With Delano Palmer

Ilana Shabtay
VP of Marketing, Fullpath

Delano Palmer
General Manager, Tony T Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram of Orangeburg

Delano Palmer is the General Manager at Tony T Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram of Orangeburg. Originally from Panama, Delano left the country when he was seven years old and spent about eight years in Germany before settling in Texas. Since then, he has run three different dealerships and successfully turned them around with his leadership style and knack for business.

Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • How Delano Palmer entered the automotive industry
  • Delano explains how he helped turn losses into profits for dealerships
  • Why Delano left the auto industry and went to Panama, how he moved back to the US, and his experience working with Foundation Automotive and Tony Thomas
  • The strategies Delano uses to make teams more efficient
  • Delano’s thoughts on the use of Meta in the automotive industry

In this episode…

Building a profitable and successful dealership is not just about selling cars. You need to have the right people with the right mindset, talent, and skills to drive success. They also have to believe in themselves, have the right vision, and work as a team.

So what process changes can you make to unlock the full potential of your team and build a better business? How can you use technology to make your team more efficient?

In this episode of the InsideAuto Podcast, Ilana Shabtay is joined by Delano Palmer, the General Manager at Tony T Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram of Orangeburg, to talk about the importance of focusing on your team to build a successful dealership. Delano explains how he helped different dealerships turn losses into profits, talks about the challenges he faced along the way, and shares his thoughts on the use of Meta in the automotive industry. Stay tuned.

Resources Mentioned in this episode

Sponsor for this episode…

This episode is brought to you by AutoLeadStar, a company that helps car dealerships engage quality customers on the web and convert them into car buyers.

Co-founded by Aharon Horwitz, Yishai Goldstein, and Eliav Moshe, AutoLeadStar’s state-of-the-art software automates a dealership’s entire marketing funnel and provides around-the-clock service for dealers.

AutoLeadStar’s innovative technology helps dealerships automate ads, connect with customers, and discover ROI and performance metrics

Visit their website at to learn more about their around-the-clock marketing service.

Episode Transcript

Intro 0:03

Welcome to InsideAuto Podcast where we feature everyone and anyone you’d want to talk to you in and out of the automotive industry.

Ilana Shabtay 0:14

Ilana Shabtay here, host of InsideAuto Podcast where we interview top dealers, GMs, marketers, entrepreneurs and thought leaders in and out of the automotive industry. And before we introduce today’s guest, this episode is sponsored by AutoLeadStar is automotive’s first and leading customer data and experience platform CDXP. Top dealers invest in CDXP to unify dealership data sources automatically create one to one customized journeys and execute omni-channel shopping experiences. It’s all in one connected platform. So today we have Delano Palmer joining us today. Delano how are you?

Delano Palmer 0:51

I’m doing well. How are you?

Ilana Shabtay 0:53

I am doing well. Thanks. This was a well anticipated episode, we’ve been waiting for this one. Delano comes with a lot of experience in automotive. So I’m really excited for him to share his expertise. Originally from Panama, he spent years around the globe. So he left Panama around seven years old and then spent about eight years in Germany, before settling in Texas, in the US, and now he’s in South Carolina. So since then he’s run three different dealerships, he’s successfully turned them around with his leadership style and his knack for business. So we’ll we’ll learn a little bit about that. And currently, he’s the General Manager at Tony T CDJR. So we’re really excited, he is an amazing leader, he learns he serves and develops his team by leading, you know, from the frontlines, so he’s gonna tell us all about that again today. And that’s it before we get started on, you know, the good stuff and the GCR on how you turned around all your stores. Tell us how you got into automotive, you’re such an interesting background.

