Carlo Merlo has spent a quarter of a century at the helm of Glendale Chrysler, through feast and famine. In this interview, Carlo shares how making a commitment to both your customers and your employees can make all the difference in the Missouri automotive industry.
How did you get into the auto industry?
I have been the President of Glendale since September 1st, 1996. I purchased the dealership from my mother after the passing of my father. Prior to that time, I was a CPA in Chicago working for Arthur Andersen.
Tell us a little about your team.
I am very blessed with a team that is not only very talented, but takes customer service to the next level. It does not matter what the customer need or concern is or which department the request is aimed at, every employee at Glendale knows it is their job to help the customer find the answer. Each member of our team knows they are an ambassador of the dealership, and there is no such thing as “that’s not my job.” This culture has helped foster an unbelievable atmosphere and gives us all pride in knowing we are part of the Glendale team.
What’s the best part about being in the Missouri auto industry?
I think my favorite part of being a part of the Missouri automotive industry is we get the chance to serve our consumers on a personal level. Some other markets have gotten so big, they have lost touch with their customers. This is the first or second biggest purchase that a person will make in their life. It is scary. Consumers want to know there is a person who will give them the respect and compassion they deserve and be there to help when they have questions or concerns. You cannot get that feeling from a vending machine.
What advice would you offer someone looking to break into the auto industry?
If someone were looking to get into our business today, I would tell them to have patience. As a young person, I felt like it was so important to show everyone how much I knew. After 25 years in this business, I have found my greatest successes have come when I swallowed my pride and reached out for help. There is so much to know about the car business. We work on margins that are so small that a slip up here or there is the difference between profit or loss. So, every department needs to be firing on all cylinders. The best thing you can do is surround yourself with great people you not only trust, but also have a clear understanding of your vision. These folks need to understand what success and failure look like and how each person’s role needs to lift the team.
What’s your all-time favorite car?
No question: The Jeep Wrangler is my favorite vehicle of all time. Not only has that vehicle put my kids through school, fed my family and helped me pay for my house, but it is the best vehicle in the world to sell. Everyone who buys a Wrangler is so excited when they are taking delivery. Jeep is a lifestyle. If you have never experienced the “Jeep Wave,” you need to hop in a Wrangler today and live the camaraderie you will find with complete strangers. A Wrangler has no demographic or lifestyle limitations. It is loved by everyone. And ownership transforms the driver into a carefree individual who has never met a stranger. We all need a little bit of that in today’s world.
Which service repair is most essential to your vehicle’s longevity?
That is a very difficult question to answer, but I would have to say tires are the biggest safety concern I have with my kids. I have seen so many bad accidents happen from drivers who do not rotate or change their tires when needed. In Missouri, we go through four very distinct seasons, each with their unique hazards. In an instant, our weather can challenge the traction on a vehicle’s tires. Changing tires when needed can be the difference between life and death in such situations.
What’s the biggest career lesson you’ve learned?
The biggest lesson I have learned in my career is to take the time to make everyone feel special. Early in my career, I made the mistake of assuming my responsibility to my employees went as far as making sure they receive adequate pay. But there is so much more. People are spending the majority of their waking hours trying to help me take care of my family. They do their jobs with pride and represent our family, our dealership, our brand and our customers as best they can. We owe it to them to let them know how important they are to us. They need to know their efforts are appreciated and they are a vital part of our team. If we expect them to give us their best every day, they need to know we care. They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
Tell us an important memory from your time at the dealership.
This is a business that provides a new and interesting story every day, but I think the one that will never leave me is an interview I did on the showroom floor in 2009 with Art Holiday from Channel 5. We were in the middle of the Chrysler bankruptcies, and I was all but certain that the end was near. All of my employees were watching me be interviewed as most were terrified to think what the future held. As the interview went on, I disclosed that I had mortgaged my house, sold everything I could find and cut my salary to zero to make sure we could keep as many employees as possible. At the time, I just thought it was the right thing to do. As I looked around the room, not one of them had dry eyes. It was amazing how much each of them rallied around me to make sure we made it through those times. And most of those employees are still at the dealership. It really helped me appreciate how blessed I was to have such great people working for me and how much they want to be part of my success.
What’s the best advice you can give a consumer making their first car purchase?
Buy your car at Glendale.