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50 years on a classic car ride

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  • Ford awards

    Sanderson Ford has won every award handed out by Ford Motor Company, some of them eight to 13 times. It is ranked No. 57 out of 3,500 companies nationwide.

Posted: Wednesday, July 27, 2011 11:00 pm

He can tell you "to this day" how many, the year, the make and model of every car his family ever owned. He's been keeping track since he was 4 years old. He still has all of the car cutouts from magazines dating back to that time.

When his family took a drive, "I would sit in the back seat and name them off. The Studebaker was the first car I ever named because of the bullet nose."

He was in eighth grade when he wrote a letter to General Motors, telling officials he wanted to be a car designer. They sent him an embossed brochure of all their cars, some of them concept cars of the future.

Next month, Neil Schrock celebrates 50 years with Sanderson Ford, and he can tell you about every Ford the dealership has had on its showroom floor.

His relationship with Sanderson began in August 1961, at the beginning of his senior year at Glendale High School. He was 17 years old and a member of DECA (Distributive Education Clubs of America).

"I knew then I still wanted to be in this business," Schrock said.

DECA instructors helped him with his resume, and Sanderson was the first dealership he called. He showed up in a shirt and tie, and was personally interviewed by Don Sanderson.

Yes, he was hired - part-time from 3 to 5 p.m. every afternoon. He worked with Dave Kimmerle (now owner, who married Sue Sanderson) as a lot attendant. That meant cleaning cars and wiping off oil cans. He also sorted the nuts and bolts in bins for mechanics.

Before Sanderson opened its new car dealership at 53rd and Grand avenues, Schrock remembers a downtown weekend ritual each year, when the new models were introduced to the public.

"It was a big deal," he said. "People would come out of everywhere. That pizzaz is gone."

Schrock went from wiping off oil cans to being the new car "get ready" guy. He would check cars in for any damage. That was his job for two years, and soon, Schrock and co-worker Kimmerle were promoted to the main service drive, where they had their own racks to perform lubrication work for customers.

Both married in 1968; Schrock in October, and Kimmerle in November.

Shortly afterward, Schrock's life at Sanderson took a major turn. Sanderson asked him if he wanted to sell cars. Schrock and his wife, Mary, had their first child, and he was not sure he wanted to leave a steady paycheck for commissions. But, Sanderson convinced him he would be good at sales. In 1971, Schrock was driving a 1972 Torino GT with bucket seats; a sporty company car.

Sanderson did a lot of fleet sales - still does - and Schrock remembers 1975 as a very good year. Arizona Department of Public Safety awarded the dealership a contract for 500 Crown Victorias.

About five years later, Schrock was promoted to used car sales manager.

"I loved the thought of that," he said. "Turn that car around, set it on the lot and make it look pretty."

That dedication to perfection is evident today. As he was being interviewed, a service man came to his door and said all of the crew had their pens. That means you sign your initials with a permanent marker under the hood if you are servicing a used car for delivery to the sales lot. And it had better look as close to new as you can get it, including the required license plate frame and valve stem covers.

"I want no objections when I walk out there," Schrock said.

That's his job. He has been the general sales manager since 1999. He supervises new and used car salespeople at the dealership, which has its retail sales showroom and lot at 51st and Maryland avenues. The entire dealership sits on 65 acres, with the old showroom serving as sales area for commercial cabin chassis and utility trucks.

Schrock's open door policy is probably one reason salespeople stay at Sanderson Ford. A lot of the salespeople have been there 12 to 15 years, there are a couple in the commercial division who have stayed 25 years, one 35 years. Every other weekend, salespeople rotate Saturdays off.

Another reason for longevity could be the fact Sanderson is closed Sundays. There were six days in May it was closed: five Sundays and Memorial Day.

"And, we're still No. 1," Schrock said. "I just feel we run a different place. Customers come from all over the country."

He attributes the loyalty to "Mr. Sanderson. His office was just to the right of the switchboard, always out front. If a customer was unhappy, he was there to deal with it."

Schrock's favorite car over the years?

"Probably, when I was a kid, the '65 Mustang," he said. "Ford never had a car like that - bucket seats, base price, $2,495. It was the biggest selling car Ford had."

One of the biggest personal bests for Schrock was when Ford CEO Alan Mullaly walked into the dealership this month to check out the state's top Ford dealer.

"No necktie, khaki shirt," Schrock said.

Mullaly was hired in 2006, and Schrock said attitudes across the Ford spectrum have improved. Mullaly was featured in USA Today and honored as CEO of the Year by the Arizona State University WP Carey School of Business.

"He's a genius," Schrock said.

Some would say Sanderson's team is of genius caliber. It is No. 1 in the country in fleet sales. U-Haul buys off its vehicles at Sanderson. The dealership has won the President's Award 13 times and eight Triple Crowns. Out of 3,500 dealers nationwide, just 23 Triple Crowns were awarded this year. In new car sales, Sanderson ended up No. 57 last year out of 3,500 dealerships across the U.S.

"We've never been out of the Top 100," Schrock said.

He boasts about the new Ford F-150 pickup, which gets 22.6 mpg, but he said the Mustang is still considered the vehicle that gives "the most bang for the buck" at 30 mpg. And he said the F-series truck, every car, "our Taurus," is "really neat right now."

Schrock is proud of the 67 percent of Sanderson's customers being repeat or referral. He also likes to talk about the dealership's commitment to community giving: Operation Home Front; Salvation Army; Operation Santa Claus (a toy and food drive that gives a car away every year); $25,000 for YMCA; Boys and Girls Clubs (with 602 KTAR Sports); Action for Autism (with 92.3 KTAR), a radioathon for Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center; and countless other charitable causes.

Through all the years, Schrock has been there, and he said he has no plans to retire. He will be part of the 100th birthday celebration for Glendale High School in the fall. The big event starts Oct. 13, and he will be there with lots of other GHS graduates to share stories and memories.

Who knows? Maybe he'll sell a few cars.

In the meantime, Schrock is keeping his eye on one of his six grandchildren. It seems there's one 6-year-old grandson who can't stop talking about cars and trucks. A future car salesman?

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