Delano Palmer 1:58

You know, I was I was living in Dallas for some time, I was an advertising director at the Fort Worth Star Telegram in Dallas. And I decided to take a different career path, like in the mid 90s, and decided to start my own recruiting company, and sort of do some technical recruiting because it was really hot back in that time, and was doing really well. And then 2000 When the internet bubble popped, that business changed drastically. In 2000 2001, when September 11 happened, as we all know, and recall, technology really, really made a change at that particular point. So it made some things very difficult. At some point, I made a decision at that time to relocate to Houston and some friends of mine were really, really talking about the automotive business should get into the automotive industry, it really should. And I was like, Man, I don’t want to do that. And so, so I kind of did some research on and realize that finance is probably the area I really would enjoy. And so I interviewed at a Nissan store got the job, and the rest of the rest is history.

Ilana Shabtay 3:04

You started in finance.

Delano Palmer 3:06

I was in the finance department for around two years. I enjoyed it. But I didn’t like the fact I couldn’t control the deal, that lack of control that I’m a narcissist or anything, but

Ilana Shabtay 3:18

Have more impact

Delano Palmer 3:19

impact. Yeah, you want, you want to have more impact on the deal. And so in finance, you kind of sit back and you wait for the opportunities that come to you. And you got to make that chicken soup out of that stuff. And so when you’re on the sales desk, you kind of help produce it and make a little bit more of an impact all the way around the board.

Ilana Shabtay 3:33

Yeah. And it’s also a different type of personality. So if you fit that bill probing, yeah,

Delano Palmer 3:39

It is a different personality. But you know, we, we enjoy, I enjoy. I didn’t do it for two years. But at the same time I was I was ready to do something different for sure.

Ilana Shabtay 3:47

Yeah, that sounds interesting. So you did two years at the Nissan store, and then you went over to a different store?

Delano Palmer 3:52

Yeah, so what happens is, I am within the same company, I go in and request, you know, for an opportunity to get on the sales desk, I get that I get the opportunity there. And we at that time we were the big thing was was maximizing profit, not really the global picture of a dealership so the my GM at the time, Jerry Bush, kind of educated me on the idea that you really want to sell more cars. My director at the time really good guy, Jeff Dean was a phenomenal process guy did really well, the GM really wanted to grow volume. So myself and the team really got into this habit of selling more cars to make more money and that kind of that kind of transitions throughout the dealership because the more cars a dealership sells, the more the service department services, the more customers come back to the dealership and then the ecosystem continues to build from that. And so that’s that from speaking with Jerry Bush about what he really was looking forward looking for out of our department in the used car department of time. That kind of gave me that idea of really got to get on the ball and sell more cars and and find those really unique ways of maximizing profit by doing more volume.

Ilana Shabtay 4:55

Interesting. Yeah. And it’s so great that you got to be with a manager that was very Process focus, because that probably drew a lot of you into the strategy now. You said you turned around a few stores? How have you been? You know, how have you been? How did you turn around Tony T. And tell us a little bit of the process there. We’ll talk about marketing, also beginning to talk about that after we can incorporate it. And because I know you’re involved in the marketing as well, but it’s nice. It’s nice to be able to see how your mentor has some kind of process that you adopt it and adapt to something new and make it your own.

