In the Spring of 1967 at the age of 20, I went to work for the Palatka Auto Auction. For me, it was a temporary job as I was scheduled to begin college in August.
Towards the end of July, I went to the owner and reminded him that my last day of employment was coming up soon and that, indeed, I would be leaving to go to college. He asked me why did I want to go to college, and I thought to myself, “That’s a really good question.” After a moment, I said, “I want to get an education so that I can go into business for myself so that I won’t have to work for you or anyone else!”
To this, he smiled and made his case. “You are a smart young man with a bright future ahead of you. I don’t think college is going to be of help to you. If you stay on with my auction company and continue to progress at the rate you’ve been in the last few months, I will be your financial partner in a business venture of your own.”
After some thought, I decided to stay on at the auto auction and get my education at the “School of Working Your Tail Off.”
After two years of working hard and learning a great deal, I felt I was ready to venture out on my own and open an auto auction in Albany, GA. But my education was far from over.
At the beginning of my new venture, the Albany Auto Auction, there were many times that I would barely break even for the week’s auction. Thankfully I had the sense to supplement my income by wholesaling autos. But, I never lost sight of the ultimate goal of making the auto auction a success in and of itself.
Every Tuesday was auction day. On Mondays, I would call new car dealers to see if I could coax them into bringing some of their trade-ins to the auction for the sale the next day. One particular Monday, a Chevrolet dealer in north Florida told me that he would consign me six cars if I would send my transport truck to pick them up. My immediate thought was “for sure I will,” as I needed all the business I could muster-up!
However, this posed a problem. My driver was out with the flu. I’d loaded a transport truck before, but it was tricky under the best of conditions. My driver was an expert at loading the transport truck. I’d watched him on occasion, and there was a precision to what he did. He could load cars of different weights and balance the load properly. Bad weather didn’t bother him. And he could coax a car that wasn’t operating very well up the ramp as if there were no issues at all.
I should have postponed that consignment until the next week, but, I really wanted those six cars! So I told the dealer I would come and get them but, because I still had phone calls to make, it would be in the evening. He said fine and that he would leave the six lined up on the lot with the keys on the floorboard. Well and good!
Shortly after 5 pm, I cranked up the transport truck drove two hours in that bouncy, old transport truck to get those six cars for the auction. But I didn’t feel any discomfort as I was excited to have those six cars for tomorrow’s auction!
Arriving at the dealership, I saw the six cars all lined up as promised. It was now nighttime and as I pulled into the dealership, it started to rain. I began loading the cars on the bottom row of the transport truck and it was just as easy as it could be.
Then I started to load the top of the carrier. The first car was a blue Chevy with a straight shift. I carefully eased it up to the top loading ramp. Just to be extra careful, I got out to ensure that I had it lined up correctly. Check. Then I started up the ramp slowly, only to get about halfway up and the tires started spinning on the rain soaked ramp. So, I let the car ease back down the ramp and backed off some 10 to 12 feet so I could get a running start. Off I went, up the ramp and onto the top row of the trailer. As I was propelled towards the front of the trailer, I hit the brake pedal only to find that the brakes were out!! Fortunately, I had the presence of mind to cut the ignition and the car buck-stopped against the tire bumpers on top of the car carrier. If the car had hit those tire bumpers at the speed it was traveling before switching off the engine, it would have jumped the bumpers and the car, with me in it, would have had a ‘rude awakening’, after jumping off the the car carrier!
On the two hour drive back to the auction site, I kept thinking about what I had just experienced. I kept coming to the thought that what I did was crazy as well as quite dangerous. It could have caused me tremendous injury or even cost me my life! It was all done in the name of doing whatever it took to make my new auto auction a success.
That night, when I finally got to bed, I vowed that I had loaded my last transport truck. I would leave it to professionals who transported cars for a living to do what they did best and that I would do what I did best; running an auction business.
You know, many times in our desire to save money, small business owners can be “penny-wise and pound-foolish.” There is a line for any business - particularly for a small business - where it’s wiser to employ others who are ‘pros’ to do certain tasks. The trick to it all is to be logical in finding where that line is.
Hiring an expert doesn’t mean that you stop learning or doing. It means coming to the realization that it’s much more efficient to let an expert do it. It also means that you’ll have more time to do the things that you do best. Sometimes it costs too much to do it yourself - like taking a dive off an automobile transport truck!