In 2014, during a speech in Manchester, Amanda Grappone Osmer made a startling admission.
I know why you hate me, she began, when it came her time to speak at TEDx Amoskeag Millyard. You all have memories of someone like me that takes you back to a time and place that you wish you didnt have to think about.
Your palms start to sweat. Your stomach is in a knot. Like me, your heart races. You just have an overall feeling of dread.
Mentally, you start to make a tally when you see me coming of all the ways you might get ripped off.
She describes further this experience with her at its center.
When you see me, you load up for bear. Because you know you need to, just to get through our conversation, she says.
You hate me because I am a car salesman. A fourth-generation car salesman.
And with a deep breath, she adds, I understand.
Osmers speech spoke to a stereotypical experience someone might have purchasing a car, an experience that she likened to being under the ether and one that her companys philosophy seeks to counter. Her personal mission and that of Grappone Automotive Group in Bow, for which she is CEO, moves well past the showroom to all aspects of the business, employee relationships and the manner in which she leads an engaged community life.
The business mission: Dedication to building lifelong relationships with our team members, guests and community by serving with integrity, kindness and respect.
And ingrained among her personal objectives is being a little bit better than the day before.
Osmer, the keynote speaker for The Keene Sentinels Extraordinary Women Awards on Aug. 24, graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a degree in humanities. In her teens, she worked at her familys dealership, which was started by her great-grandparents in Concord in 1924 as a Gulf service station. It is now five dealerships. But, despite her early work at the dealership, Osmer didnt envision a future for herself in the cars.
In 2001, after school and marriage, she moved to the West Coast, to the North Bay region of San Francisco. Her marriage ended after a short time, leaving her uncertain what to do next. She applied for all sorts of jobs with no luck, she says. Needing something and knowing something about cars, she found herself selling for Lexus of Marin.
I had never sold anything in my life, she says from her second-floor office at Grappones Toyota franchise, not far from the end of Interstate 89. Her notion of sales, she says, was all wrong, and she learned, You have to be nice to people and honest, and you will earn their business.
Three years later, she was back at her family dealership, in charge of fixed operations service, paint and collision. She described this as the hardest job of my life.
It was difficult to find technicians who met company standards, and there were myriad other workforce challenges, not the least of which is that few women run collision and service centers.
I knew nothing about that world, she recalls. It was constant stress.
But it was in this role that she discovered new ways of doing things that would change her and the company she would come to run. She found a mentor in Jeffrey Liker, the author of The Toyota Way, a best-seller at more than 650,000 copies and translated into 27 languages.
Liker, with whom Osmer corresponds, is professor of industrial and operations engineering at the University of Michigan and has written extensively about how Toyotas manufacturing processes employed principles to reduce waste, boost efficiency and create collaborative workforces to solve problems. He has also profiled other companies using these strategies and measurements, first pioneered by W. Edwards Deming in post-World War II Japan.
I fell in love with lean manufacturing, says Osmer, referring to the umbrella term under which these principles exist.
She opens Likers book frequently; her copy is dog-eared, heavily highlighted and fingerprinted and never far from reach. There are, in the lean world, seven categories of waste transport, inventory, motion, waiting, overproduction, over-processing and defects.
Osmer considers it one of her lifes highlights being invited to speak at the headquarters of Dupont in Delaware at a gathering of collision center specialists a conference at which Liker was speaking, too.
Shes asked if Grappone is an efficient operation.
Its a goal, she says candidly, referring to a never-ending focus on continuous improvement.
From the service operation, Osmer was promoted to COO and director of sales. The sales process was going through a similar evolution, she says.
We had peeled away from the current (traditional) way of doing things, she says, referring to the industry standard of commission-based selling. We had to figure out what is our way I really started to notice that we didnt have anyone recognizing the human experience.
The company hired a director of corporate potential a key decision and embarked on strategic planning that led to an unusual, if not dramatically different approach to business. Its primary commitment, she says, is to Grappones 340 employees. They come first in the mission statement by design. Second, the company seeks lifelong relationships with customers and believes this is best achievable if the sales and service experience is not one of negotiation. This, she says, creates integrity and expectations of consistent treatment. Theres a set price for everything, including financing terms. Everyone pays the same, removing the ether to which she referred in her TEDx speech.
