Behind the front lines, Grant Drowsy, Park Pontiac's business manager, has been with the company for 13 years, controller Diane Gauthier is a 14-year employee, used car manager Glen Miller is an eight-year veteran, body shop manager Kris Singh has been around for 12 years and Glen Swenson has been the service manager for 36 years -- or well before Dave Dveris took over the former Stern Motors.
"This place holds its key staff very well," Whatman says. "That makes for a better repeat and referral business. As well, these guys know what to do. They go the extra mile naturally. You see it almost as soon as you arrive here."
Whatman himself has had a varied career in the industry. He started working for General Motors in 1976 in the district office. When he left in 1984, he was district sales manager. For the next several years, he worked for a leading GM dealer in Winnipeg.
In more recent years, he helped the Manitoba Motor Dealers Association establish an auto sales training program through Patal Vocational Technical College. He also was one of the instructors.
He says he has known Park Pontiac dealer co-principals Dave and Jeff Dveris for years. Dave Dveris was the first auto dealer to set up shop on the Regent strip -- in the face of much advice to the contrary, Whatman adds.
"Our objectives and the way we do business are much the same," Whatman says of himself and Dave and Jeff Dveris. "Because Dave is a good listener, people feel they are valued members of the team."
Whatman says his role is to help raise sales and already outstanding customer service levels to even higher levels. For example, he says he is placing greater emphasis on the sales team's use of GM's "in-touch system" to get in touch with customers whose leases are coming due.
He also says Park Pontiac is celebrating Buick's 100th anniversary with a Buick sale. There are 60 Buicks inside the landmark Park Pontiac Bubble beside the dealership.
Meanwhile, farther down the Regent Avenue strip, Vickar Community Chev Olds has welcomed Kramer lookalike Jeff Kentziger to its staff.
The young salesman, who bears an uncanny resemblance to actor Michael Richards, who played Kramer on Seinfeld, moved over to Vickar in early April after about 18 months with another GM dealership, where he was tied for top salesman for 2002. He says he was attracted to Vickar because it is closer to home and the traffic volume is much higher than where he was before.
"It's really exciting being here," he says. "It is a young staff and there is no down time here. It's go go go all the time. And I am never short of inventory."
Kentziger says he was averaging 10 sales a month at the previous dealership. At Vickar, he is averaging 14 sales a month.
Rick Morand also is new to Vickar. Previously a colleague of Kentziger, he joined Vickar as business manager soon after "Kramer" came on board. "I had a couple of buddies who were working on the strip," he says. "It certainly is busier here."
McPhillips Ford Lincoln sales representative Chris D'Souza says the north Winnipeg dealership will hold a fund-raising for the Burn Fund tomorrow. He says some of the Burn Fund calendar firefighters will be at the dealership throughout the day. Burn Fund calendars will be handed out to all visitors and $100 from every auto sale during the day will go to the fund.
The event marks the beginning of an ongoing relationship between the dealership and the Burn Fund, says D'Souza, who joined the dealership staff just a few months ago after a 20-plus-year career in management in the restaurant business (Chichis, Boston Pizza, the Bank Cabaret). "It's a good cause," he says.
PHOTO LINDA VERMETTE/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS