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Everything from the Garlic Capital of the World to Dealership Culture with Walser Automotive

Updated: Nov 28, 2020


Sherry Schultz is the Chief Human Resources Officer at Walser Automotive Group. She has a storied career spanning several different industries, with experience as the SVP Chief Human Resources Officer at Advantage Opco LLC - Catalyst Capital and the VP of Talent Acquisition and Chief Diversity Officer at Sears Holdings Corporation. Before that, she was the Global Talent Director at The Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company and VP of Human Resources at The Pepsi Bottling Group.



Colton Ray is the Chief Merchandising Officer at Walser Automotive Group. He’s worked his way up through every level of the automotive universe and has held positions on both the vendor and dealer side. Before working at Walser Automotive Group, he was the New Car Sales and Marketing Manager at Wayzata Nissan and the Regional Sales Manager at eXteres Corp.


Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn: 

  • Sherry Schultz and Colton Ray discuss their backgrounds and how they got started in the automotive industry

  • The core values at Walser Automotive Group

  • Building a diverse workplace

  • The marketing initiatives that boost Walser Automotive Group

  • How the dealership business model has evolved

  • The technological innovations happening in automotive marketing today

In this episode…


In most dealerships, everyone’s motivation is focused on compensation. However, Sherry Schultz, the Chief Merchandising Officer at Walser Automotive Group, and Colton Ray, Walser’s Chief Merchandising Officer, know that people are actually a company’s greatest commodity. This means one thing: taking care of your people—both employees and customers—is the key to increasing your profits.


Tune in to this episode of Inside Auto Podcast as Aharon Horwitz and Ilana Shabtay are joined by Sherry Schultz, the Chief Human Resources Officer at Walser Automotive Group, and Colton Ray, the Chief Human Resources Officer at Walser. Sherry and Colton talk about their career journeys and their current roles at Walser Automotive Group. You’ll also hear about the importance of core values, the role of a dealership in its community, and how automotive marketing continues to innovate.


Resources Mentioned in this episode

Sponsor for this episode...


This episode is brought to you by AutoLeadStar, a company that helps car dealerships engage quality customers on the web and convert them into car buyers.


Co-founded by Aharon Horwitz, Yishai Goldstein, and Eliav Moshe, AutoLeadStar’s state-of-the-art software automates a dealership’s entire marketing funnel and provides around-the-clock service for dealers.


AutoLeadStar’s innovative technology helps dealerships automate ads, connect with customers, and discover ROI and performance metrics


Visit their website at www.autoleadstar.com to learn more about their around-the-clock marketing service.


Episode Transcript


Intro 0:03

Welcome to Inside Auto Podcast where we feature everyone and anyone you'd want to talk to in and out of the automotive industry.


Ilana Shabtay 0:14

Ilana Shabtay here with Aharon Horwitz, co-host of Inside Auto Podcast where we interview top dealers, GMs, entrepreneurs and thought leaders in and out of the automotive industry. And before we introduce today's guests, this episode is sponsored by www.autoleadstar.com. AutoLeadStar is pioneering marketing automation in the automotive industry with sophisticated machine learning that future proof dealerships marketing operations and replaces traditional marketing methods.


Aharon Horwitz 0:46

Yes, we are back Ilana, how are you?


Ilana Shabtay 0:48

I'm good.


Ilana Shabtay 0:48

How are you, Aharon?


Aharon Horwitz 0:50

I am so good. So happy to be back. So happy to have two real friends here. And we're going to have an interesting pod today because we're for people, we got to test out how that dynamic dynamic goes right, Ilana.


Ilana Shabtay 1:01

Yeah, we're excited.


Aharon Horwitz 1:03

All right, great. So, uh, Colton, and Sherry, I'm going to introduce you guys, but we're so happy to have you guys. Welcome. Welcome, welcome. So let's do it in turn. So Sherry Schultz is the Chief Human Resources Officer at the Walser Automotive Group. And Sherry has actually a very storied career, we're going to hear a little bit about it in lots of different industries. And in fact, quite a lot of industry that were not the automotive industry. So I want to hear her sort of dealer confidential side now that she's in the in the guts of automotive, but at Walser which is not is not a typical kind of automotive ecosystem. And then we have also with us Colton Ray. Colton is the Chief Merchandising Officer at Walser. Colton kind of came up through the ranks served at pretty much every level you can imagine in the automotive universe, both on the vendor side and then on the dealer side, really understands marketing understands how a product plays out and is a very insightful person who, in his own right is very entrepreneurial in his way of thinking. And we'll hear more about that. Down the road. A couple months, some cool stuff come out of Colton's shop. So Sherry and Colton, welcome, welcome.


Sherry Schultz 2:11

Well, thank you.


Colton Ray 2:12

Thanks, Aharon.


Aharon Horwitz 2:13

Yeah,


Aharon Horwitz 2:13

we're happy to have you guys. Um, is that uh, is so as Minnesota living up to its reputation. What's the weather out there?


Sherry Schultz 2:21

It's a balmy 43 it's like,


Ilana Shabtay 2:24

it's beach weather. Indeed.


Colton Ray 2:26

Beach weather in Minnesota. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. You do.