Delano Palmer 5:29

Yeah, so Tony, he’s been doing well before I got here. But before I got with Tony T, what I was, I it was an interesting story, because I was sitting at an Audi store in Houston, it was going to consider the Taj Mahal of all the stores at the time. And I got a phone call out of the blue from Laura Ryan, was running to the store and just released a GM. And I guess I was considered a red belt. Because I was I was a GSM, prior to the opportunity and had GSM experience, but I really was looking for for more of an opportunity. And so when she reached out to me, she gave me the opportunity to run the store in the absence of a GM, and what I thought about it. And so the funny thing about it at that time, I was sitting there thinking, Man, I’m really comfortable. I’m in Houston, we’re on fam family and friends, you know why why take on this opportunity to show us was not doing well, losing about a quarter million dollars a month. And so a lot of things needed to change. And I had no experience, you know, but all I had was the belief that I knew I had the confidence in the training from the past to do it. And so at that time, I just said, You know what, you know, the worst case scenario will fall on my face and fail, I’d always go back and be a salesman, so what, what’s what’s the worst that can happen? So on faith and courage, I decided to take the opportunity, and you made some mistakes, I mean, you can you can imagine going in for the first time as a GSM. And running a store on your own and having a great team around you, recruiting new people to come in and help you build this vision. And you know, we had a good vision, the vision was to really just build on processes, focus on the mental conditioning of our staff, both finance, sales, accounting to get them into that mode of winning versus losing the way they’ve been for some time, we made some mistakes, I remember one month, we made a process change, you know, you’re eating berries for the first time, every time you come up with something and so you don’t know if you’re gonna survive, or if you’re gonna if you’re gonna pass out. So we made this one process change. And I remember like being excited because I knew it worked well in the past at some other store. And it flopped the first day, we just we just the first month, we just missed a couple of connecting ports. We just missed it. And I remember speaking to the, to the owners at the time, pretty mobility. Don Javier, who was the CEO of the organization out of Costa Rica, phenomenal guy, extremely patient said, hey, look, do you not you know what, you know exactly what happened, let’s just go forward and proceed. And so we did. And we went on to that. And probably about six or seven months later, we became profitable, actually, four months after that we became profitable, and the rest is history that and then from that experience, I was given an opportunity to run an ESOP store in Alabama. And going into that scenario was a little different. I mean, they weren’t losing as much money, but it was still around people, it was about getting people to believe that they can see it in their mind, they can they can hold in their hand and believing that they have a vision for doing something and we can we can get there together as a team or individuals. And so we did. And so we got in there, we got busy and taking care of our customers with the first part of it. At that time, I bought in a good friend of mine, Milton jerrells, to help to assist on the finance side. And we did a really, really, really good job. We turned that around like in three months, if I remember correctly, and became profitable there. The only thing that shifted at that particular point was, this is where the story gets really interesting. So we’re there at the store, things are going well. But the owner and I even though things are going well make a decision to part ways. But in that time my aunt passed away my dad’s dad’s sister, and I made a visit to my dad and he wasn’t doing that. Well, he was psychologically just seemed like he just wasn’t it wasn’t in a different space being the last Palmer alive. And so anyways, I made the decision to walk away from the car business in December of that year, and spent six months in Panama with my dad and just kind of just hung out with him a little bit and was making a goal of just getting away from the car business and like everyone else’s story and try to get out of the car business just get dragged right back in. And I came in a dramatic way I came back in a dramatic way I was I was there in Panama enjoying life living on the beach and city and enjoying the country. And I’m completely oblivious to what’s going on in the United States when it comes to COVID. I talked to my brothers about it. Our brothers are laughing at me because I had no idea what COVID would. And so no idea. And so anyways, totally gets announced in Panama. And I made the decision on a Saturday morning to come back to the states and spend time with my family while this thing sorts itself out. Panama was going to be closed for 30 days. And so I said I’ll go back to the states and come back. So I went to Dallas. I bought the last ticket leaving Panama the very very last technically Panama that day. And I remember driving from the beach over to the airport and had to stop like three different roadblocks and in those roadblocks are testing you to see your temperature with a certain mark. I don’t know what the heck I’m gonna I’m gonna be I’m gonna be quarantined in some nasty remote jail.

