Alex Perdikis as a student considered becoming a lawyer or a college football coach. But then he became enthralled with the idea of selling cars.
That occurred in 1996 after he took a summer job as a lot porter at Koons of Tysons Corner, then a Chevrolet-Chrysler-Plymouth-Geo store in Virginia.
“It was exhilarating,” he recalls. “We’d see the big Saturdays when you’d sell 30-40 cars, and we’re in the back getting them ready. It was something different every day. I thought, ‘This is a great industry. You can make something of yourself in it.’”
He graduated from the University of Richmond in 1997 as a business major. “Most of my friends were aspiring to work for Anderson Consulting or Goldman Sachs.”
Perdikis might have followed a similar career path were it not for his father-in-law, Jim Koons, head of the Koons Automotive Group based in the Washington D.C. market. Perdikis and Koons’ daughter were high school sweethearts.
“I would never have got in the car business were it not for Jim Koons,” he says. “I was able to understand what the car business could be for you, if it’s done right. I owe him everything for that.”
Jim Koons’ father, the late John Koons, started the namesake group in 1964. “John was partially paralyzed and in a wheelchair because of a diving accident as a teenager, Perdikis says. “He was an amazing person. He got in the car business and made it happen.”
Perdikis became the group’s executive vice president. In 2011, he became general manager and dealer partner of Koons of Silver Springs, MD, selling Fords, Lincolns and Mazdas.
The Maryland store was No.186 on the WardsAuto Dealer 500 with revenues of $123.5 million last year. It sells 300 to 400 vehicles a month.
Perdikis transformed the struggling dealership into the second-highest volume dealership in the dealership group that ranks No.17 on the WardsAuto Megadealer 100 with 2014 revenues of nearly $2 billion.
WardsAuto spoke with Perdikis about his background, business style and an innovative pay plan he instituted as a dealer-owner. Here is an edited transcript.
WardsAuto: You thought about being a college football coach. Did you play football in school?
Perdikis: I was a linebacker. Football was a major part of my life. A lot of what I do today goes back what I was taught by my football coaches: discipline, work ethic perseverance. That helped me become a better person in my career, as a father and as a husband.
WardsAuto: Were your parents in the car business?
Perdikis: I’m a first-generation American. My father was a Greek diplomat to the U.S. He was a resistance fighter in World War II.
He moved here with my mom and brother in the early 1970s, before I was born. The plan was to go back to Greece once his tour in America was up. But we realized how wonderful it was to be in the U.S. We had less and less desire to move back to Greece.
My mom sold interior decorating items, like tapestries and furniture. She opened up her own business in Georgetown. When he retired as a diplomat 1982, my dad opened his own retail business as well. They sold antiques and high-end home furnishings. Saturdays were spent at their stores all day as a kid growing up.
Perdikis: Well, at the time I was only 6 or 7 years old, so there was only so much I could do. But helping. Packing stuff. Stapling brochures. I wasn’t given a lot of downtime.
It was their second life in America. It was a complete new chapter in their life. It was great to be around that.
WardsAuto: What was your favorite job at the dealership?
Perdikis: As I was telling our guys at our daily morning meeting today, nothing happens at a dealership until you sell a car. There’s no oil to be changed, no financing to be done. Nothing, until you sell the car.
And I love doing that. I love meeting people, talking to them, looking at their situation and figuring out to help them. I love problem solving. I love getting involved, building a customer relationship, helping employees make money and making the dealership profitable.
Switching Pay Plans
WardsAuto: Talk about changing pay plan to flat rates.
Perdikis: My first month at Silver Spring, I was in my office off the showroom floor and overheard salespeople complaining about their paychecks and not understanding what was taken out for, say, shop-bill charges or a rebilled deal.
I was sitting there listening.
We are gluttons for punishment sometimes in the car business. We can create our own problems. We have these commissioned pay plans based on a percentage of profit. It creates confusion and can create distrust.
On average, when a new car is sold, the salesperson makes between $300 and $400. My idea was, “Why don’t we just make it that?” So a salesperson knows what they are going to get every time they sell a car.
Also, with extremely competitive pricing because of the Internet, you don’t want salespeople shying away from deals they know are losers. They might do a sales-leader deal begrudgingly.
But now, salespeople know they’ll make $400 on every deal, regardless. We pay out the same or a little more than other dealerships in our market. But it’s created stability, better CSI and a lot less turnover.
The pricing is no longer a big issue with the salespeople. Instead, it is building a relationship. You sell the car, yourself and the dealership, not the price.
Ironically, we’ve found our profit margins weren’t affected by it.
WardsAuto: It sounds like you as management try to build a relationship with your employees, too.
Perdikis: Absolutely. We are big on recognition and making sure people feel appreciated. I know what it’s like to leave a dealership at 1:30 a.m., only having sold three cars that day. And I know what it’s like to leave then, after a record day. There is the good, bad and ugly. I’ve experienced it all. The best leaders are the ones who have.
Being a salesperson is tough. The Washington D.C. area is really competitive. We are a high-volume dealership that has a lot of traffic, but there are still pockets to create more opportunity for our guys. The pressure I put on myself as a dealer is to make sure our people have enough at-bats at the plate. So I look at how to get more leads.
WardsAuto: Are most leads digital?
Perdikis: Yes. We have a huge budget we spend on search and digital-marketing campaigns. Then it’s phone calls, emails, texts and setting appointments to get them into the store.
If we get a lead from a customer, we generally know three things: They’re probably comfortable with the price or know it’s competitive. They like the vehicle. And they want to do business with us.
At that point, it’s us following up and building a relationship with them.
WardsAuto: Koons bought the Silver Spring dealership in 2010, not the greatest year for the auto industry. Did you buy it on a gamble or were you confident things would get much better?
Perdikis: We looked at Ford, and knew it had great leadership with Alan Mulally. The dealership’s previous owner was ready to move on. We looked at the location. It is in an auto park where almost every franchise is represented, so that’s good. It was near a new interstate connector going in. We are right off that. I wouldn’t call it a gamble. It was a well-thought-out investment.