Colton Ray 2:34

snowing, I'll


Aharon Horwitz 2:34

tell you. I take a lot of pride. Being from Cleveland, Ohio. I always kind of walk around. I'm like oh snow doesn't bother me. I know, cold weather is tough. I'm strong. You know, six months. I used to have to like, you know, Chip my, my car, lock, the ice off the lock. And then my first trip out to Walser, I don't know, couple years ago, I went in the middle of the winter. And everyone was kind of like, be rat, be aware. And I was like, No, I'm from Cleveland. It's easy. I got their I've never felt anything like this. I mean, first of all, I stepped outside the motel and I went sliding on my butt down the driveway into the middle of a street. And it was so cold. I it was just a different level. So you know, we know what it can be like as you guys hit winner. Oh, Andrew.


Ilana Shabtay 3:16

Andrew, really last time I was there. And while the which was a while ago, because no one travels anymore. I it was June and the next time I was at Walser, it was May and he was like, I think I think I know what you're doing here. And I was like, Yeah, I only come to Walser between May and September. It was the only month


Sherry Schultz 3:31

we only have two seasons. I mean, it is it goes from 16. And then it's, you know, 20 below. So it is a it's been great for coat wearing and, you know, fun stuff you can do outside, but and it's cold. And I moved here from Florida. And I I came during a major blizzard. And Andrew said, This never happens. And I said, Uh huh. Third year now, it happens.


Aharon Horwitz 3:59

Wait a sec, wait to sell that one. So that move. Oh, this is? What's that? What's that white stuff coming down? I don't know. What's that? So weird, you know?


Sherry Schultz 4:06

And he said it because I came in April. And he said, this is the first and I'm like, I'm not going it is not at first he's not. And it was it was a 20 inch storm. And I'm trying to get off the plane from Florida I have a tank up on and I said I'm in trouble here. I gotta get changed my, my mode. So it was it's quite an interesting climate. I think, you know, talk a lot about sort of trying to maintain happiness. I think sometimes it's, it's, it's actually interesting because you can get people together that rally around the snow in the weather. So it actually becomes a little bit of a kind of a cult thing. You know, like, we can deal with this. We got this.


Aharon Horwitz 4:45

It's like it's kind of Yeah, it's like it's like you've escaped from feeling like we're gonna make it through this winter and get out you know, together. Colton are you from the Midwest is that is are you from this part of the world? Well, yeah,


Colton Ray 4:55

I've lived here most of my life. I was born in Gilroy, California. I am from California. My parents moved up here in the early 90s. We did bounce back to Arizona. I shouldn't say back to Arizona went well. We had a couple places in Arizona and then we came back to Minnesota. So California, Minnesota, Arizona, back to Minnesota. Got it. Minnesota to stay. I've been trying to talk Grace out of it my my wife, but she will not move from Minnesota there is never going to happen. So


Sherry Schultz 5:29

I write and I work with her. I did not know that you is that the garlic festival place?


Colton Ray 5:34

Yeah, garlic capital of the world.


Aharon Horwitz 5:37

That is amazing. Who knew there was a garlic capital? Yeah, I'm


Ilana Shabtay 5:41

I'm very impressed that you know that. Like,


Aharon Horwitz 5:42

what's the tumeric capital of the world? Or like the pepper?


Colton Ray 5:46

Who knows, but we know where the garlic capital is now. So we


Aharon Horwitz 5:49

do that we learn on Inside Auto Podcast. Yeah, like pod trivia. What's the garlic capital? Ilana, we should work that into the title? Like that? Um, yeah. So


Ilana Shabtay 6:00

automotive and the garlic capital of the world.


Aharon Horwitz 6:03

Yeah. Sherry, since you brought up your move, I have to bring this up. Because it's fascinating. So you actually come from some very interesting kind of corporate backgrounds, including at Sears Holdings Company, including at Pepsi, including at what looks like a more of a capital, investor growth capital type of system. What what, like what brought you to us here at Goodyear? Very interesting. Okay, so there's some auto connection. But what brought you to auto and what brought you to Walser and then we're gonna get into Colton a little bit, but give us like a little bit of that perspective for our listeners.


Sherry Schultz 6:45

I'm like listening feeling really old or like I'm a job hopper when I'm probably a little, little of both getting


Aharon Horwitz 6:52

it all in one sentence. Okay.


Sherry Schultz 6:55

So here's a funny story. I, I'm a dealer's kid. So my dad had. And so the irony of this kind of thing coming full circle for me, is I said, No, I'm not doing this. When I was young, he said, Yeah, common, you're going I said, No, I'm not doing it. And I grew up with Mazda dealerships and, and I kind of grew up doing my homework in the back of an RX seven, like hanging out dealership after school. And ah, and I gotta say, I used to, I used to listen to the very Walser to consumers, it was a, you know, these were This was in the 70s and 80s. And so I said, No, I don't want to do that. I don't want to do that. And so off, I went to get my psychology degree. And then many years later, I end up full circle back in supporting a dealer group. And, you know, in a very unconventional mindset, you know, so it's been, it's been,


Aharon Horwitz 7:52

it's almost like, it's almost, it's almost sort of a shame. The way that we think about auto I mean, a there's dealership, and then there's enterprise and the group. That's, that's one, layer. B, there's just very different types of dealerships. And in this day, in this sort of, evolved era of, you know, I'd say the kind of automotive retail, we've really seen some dealerships build out their own set of cultures and practices that looks very different than what others do. And I want to hear about the HR side in a minute. But Colton, you know, from your experience, having kind of been around the block in the dealer universe, what what's different? What do you see that's different? And kind of how how do you find a home and walls or what speaks to you about it? About your, what you do there?


