When I began my drive to meet with Mr. Mathews at his main office, at one of his Ford dealerships in Marion, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I was told before the meeting with him to “make sure you always make eye contact” and “I wouldn’t ask him anything about his childhood or any questions that are too personal” I was a little intimidated. Mr. Mathews has built a great reputation by sticking to his principals, doing it his way and not giving up, but also making sure all of his stores are run the way he wants them run.
I was introduced by a relative of mine, who is currently a sales manager for the company. It was brought to my attention that the Saturday I interviewed Mr. Mathews it was his eighty-second birthday. It was clear who still ran the day to day operations. I started the official interview at about 10:00, and Mr. Mathews was as interesting of a man as I have ever met. He greeted me with a smile and a hand shake and sincerely seemed interested when I explained the reasoning for the interview. I then spent the next hour and forty-five minutes at a giant conference table in Mr. Mathew’s office. It was kind of funny how I was “briefed” before hand about what I might expect, and what to do and what not to do, we really connected, and Mr. Mathews really opened up about his personal life and what it took for him to get where he is at today. This wasn’t an easy road for him to get to where he is, but he never gave up because it was something he really wanted to do, that was very evident when I spoke with him. The one point that really stuck out to me the most was when he said “I just made my mind up, people always tell me I wouldn’t make it I said “well that will be my call”, my father in law always told me “you will never make it in that business” if you think you can do it, you can do it.”
I had eight brothers and sisters we were real poor you know during the depression. No money you know, no inside facilities, no electric electricity, no lamps. I just was raised poor, lived on a small farm, and didn’t think that’s what I wanted to do the rest of my life. I think everyone should have to be poor it seems like they get better work ethics. We had to work all the time you know get up at 4:30 and do the chores, take care of the farm milk the cows all that, I just didn’t want to do that. I got involved in this business and liked it. Just watched my parents you know, always poor. We eat what we raised, eat what we shot all that stuff, and didn’t want to do that my entire life. , I was born and raised in Kansas, my wife was raised in Marion met her while I was in the service in California, I got discharged from the Navy, her sister still lived in town and so I came back to Marion with her and we got married a year or two later, after that.
When I was in the Navy I bought a car off a guy, an old 31 Chevy, loved it, I wanted to get into that business, I didn’t want to be in the steel mill for the rest of my life. That’s kind of the way I got into the car business started selling cars, worked my way up in the car business, managers, used car mangers, new car mangers a little bit of everything. You had to work at it, you know it was long hours. It was something I enjoyed, your grandpa could tell you we used to go a house and sell them vehicles and stuff. You either like it or hate it, if you don’t like you better get out. I always thought there was a better opportunity in the car business. I didn’t have any money when I come here I had $75 when I arrived in Ohio. I just always wanted to work my way up, and wanted to be a dealer someday. I just wanted to do it, in order to do it I just had to do it, I don’t know if that makes sense or not. I just made my mind up, people always told me I wouldn’t make it, I said well that will be my call, my father in law told me that, told me you would never make it in the car business, if you think you can do it, do it. Was it an easy road? Hell no it wasn’t an easy road; I wanted enough money to buy a sandwich if I need it. I wanted to eat steak instead of bologna! Car business has been good to me, I like to visit with people. Went to seminars and stuff. It was a different game than what it is now. I looked at dealers and said that’s something I want to be some day. It’s not instant. It’s not going to happen overnight. I just wanted to be a dealer. But I knew you had to go through all the steps, and had to do all that stuff to get there. But it worked out good for me. Hard work, a lot of work, long hours its rewarding if you really want to do that.
Selling vehicles was tough especially in the late 40 and 50’s it worked out okay there is a lot of good people. The biggest hurdle would probably be working my up. You would be a manger here then a new car manger then a used car manger then, you know, working my up. Probably the toughest would be when we had the recession through all that in the forties. The more I worked though I knew I wanted to be a dealer. I went into the used car business and a bank loaned me $ 6,000 that’s all they would give me for floor plan, I had to work a little smarter, so I could accumulate a little bit of equity. When I first got into this business you could shake a man’s hand and it actually meaned something. Its probably not as important to them as it is to me. I was born and raised about handshakes, if you shook hands with a guy; well your grandpa has done the same thing. Shake hands you know, pay ya tomorrow, don’t have that today. There is an obvious generation gap, its tougher out there today. You treat customers like you would your brother and sisters, that’s hard for people to understand. Customers today, I think, want to deal more with a professional, today you have to sell more empathy than ever let that customer know you are gonna take good care of them, let them know you are working for them, it’s a little tough out there, the consumer I don’t think understands it. There’s a lot of good people, there may be some you are not comfortable with but, nothing you can do about it, but they still buy cars.
In 1940...something went into the used car business for about ten years, then I bought my first new car dealership in about 1974, in Mt. Gilead, I worked for the dealership, thought there was better opportunity in the new car business. Now we have them in Newark, Oregon, Sandusky, and Toledo in northern Ohio, they do their own thing. Now I mainly stay here in Marion, go to the south end store regularly, I go to Newark when I need to. They got good mangers and good people.
Well I come in at 6:30 and leave at about 6:30. I spend a lot of time out on the floor, out with the customers. This is a tough business to manage; you got to have the right people. You got to discipline yourself to do things you don’t want to do, they all want to know things, they want to do this, this and this, and it’s not the way this business works. When a customer comes in your going to do everything to sell a car, but hopefully in a professional manner. This is a business where you can do well, but you got to be committed to business, work long hours. Things I wanted fifteen years ago I don’t want today, don’t need them today, but I wanted them then didn’t have no money to do it. This is a business where you can make good money; the right guy can make good money. I always tell people, this may sound corny; I want to hire someone who is smarter than I am and someone who wants my job. They say well why do you want to hire someone who is smarter? I said well they are easier to train, and it’s true. We got a good crew in here now.
I don’t think this generation has the want, or the commitment to do what I’ve done. They have never been disciplined today, they never been poor; I don’t think I could have done it any different. It’s like anything else it could take you until your 55 65 years old before you make any net worth. Boy you meet a lot of good people in this business. I knew this family we sold cars to, they could only afford so much, they had this fifteen and a half year old kid, just raising cane you know, having fits, he was a good customer of ours, he said Thurman what do you want me to do here? I said well, probably ought to let him walk a little longer, boy didn’t like it but the old man did. Kids now don’t have that, they never had to live poor and struggle. I’ll tell you what will put you out of business its that 2nd and 3rd generation. People, a lot of them their not loyal anymore. They will go out of town for a hundred bucks or 50 bucks now. I don’t think salesmen today are like they used to be either, I think they want to wait for things to happen, hell we selling their grandkids cars today, a lot of reoccurring customers. Its different, I get on the phone and call customers that have bought cars and see where there at.
I think the American dream is something you dream about and want to do, hope you get that done and make that goal. I don’t know, I guess I have done what I want to do, I think I would like to do more but I think I have run out of daylight sooner or later (Laughs). I would like to see all my mangers someday get a dealership you know, leave here and go on their own if that’s what they want to do. But they got to get ready, they got to be willing, their wife has got to understand it. I like coming to work you know, there is something different everyday in this business. I’m in early you know 6:30, I have breakfast sometimes at 5:45 6:00 with a couple of the mangers, we spend a lot of time together. In this business there’s a difference between a job and a profession. This is, I think, a profession it’s not an eight hour a day job