So we make it to the airport I buy the last ticket I get to the States I quarantine for 30 days. And then, as gotten the universe would have it, I ended up making a phone call to a friend of mine who’s working at a small Ford store in Madisonville, Texas. Madisonville, Texas, which is population around 3500. He asked me you invited me over to come by and visit on my way to visit my mom because I’m in Dallas, which is north. Madisonville is in the middle and in Houston, the south. So I stopped there on the way to Houston, I meet a phenomenal guy. His name is Eric Barbosa, who’s revolutionizing social media, by the way out there in a small town selling about 300 cars a month. phenomenal guy, great, great talent. He’d be a good interview next. He’s a he’s a phenomenal guy. And so I meet Eric, Eric and I meet and again, I’m coming off a six months vacation really. And I have no idea what I want to do. He’s asked me what you got a great resume, what makes you want to come to the small town? I don’t I have no idea. I don’t have a clue. So he scheduled me to come visit him the week after to just have a formal interview. And we talk and he’s asking me, we talking about just different things of Puerto Rican guy on Panamanian. There’s a connection there as a Puerto Rican guy in a small town, Madisonville, Texas, cowboy boots, cowboy hats. What are you doing here? It’s just, it’s just irony at his best, right. And so in the conversation you mentioned, again, what do you want to do? I’m like, I have no idea. And then he’s like, when you could be a GM anywhere? Why come here? And later on in the conversation, Eric suggests he said, Man, why don’t you just do some training? I’m like, That’s it. That’s exactly what I’ll do. I’ll do some training. So we we set up something for me to do some training for your staff. And from their feedback. They have a phenomenal results. And we I was able to unlock a couple of really, really good salespeople, one that was stuck at eight cars ended up selling like 22 cars that month. From 15. It was really good. And part of that process was I think that was the first month Eric will tell you, I think it was a first month they sold 300 cars and when I remember, but it was just a great experience, it was just good to be able to focus on mentally conditioning and unlocking people that that really have phenomenal talent, but just get stuck in the rut. And so that bodes well. And so that that that production, led to a phone call on a Sunday morning, at around 830 from Chuck Kramer, who was the CEO, COO of Foundation, Automotive asked me to join their organization and partner with them at a Honda store in Cleveland, that store, that’s where everything really becomes very, very interesting, because now I have all this opportunity to be able to put a lot of things at play. And the store was losing about the same thing about 200 to 250,000 miles a month, and they went through four jams in a year. And they were just at their wit’s end. And, and so we we get in and with it with the help of a really, really, really phenomenal team of people there at Foundation, we were able to put some things into place that really make a difference. And we go in and we focus on the people are really good, a really, really good friend of mine. I’m sorry, my name is escaping me for a second.

But nonetheless, sorry. We get in there, we start working on our people. And when we talk about people when you’re talking about getting them out of this condition of constantly failing every single month, and getting beat up from life getting beat up from the sales going on at work, and we turn that scenario around and we make the store profitable and, and in that in that. In that experience, I’m able to meet Tony Thomas, and we meet we have a great time Tony was planning on partnering with the organization at that time, and he made a decision that he didn’t want to be a 25 or 30%. Owner, you want to be 100% owner so you walked away from that opportunity to get 100% ownership of his own store. And so we we we talked some more through the course of the time of he was he and I were together. And nothing really came up it was no big deal. But then Foundation I’m still at Foundation at that time. Absolutely Foundation because it’s a year goes by Tony decides not to not to join the organization. He goes off and finds he finds this opportunity. Yeah, because this opportunity here and that makes when we talk a little bit but we don’t we don’t connect all the time. And then we at that time Foundation decided to sell the Honda store. And I’m left with a decision to make and Tony and I had a conversation and decided hey let’s let’s do it. On this build our own dealer group, where we focus on our people, and we grow in these rural to midsize markets. And, and we become, you know, become an organization and doing business in the way we want to do do it. And we did. And so right now, Tony recently partnered with Mike Terry out in Arkansas, and we require two more stores. They are fluid and a Nissan store. Organization. Yeah. And so, so now we’re in together with those two organizations, we’re becoming slightly bigger. And from that, we begin to put a bigger footprint into into what’s going on in the community here on the East Coast, in the smaller markets. So a lot of that a lot of that experience just comes with the focus on people and process.

Ilana Shabtay 15:45

Wow. And you’ve had a lot of it sounds like really amazing mentors along the way of so you can kind of carve your own your own strategy now for really making sure your people perform and your process performs. And then of course, once you have that, you can then layer in technology. That works too. So yeah, got it all all under control there. Now, when it comes to marketing at the dealership, it there’s a lot of things happening in the market. I mean, we talked a lot about COVID on this podcast, and I feel like even though it still exists, it’s behind us. Then we had the inventory shortage, which I think we’re coming out of, I don’t know, you can tell me what you feel about that. But whatever, whatever the crisis might be at the time, how does your marketing strategy fit into that? Or what did you change when it came to your marketing strategy at the dealership, you could take really any crisis as example or just talk in general about how you how you kind of approach that.