Colton Ray 8:37

Yeah. So I mean, I knew I was gonna always be in some type of sales, marketing type business, entrepreneurial type business. A little bit about me as a kid, my mother just reminded me of this a few weeks back, she said, Do you remember the time that you went to your neighbor's house? asked if you could have as you know, they had an apple tree in their front yard and asked if you could take their apples, as long as they've already fallen off the tree. And she said, I distinctly remember you saying something to the effect of because you know, they weren't going to want those anyways. So I might as well pick them up for them. And then you brought home basically a wheelbarrow full of apples. You clean them, you bag them, and then you went to every other neighbor around the cul de sac and neighborhood, except that one house that you took all the apples from and door to door sold them.


Aharon Horwitz 9:40

Sherry, does that have to be on your resume to get a job? Does that have to be on someone's resume?


Sherry Schultz 9:45

doesn't surprise me at all. I am not even


Aharon Horwitz 9:48

the centers that will you're doing this at age six, you're not going to get a job there. So


Sherry Schultz 9:56

that is fine. Yes.


Colton Ray 9:59

Yes. So the next Once it takes it another step further. So now I get into so I was I was I made my own pogs in middle school and traded them for real pogs if we'd any of you know,


Ilana Shabtay 10:11

totally would have read on me then because I was a big pog trader


Aharon Horwitz 10:15

zero taught you like the black market.


Colton Ray 10:19

I was selling the custom ones that I would illustrate.


Ilana Shabtay 10:23

Not fair to people like me. That is not fair.


Colton Ray 10:26

Yeah. And then what I would do, then I remember my other venture in school I would make remember Did you guys ever do like a pencil tattoos to draw really hard with number two pencils and then you put it on your, your the image on your skin and take a little water and peel it off? And you'd have a tattoo?


Aharon Horwitz 10:43

California didn't make it to Cleveland?


Colton Ray 10:45

Yeah. Okay, so so I'd sell those and then getting into high school. My parents were adamantly against me having this this may be lets you know, you know my age, but jenko jeans were really the you know why gene seal wide leg jeans were really the cool thing. My parents wouldn't allow me to wear them. So I said, well, that's interesting. If I purchase if I if I use my own money and purchase them, you know, can I wear them? Well, it's your money, you can do what you want. Promised these jeans for like 65 to $85 back in the 90s to the 90s. And so what I did was I got out my mother's sewing machine. I went to join fabrics, I found fabric from different places, and I started making my own style, wide leg jeans and I sell those to the people at school and take custom orders. And then I would go purchase my jeans with the money that I sold off of my custom tailored ones for my for my friends and acquaintances. So I was


Sherry Schultz 11:55

the whole new side. I have never I'd like to see those wide leg jeans.


Colton Ray 12:00

I have some pictures. I actually


Ilana Shabtay 12:03

don't want to oversell you.


Aharon Horwitz 12:05

I was wearing that when you look


Colton Ray 12:09

it up. Yeah, that. Yep, those are so I used to do my own applique. So imagery on the back I had CR because I wanted to mimic what these were doing. And the interesting design if you can get past just the large they had really cool yokes typically in the back although none of these like


Ilana Shabtay 12:26

very Colton. It's fair.


Colton Ray 12:28

But yeah, but it was a neat, it was anything. So that was that. And then I went to school for music, because I wanted to be a rock star. So I went to an I wouldn't say an alternative I went to kind of like a, you had to audition to get into it. And I lived on dorm when I was 16 which is a really crazy thing a 16 year old to live away from home. So my 11th and 12th grade were away from home. And I figured out a way to basically not go home after that. So that was a that was that. And then I got in the car. But I got into the car business. My dad got me and I was cleaning cars at the dealership that he worked at as a master ASE certified technician. And so similar to Sherry, but dissimilar, I had family in the business just didn't own the business. And he said, you know, you got to get it together, you got to get a real job. You got to I always wanted a job anyways, but he was my in to the business. And then I started washing cars and and i think i think i told the owner, maybe a year and I said you know what? I don't know what basically I referenced I said I think I can do exactly what these other guys are doing and do it better. Boldly as a as a 17 year old, you know, boldly I think I could do this better. So my first gig was at Nissan selling they put me in the eBay department which didn't exist, goes to go back to 2002. That would have been one or two. And I was I sold my first car on eBay 350 Z, which was really fresh at the time, if you remember when Nissan reintroduced the Z. And I sold it to a gentleman in California. Wow, very cool. So fast forwarding to to Walser. I grew up at this. This dealership was on a Nissan and why is that Nissan is a was acquired by Walser so. So I was re-homed. I was I was ingested into Walser which I was thankful to have the job. They put me in as a database coordinator, which is funny now hindsight. Um, and so I really it was really interesting, you get a good you really get a good gauge on on the people you're working for when you start at the bottom. Yeah. And I will tell you, it has not changed from day one. You know, Andrew's interactions with me, even as the database coordinator is no different than my interactions today with Andrew massive respect First people in just a just the core values, one of them being do the right thing. It's just, it's really impressive. You're working for Walser, I thought it was going to go into a dealer group, and this is a dealership and they're all the same. I've lived it. I've been doing it at that point for 17 years. And they really, they blew me away. Awesome here, there.