Her sales team does not operate on commissions.
It didnt make sense to race to the bottom on pricing, she says.
Having Toyota as a flagship franchise was helpful; expectations of franchises are reasonable, she says, allowing room for Grappones way.
Always trying to be less wasteful as a company, Osmer said an eighth measure of waste also became a Grappone focus the waste of human creativity. Maybe more than any of the other principles, Osmer emphasizes a workplace that allows innovation to occur. As she describes ways this has been manifested, Ron Malachi, the companys inventory pricing specialist, walks by her office.
He ducks in when asked and rattles off several recent problems a team of folks has solved, including storing extra car inventory at a nearby indoor sports facility.
They get some income, and we get a place (to keep the cars), he says.
Osmer is one of five children born to Robert and Beverly Grappone. Her younger brother, Greg, was her only sibling to be part of the business, eventually becoming the groups chief information officer.
Greg, who had health challenges early in his life, developed cutaneous T-cell lymphoma in his 30s. He found he needed a blood stem cell transplant when the disease turned aggressive.
Osmer was a match for the transplant. Treatment involved eradicating Gregs immune system and injecting new stem cells through a transfusion of Osmers blood. The cancer was killed, but a gruesome side effect graft versus host disease took hold. Osmer described the horrific condition that transpired as one that literally hardened his tissues.
Greg died in 2015, leaving behind a wife and a two-year-old daughter.
In his name, Osmer works on a project that would develop a six-mile abandoned rail line into a new bike and walking path that connects to the Northern Rail trail and would link Concord to Lebanon. It is but one page in her deep portfolio of community work.
She says this involvement in social causes is informed by her familys work.
We were always taught its not about us, she says. Dad just didnt get hung up on material things. I dont get upset when I dont have more things. Its better to express me through how much I help people.
She sees herself as dedicated to serving a lot of people, and it starts with the employees, as the mission suggests.
People need to feel safe; psychological safety, physical safety and having flexibility, she says, describing how the company culture is modeled.
In such an environment, creativity is unleashed, efficiencies are found and people are retained. That environment includes an immaculate, welcoming Toyota dealership building that features a grand piano on its second floor a gift to Osmer from her grandfather.
So, its not a surprise that her team of six directors has more than 140 years of collective service to Grappone.
Away from the dealership, Osmers list of community-service positions is extensive and includes: board member, New Hampshire Public Broadcasting System; corporator, Canterbury Shaker Village; board member, The Endowment for Health; member, Partners for Community Wellness; member, New Hampshire Lemon Law Board; advisory member, Spark New Hampshire; advisory member, Stay Work Play New Hampshire; and advisory member, New Hampshire Charitable Foundations New Hampshire Tomorrow Initiative.
Recently, she became involved in President Donald Birx move to reorganize Plymouth State University into seven educational clusters, beginning this fall. They are: arts and technology; education, democracy and social change; exploration and discovery; health and human enrichment; innovation and entrepreneurship; justice and security; and tourism, environment and sustainable development.
I try to go where I can be most useful, she says, adding she prefers, in many cases, serving one term on a board rather than more to allow broader service.
Osmer lives with her husband, Tom, and three children (two girls and a boy) in a log home in Canterbury. The community, known for its Shaker history, suits her in many ways, from the caring she can expect from the Canterbury Library staff if she drops her son off some afternoon, to the wooded setting that allows her to indulge in trail running, to the neighborly warmth of the Canterbury Fair, recently held.
And, its just the right setting to play her banjo, her instrument of choice.
Osmers is a life being well lived and one seemingly grounded in the words she used to finish her TEDx speech.
So, this is not just about car sales. Its not just about a fourth-generation family business in Bow Junction, New Hampshire, she says. Ask yourselves. Do integrity, kindness and respect form the foundation of all of your relationships, with the people you love the most, with the people you work with, with the people you meet every day? Do they?
If they dont, dont worry about it, she says. Just know that you are under the ether with all of the rest of us. And its time to wake up.
Originally posted here:
Amanda Grappone Osmer breaks down car sales stereotypes with focus on kindness, integrity – The Keene Sentinel