Delano Palmer 16:43

Yeah, I’ll look at our current store now and look at our marketing strategy from that standpoint, because in the small markets, you got to be more creative. And so we got to have so much more creative. And so what happens is, you know, we run into a service AutoLeadStar, Jon Frederick, Carlos, and Garrett have been phenomenal. But on at least our producers, as you’re familiar with Nurture, and Nurture is a technology and AI technology that just communicate seamlessly 24/7 with our customers in a downstream nonconfrontational approach to talking to a customer and serving them up information based on their footprint within the internet, from our VDP, and from the BDP, that that Nurture produced that the police are produces. And so, you know, with that, we’re able to touch our clients more often, when you look at the billable engagements of one month time, we’ve had 68,000 engagements and engagement is decided to find as a customer responding to an email. And we’re able to go from an average monthly of 7500 website visits to around 10,000 website visits in one month. And it’s just constantly getting better. And what that does is more of a long term approach to how you grow your business, because you got to be communicating with your clients, the trick that we have is being able to have that human interaction at the right time, to where we see that opportunity to human can jump in and say, Hey, this is so and so how can we help you be better companies better serve you? And how can we help up put you that dream in your driveway? So

Ilana Shabtay 18:11

right, and I was gonna say, because you have that focus on your people, and, you know, motivating them and making sure that they’re at their maximum and on your process. That is why any I mean, Nurture, any other technology will work so well, for your dealership. And I think that’s an important important point here. Because there’s a lot of talk about well, technology are plagued my employees or will technology ruin my process? It’s hats that absolutely make your team more efficient. And you can’t do that unless you have your team in a certain place. So you’ve obviously mastered that.

Delano Palmer 18:43

Yeah, yeah, we’re getting better, we will get better at that it takes a lot of a lot of it’s a relentless reiteration of these processes for everyone to optimize their performance. And it takes time. Because it’s different. I mean, again, we’re eating berries for the first time when you’re talking about technology, and people merging together working together. And so in our environment, which is the automotive space, I think we have a phenomenal opportunity to be able to do that and do that well be able to maximize profit, but I think what happens is you got to be patient, you know, these things take a little bit of time for it to take place. It’s like Michelangelo painted Sistine Chapel in five years, it’s just a masterpiece of watch. You see the communication, I just love watching, getting on the dashboard and seeing it go on. But that’s one of the biggest marketing strategies that we have. Because direct mail is direct mail. I mean, it changes people see the mail and it changes. And sometimes they get, you know, they get a little blind to it from time to time, but it still has an impact, right? Then you start looking at SEO, SEM, all those things were all put them all together and they all help you be able to maximize your marketing strategy, but nothing, nothing. Nothing. Nothing compares to being able to have have Nurture or have her working inside the system and touching our customers 24/7 seamlessly. And the great thing about it is that she she does it every three days and doesn’t do it on the weekend. So it’s a real downstream noncompetition like I said before,

Ilana Shabtay 20:00

Yeah, it’s great. I’m glad that’s working for you. And then we talked a little bit about this offline, you and I, predictions for automotive, metal out, there’s a lot of talk about how consumers are going to be interacting with their dealerships, whether that’s, you know, OEM direct to consumer, or we’re all going to buy our cars and metaphors. What’s your take? I mean, you’ve seen a lot. You’ve been in this industry for a while. What’s your take? What’s your prediction? I’d love to hear a little bit about what how you’ve been interacting with with this new idea of Metaverse for automotive