Aharon Horwitz 15:24

And so let me ask on that, you know, Sherry, like when you when you think about what first of all your other companies, I assume you had larger workforces than you currently oversee here, right. Yeah. So


Sherry Schultz 15:36

all sizes? Yeah.


Aharon Horwitz 15:38

all sizes. Right. So so like, when you look at Walser and you came in, um, you know, what was your What was your key mission? And say that first year, where did you want to go from? Right? I think most most things, everything is a journey from like, you know, a some level of imperfection, not saying it's bad. It's just you want to take it to a more perfect, right, you want to go from from some of them imperfection to a to a better place. What was the journey that you wanted to take them on? And kind of what's been your North Star for the group since you since you began that journey?


Sherry Schultz 16:06

Yeah, I think like, I'll reference back to my interviews with Andrew, because I think, you know, I can, I can talk about a lot of experiences that I've had big jobs, big companies, you know, 280,000 people, 180,000 hires in big places. In the end, I choose to work for a group where it's possible that I can know everyone, right, then I can have my arms around 2000 people, it's a size I like, I've done bigger, I've done a little bit smaller. And invariably, I spent the first probably two weeks of my process of getting to know Andrew of, of almost trying to talk them out of me. Why do you really want this? Do you really want? Because I, I have to be lockstep on the call to action for people in a very genuine way. And a lot of a lot of CEOs sometimes will say, Oh, yes, absolutely. I want a human capital strategy. Yes, I do until you bring it. And then they go like, Okay, what does that mean? I have to. Okay. So, in our industry, as you know, I know both of you Ilana and Colton and I talked about it all the time. The industry is primarily in a lot of dealerships, and in a lot of cases motivated by compensation, right. They're motivated, incentivized, spiffed paid, and everything centers around pay. Yeah. And so I said to Andrew, if that is not who I am, and that's not what I bring intrinsic motivation. people wanting to achieve great things for themselves. And all things equal, what is your workforce wasn't incentivized at all? Would they do the right thing? What if everything was stable? And you expected great results? Because it was what was great for them? And it was great for the consumer, would they do it? And so that was it was a conversation around, you know, what had to happen? We had to, and I always look at a company's mission. I mean, I like to have my computer so you can see on the wall there you see the hold on hold on. Well,


Aharon Horwitz 18:02

yep. Yeah, you


Sherry Schultz 18:03

are value. So along with my acorns, acorns on the wall,


Colton Ray 18:08

there's a one of our core values on this, you can see it says do not do the right thing. So those


Sherry Schultz 18:13

acorns on my tree right now. Because in the end, acorns are what they were forced waiting to happen. And so that's kind of a little bit about the North Star. It's all about the development of people. And that core value, do the right thing, lead by example. It's like positive energy and be open minded. When I come to a company, I always say, Is it true? Is it true? Like, is that really what happens? And so you start to connect, and you start to think about the intrinsic motivators that people have. And Andrew would suggest that in order to be a dealership group that could extend into the future and that we could grow with, we had to have leaders who could make that happen, readiness, a commitment to one another. And our journey has been to shift from it's gonna sound odd, but from a business that he hits budget exclusively to a business that hits budget, and it helps people because people become a commodity towards your budget attainment, if you don't make them the center of why you're achieving plan, take care of people and the money comes and so that's been sort of the North Star and I think the Walser's always have had that passion around the community that they operate in and the people that they support, but quite frankly, not as not as committed provocative engagement in really people centric, you know, things that we could do succession planning, emerging leader, high potential kind of masters level development programs that we're doing and, and, and benchmarking and working with other industries, right, Colton, I just participated and I know Aharon, you guys will Ilana you'll love this. He participated in a group that called leaders of all we believe high potentials and organization and and we threw them into a case study with Shake Shack. You read the IPO, you know, you know, the whole story and the growth of a company like that. And I said, it's food, it's outside of your industry, it is for minimum wage to a very modest increase throughout the ascension. What do they do? Well think about their model, what would you apply here? And literally, it was a, okay, what do I have to do? Like it was, but it was a case study that was actually positioned to Yale business students that we brought here. And, yeah,


Colton Ray 20:31

it was so cool. I wasn't done on all the presentations, but I heard they were pretty incredible.


Aharon Horwitz 20:37

And emerging leaders, actually, they built out kind of, you know, their plan based on the case how they presented it to the group. That's fantastic. Yeah, the


Colton Ray 20:46

people are from all all departments. So corporate service, reconditioning, buying centers, sales, I mean, business developments, I mean, like, everybody has their own perspective on on the way they would tweak or, or improve or, you know, it was just really, really cool.


Sherry Schultz 21:07

And I, I look for ways to bring other other lines of business into the thinking. And, and so it was amazing to watch. First of all the discomfort a little bit, we gave two case studies, one was a lead handling, right was it was the opportunity to continue to improve close rate through lead handling, which, okay, there's a lot of ways to go at that. The other one step outside of your comfort zone, you know, and I can, I can suggest, very few of our leaders have actually come from other industries or had, you know, curiosity that brought them to look at other things. So the Shake Shack model, we then created five business plans that are now being implemented for 2021. And things that we're changing, like things that we're doing, and ways that we're, we're going to bring that innovation to life. And it came from outside the industry, it came from, I went to go meet with store managers from other state shacks and say, Hey, what do you guys do that you love? Why are you here? You know, and so it just it showed them different ways of thinking. And so that kind of innovation, and that was you. And then the third Northstar, so do you do you do what you say, right? And so are you really people centric Are you pay focus? So we are going to going to talk about that and switch to something that is a lot more intrinsically motivated versus actions. extrinsically. And I can tell you, most dealers would say what you're not going to spend, you're not going to you're not on a gross draw plus commission plant. No, we're not. Two would be innovation constantly looking outside the industry for things that make a customer experience and employee experience. Amazing. And the third is diversity. And so it is a piece of my heart, you know, that I have and always have had? And, you know,


Aharon Horwitz 22:44

yeah, that was you were actually explicitly in one of those roles, right? Was that at Sears at the Sears Holdings Corp was yesterday,


Sherry Schultz 22:50

I was at Sears and Pepsi. And you know, I, for me, I'm, you know, I'm Jewish, and I grew up in New York. And I remember sitting in temple with my grandfather, and sitting next to the man to my left had numbers on his arms, and I was seven years old. And I remember going like pulling on him. What is that? What is that? What is that answer? And so he took me outside after and he explained it to me explain the Holocaust explained, you know, the, the notion of that, and the travesty of being killed for who you are. And I remember thinking, my little HR burn brain was formed that day, I was seven, and I remember going, Okay, this is going to be my calling in life, I'm going to be a champion for the underdog, the the right thing for people. And I said, I that that's what does it to me. Right. And I, I said, then I will advocate on behalf of what's right. And who's right. You know, I will always look at those.


Colton Ray 23:49

Yeah, from a marketing perspective. Aharon, we, you know, we always talk about marketing cars, right. You mentioned the website earlier on, or maybe that was previous to the podcast starting but you I think when me and Sherry partner together, we're marketing to people. I'm in front of our marketing initiatives. They're just, there's there's so vast and diverse. No pun intended. But, you know, Sherry, you know, walked through some of our programs, whether it be women of walls, or or, you know, I think going through those would be, you know, really interesting. People.


Sherry Schultz 24:26

I think so part of it started when I started working together, we had had some data handed to us on some focus groups that were done even almost before our arrival where, and it was kind of like Andrew put it on my desk day. One is that our consumers say we don't look like the market. Hmm. So what do you say? Yeah, and here's why. And so what does the market want? You know, what are they looking for? They're looking for people who look like me, right? People who I can relate to, and that's kind of the human condition. People feel that way. I want to find someone who I can relate to. And so the diversity of the workforce. And by the way, I'm not suggesting that white men are too As well, their backgrounds are also unique. And so it isn't as simple as let me just classify things, it's really got to get to know people, because diversity comes in all different types of packages. So Colton and I started understanding, you know, what's the talent pool outside of us? And what is the population inside of us? And what is the consumer look like? So you start looking at it and saying, Okay, if, if we were going to reach out more broadly, do we have an environment that people could feel welcome to come to? And so we asked our population, hey, if you had some resource groups, or you could make a call on the elements of bring your whole self to work every day, which is what we say, what would you want to do? So our folks that women, without a doubt, most most difficult channel initially to penetrate was bringing women into the Automotive Group and, and having them feel comfortable and, and thrive. And, you know, in a lot of cases, we know, through our survey data, they're, they're more engaged. They're, you know, sometimes there PDR and metrics just really outpaced that they stay ever retention quotient that's greater than then some of our men, so it was a good business thing. So we began women, Walser, and they started it. So we asked, and the next group, they said that would be really important was drive with pride, which is our LGBTQ plus group as well. And so the notion of, you know, who you love being a part of, of coming to work every day, is, is, you know, it's not optional in Andrew's mind, and, and mine as well, obviously. So just helping our employees understand the benefits to being authentic. And so we started that, as well. So those are two of them. But I think, you know, in all of that your own it's also we, we've surveyed our folks and learned, they do value time off. They do value family, we do a values exercise at the onset of every hiring, every new hire orientation. So we bring folks in, and we have a booklet of 100 values. And people circle their top 20, top 10, and they get to their top five, and we catalog them. And so we know exactly what the values of the company are. And so probably 400 roundtables later, that I've done with people, family is by far, the number one value. It's just immeasurable. So wouldn't it make sense that your benefits supportive family so we put in maternity paternity adoption leave wildly successful first year 27 babies, second year 60 babies this year 97 babies, all the help for that, but 97 kids this year, and you know that and that it's it's it's amazing. We also want open PTO. So we have we don't track PTO in the way that you would suggest you take what you need when you need it. And while Yeah, so things like that. So that's a long winded story. But it's just really about Yeah,


Colton Ray 27:50

it's fascinating. You carry you only touched on two, we have many other resource groups. It's really incredible.


Aharon Horwitz 27:56

You guys actually you guys lived. I didn't think about this before the pod but you guys really lived like through the epicenter of history this this past month. I mean that, you know, that's a whole other problem. You got it. I want to dig into that. I want to find out, find out what that's like. It's unbelievable.