Delano Palmer 20:36

you know, that’s a great question. I mean, I’m I’m I’m a nerd by heart. I’m big Marvel fan. And so, I mean, I don’t I don’t get on Facebook as much as I should. I’m getting better at that. But, but I do like the technology that’s coming and Facebook, Facebook, Google, in video or Nvidia, Nvidia and Epic Games are kind of leading the way on metaverse. And so when you look at what I see, you know, if I had completed the total amount of money for r&d for r&d, what I see happening is just put a dealer on one side and put the manufacturer on one on one side from the manufacturer. What happens is customer satisfaction is extremely important. And so if I if I looked into the future, what I see happening is, but those of you don’t know what moto versus the metaverse is basically a four d dimension of the internet. So imagine being real life inside of the internet versus looking at it, you’re actually in it. So it’s a little bit different. And so I’m gonna take a page from BMW, BMW has one of their factories completely set up in the metaverse. So they’re assembling cars in complete reality in this separate dimension, completely. The whole factory is producing a car in this and they’re able to simulate errors in the manufacturing process in the metaverse and they take those corrections and put it into the real world to advance catch any errors and what happened that’s BMW and Audi is yeah, it’s it’s it’s amazing. And but they’re so once again, they’re taking everything in the metaverse reproducing a car completely, catching any errors and then adapting that into the into the real world. So for us, I can see manufacturers literally every car that sold getting a headset, right? Imagine for a second, you get home with your headset. And if you wanted to learn how to pay your phone, pay your car, to your to your electronic devices. You do all that with a headset on in the metaverse literally sitting in you’re sitting in your living room, but if simulated version of your car, and you’re setting all these things up directly, and that’s from a manufacturer stone standpoint, because again, they weren’t customers are completely satisfied do it, I can see dealers kind of falling into that where we can do more things like we can market to a customer with the headset. So you buy a new car and you get a headset, you instead of the delivery being done here at the dealership, you take the car home and the delivery is done for you you put on your headset and everything is being done, then what happens is there’s so many other things that can take place, you can put games in there where customers are sitting there, and they’re using their SUV, and they’re building their own simulated world of fulfilling or whatever the case might be in their own environment or in their own space, they buy a sports car, they can build their own racetrack build their own car and be able to spend that time doing that. And so dealerships can use these headsets that literally simulate whatever is taking place on the actual showroom floor in terms of delivery process. Or imagine for a second having a headset, delivered to a customer at the house. And they can sit there and do their entire transaction. Companies like roaster, now we’re doing it online, but you can literally be able to do that. By sitting in your living room. A salesperson has their headset on you have your headset on and you can do your entire transaction sitting from home as if you’re sitting in the showroom floor. You’re in the environment, you see the showroom, you see everything you see the TV playing music playing, but you’re sitting there having a conversation one on one. And then when you go into the finance office, that experience transitions, and then with the digital signatures and everything that we have now you can sign your car, deliver your car, be in front of the dealership and never be in the deal. They’ve never been in the showroom floor and in your car shows up on your car shows up on your driveway. So I mean what this is probably far more creative ways to use the metaverse but I see that coming because I remember in 2020 Travis Scott Epic Games like five search concepts if I did five Metaverse concepts in 2020. Right. Travis Scott was one of them. Guess how many people watched that concert on an epic games in 2020?

Ilana Shabtay 24:29

Millions beyond million.

Delano Palmer 24:31

12 million people watch the Travis Scott concert in Metaverse,

Ilana Shabtay 24:35

your reach is just unlimited. So that is Yeah, I mean, it’s a practical prediction. So I think I think you’re probably on the right track. It’s crazy. I love using this podcast to talk to dealers like you to understand, you know, where you see the industry going, what you’ve been implementing what works. You will have an unbelievable history in automotive So I’m so happy to share with us today. There’s so much more than we could talk about. So we’re gonna have to do a part two of this episode. But thank you so much. This is InsideAuto Podcast. We are on all streaming so you can get us on Apple, Spotify, Deezer . Just go to internet or and follow us there. This is Ilana with Delano thank you so much.

Delano Palmer 25:21

Thank you.

Outro 25:27

Thanks for listening to InsideAuto Podcast. Check out our other episodes with top entrepreneurs and industry leaders.

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