Sherry Schultz 28:10

It was it was really painful. And we you know, I don't I don't this is a challenge of non political discussion has nothing to do with that it was the human condition challenge are very, yeah. You're sure watching our employees reach out for help be sad, watching their apartments burn watching, you know, it was it was painful, but to to bring folks together, Andrew, myself, and we use this this outside coach that I work with, his name is Eric Boles. And he kind of coaches A lot of us. And he, he came and we did a hear me session. And so our employees of color are employees of compassion, our employees who wanted to lean in, and all general managers were present, and really incredible. Yeah. And we leaned in and we said, Are you okay, simply put, are you okay? How do you feel? What can we do? What don't we understand? And, you know, the stories that we heard were heartfelt. You know, an Andrew, he made a statement that on our floor, we will respect each other. And no dollar is a good dollar, if it is built off disrespect. So you know, and he, he was pretty powerful. And so it was, well, we weren't we were digital for a lot of it because it was during COVID obviously, but we had 50 and this was before lock downs, were really, really, really 50 people that were spaced in a gigantic auditorium that 250 but we had 50 people. And you know, we have individual microphones and they could could speak and the stories and the history of of, you know, the employees tails over the years of selling and what it's like to be of color and lean in and something that maybe you didn't Unbelievable work. Yeah. Wow, wow,


Aharon Horwitz 30:03

thanks for sharing that Sherry such a powerful kind of perspective on on sort of the realities of being part of a community and being in the world as you try to operate a business, but try to realize that in the end of the day, it's all about people, and it's all about people's lives and experiences and well being. And, you know, I think about that in the auto industry, you know, for it's so interesting to see an industry that somehow has resisted the sort of monopolizing, you know, effects of capitalism over the years, primarily through or consolidated door consolidator capitalism, you know, that, that you still have, you still have these small community businesses or large community businesses that still have to have to contend with their neighbors and their neighbors across the road and their neighbors next to them, rather than just being kind of a corporate front for some, you know, conglomerate that sits out of Seattle or out of San Francisco out of New York. And I think that's one of the beautiful aspects of the auto industry, is that there still is that level of community accountability, you know, which does not exist in many industries anymore. And, you know, it's still a place where you have some level of opportunity, potentially, that, again, in the United States has been the the opportunity to, you know, find these types of businesses and and frameworks doesn't exist at the level did probably 30 4050 years ago. So automotive really holds an interesting position. When you think about impact and change and community interface. Colton, let me ask you, um, you know, on, on your end, I think, again, when we think of Walser, or we know Walser very well, you know, full disclosure, we have a long standing relationship. But um, you know, when I think of Walser I think of, I think of like innovation, in many ways, and I think we just heard some examples of it in Sherry's words, and Colton in the in the programs you kind of suggested sure talk about, but one of the areas I've found most interesting is in the kind of marketing and I'd call it enablement side, marketing enablement, sales enablement. There's a very serious commitment to software and technology driving on kind of the strategy of Walser going forward. And, you know, it's a fearsome thing to see how intense you guys are committed to that. So tell us about kind of, you know, how that emerged, where you see that and, and kind of what what is happening on that front internally, and how you actually run, you know, an almost like an internal dev shop startup in the context of your dealer group. Yeah. So


Colton Ray 32:38

there's Yeah, we have a really interesting marketing team. I'm Kate Lumsden, who was with the Morrie's Automotive Group for 10 years, as a as our marketing director, worked closely with her. But before Kate, as I took over our marketing, you know, I wish, you know, I probably should have worked with Sherry on a great mission statement for marketing, but basically, are probably my internal thoughts that were more picked up through action rather than, you know, verbalization. So was anything we can do to help the stores focus on their core competency, which is helping our customers purchase or repair their vehicles. That was everything that marketing thought about. So if we could take a take activities off their plate, like generating all their advertisements at the beginning of the month, and updating those advertisements and mind you, like think about this, you know, Hero images on websites, specials pages, Google Ads, which you know, full disclosure, we work, you know, we work with you, Aharon, we love what you're doing with the choir, um, you're taking all these pieces that that really were time suck. So I always think back of when I was at Wayzata Nissan, and I think at the beginning of the month, and literally, I can't actually remember anything at the beginning of any of my months, because all I did was sit in my office for two and a half days, generating ad copy generating ads, conveying those advertisement staff conveying those advertisements to my vendors. You know, updating the website working with my creative team. And I'm thinking to myself, that wasn't my core competency. My core competency at Wayzata Nissan was to work with my staff, educate, help them, educate them on our products, and our sales processes and assist them in the activities at hand, which we're answering show floor and internet lead activity, assisting our customers, moving them down the funnel to help them purchase vehicles and obviously service additional vehicles too. So everything we do at the mark in the marketing side of the world at Walser is to create efficiencies for our stores to make marketing, not a stressful activity for our stores, but something where we take all the heavy lifting thing and then lean into the stores for their opinions, their insights, their certain authorship that's necessary. As general managers are running stores and running these separate businesses within a global


Aharon Horwitz 35:13

Colton on that subject. Did you solve that the specialist create that whole piece? Is that now run automatically in some way?


Colton Ray 35:20

Yeah, that is. So that's that product is ignite,


Aharon Horwitz 35:25

which I was teeing you up. I want I want to speak about that for a minute. I mean, I want to know what the impact was what changed, meaning, you know, you you know, the people. We were talking to Colin Carrasquillo who has a podcast called Experimarketer that are from, from the Nielsen Auto Group. And, you know, he was like joking around, it's like the Rise of the Machines, you You rose up a machine, you built a machine, that machine took something used to take you two hours and basically offloaded it to the machine returns a done product to the store, what did that change in? In some sort of KPIs or metrics you could look at?


Colton Ray 36:02

Well, a couple different metrics happened out of generating automating. So to be clear, ignite generates the data where the content or not the user interface or display for the data. So the data is all generated automatically. So what happened after we started generating this data and syndicating this data, through people even like, like AutoLeadStar, what we found is that our sales staff was more competent in in communicating with our with our potential customers, because we had advertisements and offers multiple offers not just one of one. on a on a singular vehicle, we had an offer on every model type that we have in stock and multiple offers per one vehicle. So different scenarios. So we educated not only our sales staff, but we educated our clients, and what happens when you educate people and make it really easy for them to understand the economics of the vehicle transaction. Well, guess what, you sell more vehicles. And we were able to see the ROI through


Aharon Horwitz 37:11

your you're looking at this, from a customer side, meaning this for you was something to make it a better experience for your customers help your customers find better opportunities, and you made it easier for your staff to essentially live up to that value that you guys have.


Sherry Schultz 37:23

And that's why Colton and I are partners, we're partners, because he made an industry that was very preclusive. To up and coming non automotive, New Age talent who was intimidated by this space, he opened the door by removing all of the administrative and frightening challenges that a menu can present or that you have relative to selling extended warranties and coverages, he made those things a non issue. So now I can go and I can get a very enlightened crew from a lot of different places who say, holy cow, I had no idea. This could be that I can do this. And so I look at Colton's work. And from the people perspective, we've torn down perceptions, realities, and the expectations that this was a kind of behind the curtain industry has made a transparent and now I can sell it. And in that that is done. Part One. Part two is he's freeing up time because guess what's happening now, all this time spent streamlining the deals themselves from start to finish credit to delivery. Now the managers have time to meet one on one with their employees, they have time to coach them, they have time to invest in their growth from a career perspective. So he thinks he's doing for the customer. I think he's doing for me.


Aharon Horwitz 38:44

I love it. That's awesome.


Colton Ray 38:46

And selfishly, I probably started doing it for myself, because I like there's so many nuances. But when you have 27 brands that the walls are Automotive Group, and it's really hard to be an expert. And it's really hard to beat the machine, right? Yeah, with the inputs in the machine, it's going to do a better job than you because we just don't have the hours in the day. So a couple other interesting things happen. So on that ignite product, we saw an increase in least penetration year over year. I can't actually remember the percentage off the top my head but it was significant. We found a lenders that were offering different terms, residuals rates, and incentive stacking capabilities, where we were able to uncover opportunities we never envisioned, never thought of or would never find. And we took non core products. One example is I'm driving a Toyota Tundra right now, which is a I'm not saying this. It's a it's a $50,000 pickup truck. I didn't pay 50 grand for it. I'm paying $285 a month sign and drive for my lease because anyone


Aharon Horwitz 39:54

could have gotten that Colton. That was an


Colton Ray 39:57

accident. Actually anyone could have Funny story, we like funny stories. So like, it comes across the Ignite dashboard. Because I was looking at a daily I was like, really into like this product. And this started in 2018. So I'm looking at this, these this data every day. And then so I've got a little, a little calculation that says like MSRP to payment, like when there's like this massive value. So this thing bubbled to the top, but I kept looking at it. And then I manually ran the numbers, and then I re manually ran the numbers. Then I called the store and I said, this is a $50,000 pickup truck that I can have for $285 a month for 15,000 miles a year. Mind you sign in drive for two years, like no other numbers look, right. So I go ahead, I didn't I did look at the truck. I said, Can you send me a picture of the truck and then I drove him to the truck. And I said, I'll take it and they sent me the paperwork through fuse, which is another internal product we have. But I signed out on the truck. My mother dropped me off to pick up the truck. I brought it home. I'm all proud of myself. I'm taking pictures and showing my friends. I mean, it's the most expensive vehicle I've ever had. So I'm I come to work in the morning and Greg Davis loved him to death. He's amazing. He's amazing, is a general manager of our Toyota store, our biggest data store and he's so super cool. He called Yeah, he calls me a Colton There's no way that deals do. You can't have that truck. She can't have it. Okay, well, um, okay, well, in the driveway. Yeah, it's like I've now I've been brought back to work and, and I go, Okay, well, well, he's like, you got to come over. You got to bring it back. You got to bring the truck back. I'm like, I'll bring the truck back. So I bring the truck back. We go over the numbers. He goes, Oh, that is you can do that. He's convinced I changed the price. He was convinced. Literally, Aharon, it was the same deal you could get like it was the pricing like I didn't change the price. It was just like that was the price that everybody gets a Walser You know, one price one person fair, fast, transparent. It was just so that was just a funny story. That was one of the things that happened. It's funny, we took took, we took some non core models over the last few years, we've had massive advantages in the marketplace. We're finding offers that others aren't finding and we're basically taking out all this manual time. So their time effort, so that's just a little Yeah, those some of the internal It is funny, too. I remember talking to maybe Andrew, or this this was in like maybe late 2017, early 2018. I go I'm gonna hire a developer for marketing. Yeah, wouldn't mean you're gonna hired. Do you remember that? Sherry? I do. I do was I remember it was, um, it was a Robert. So I said, I think I called Sherry one day said, Hey, Sherry, because I'm not an SMT. I'm in the marketing department. I think I'm a manager in the market. How do


Sherry Schultz 42:59

I get this through?


Colton Ray 43:01

I need I don't care what we have to do. I need this guy. Get


Aharon Horwitz 43:04

me a programmer right now. He this developer.


Sherry Schultz 43:09

And by the way, he's like, and he needs to start Monday. And he lives. I know, we don't have that setup. And this is an asset. Oh my god.


Colton Ray 43:15

So it is not a state. Yeah.


Sherry Schultz 43:19

And I yeah, I and he's like, 12. And we


Colton Ray 43:23

know he's young. Yeah, like Andre, I hope he watches this. I just so appreciate him and love


Sherry Schultz 43:30

your shirt. Yeah, it's funny. We employed people in Colton's world all over the world. And so that's a big change from an automotive perspective.


Aharon Horwitz 43:38

Like that. Yeah, you guys are. So the other


Colton Ray 43:41

the other thing with marketing so my whole idea around marketing is anytime we can automate make things easier for our stores ultimately get them to focus on on really the the core competency that they should have. Obviously, we're going to do better there, we're going to do better by the people in the stores are going to do better by the customers that are coming into the store. But also what happens is when I create automation and help with AutoLeadStar automation and some of our marketing activities, conversions on our websites, what happens is, I can actually run a leaner, meaner team. And I can hire individuals, like the Kate Lumsden's of the world that are 10 plus years, high level, laser focused, massive capability, bandwidth. And I don't need a 10 admin. In fact, our current Marketing Team Six, there's only six people including myself


Colton Ray 44:37

for


Colton Ray 44:40

basically 30 plus stores, well, we have stores outside of our group too, that we facilitate that we're partners with those stores. So, you know, think about an efficiency model. Yeah. Not massively efficient, totally. Who doesn't like efficiencies and, and a better experience for the customers and a better experience for our stores? Guys, listen, we


Aharon Horwitz 44:59

could we could go We could go all day on this right? We could keep going.


Ilana Shabtay 45:03

This is like


Ilana Shabtay 45:04

the power the power partnership here. I mean, yeah.


Aharon Horwitz 45:11

We'll just, but unfortunately have to wrap because we don't we have a we have a contract with our listeners until we change the formula where we go at least at runtime. I didn't know notice Colton, you mentioned that you studied music and I it's something in my head. I wasn't sure I heard right. Did you say you studied music?


Colton Ray 45:26

Oh, yeah. Yes, sir. So I was in gipsies use the symphony, I played violin as Oh, yeah. All the way up until probably I found out that guitar was way cooler. So maybe 14 or 15 years old,


Aharon Horwitz 45:40

right? Oh, you're totally doing a performance on one of our future pods. We're


Colton Ray 45:44

not going to do that. But


Sherry Schultz 45:46

you can put this in there, you should say what do all your podcast members have in common? So here's the theme. I also left home and not left home, but was on my own at 16. And, and was forever independent at that point to great parents. But all that was fine. But I was gonna run this on. And I also was in a choir, and chamber it. So it's very interesting. Like there's two themes, highly innovative, crazy leaders early and sang in a band,


Aharon Horwitz 46:15

make your own way figure things out very early. Sherry, I was just curious. You mentioned I saw in your bio, that you're a military spouse, what's the story there?


Sherry Schultz 46:22

You know, God bless my husband. He's an amazing man. 26 year veteran. Army. He's the Chief Warrant Officer, His focus is on intelligence. And he is my inspiration every day. Without doubt. And he cool he as much as you can, you can take a look at military, his mission on life is to embrace the preservation of human life. And so he gets it on the most granular level. So he keeps me motivated every day. So shout out to the


Aharon Horwitz 46:54

amazing, amazing, amazing are. We actually we have a lot of, we have a lot of folks who were in it who served in various capacities in the company. So it's always interesting. All right, listen, guys. This was fantastic. We really enjoyed it. We hope to do it again. We have to make this a regular kind of coffee thing. The conversation before was also really fascinating. I was I was regretful that we didn't get some of that for the air. But


Ilana Shabtay 47:17

Colton we'll bring his guitar Sherry will sing for us.


Colton Ray 47:19

Yeah, and show off my guitars next time at least have some cool some cool stuff.


Aharon Horwitz 47:25

Very nice. Okay, wonderful. Well, listen, Ilana, I'll kick it to the close. But thank you guys. It was really wonderful. Yeah, we're here a podcast give us give it give it give us the close


Ilana Shabtay 47:35

Thank you. Thank you very much for joining us and for all of our listeners. If you enjoyed this episode, tune in Inside Auto Podcast. Thank you.


Outro 47:47

Thanks for listening to Inside Auto Podcast. Check out our other episodes with top entrepreneurs and industry leaders.