January 6, 2008
Homer Thomas has sold cars for more than 55 years, and has no plans to stop anytime soon.
The 87-year-old’s career in Sedalia auto dealerships has been a lengthy one, though the man moved to town in the days of wagons.
Most people didn’t have cars then, he said, they used a horse and buggy.
Thomas bought his first car five years later, in 1926. It was a used Ford Model T roadster with a rumble seat, for which he paid $25.
“Sometimes, you’d be running a little low on gas, you’d mix in a little kerosene and burn that,” he said.
Now he drives a Toyota Camry, as the Mercury he used to drive had too much space for him.
“It’s a little too big a car for me,” he said.
He served in the Army in World War II, then worked as a car mechanic starting in 1949. He was a shop foreman, then moved onto the sales floor in 1952, when he started working for W. A. Smith.
Now he is a salesman at Town and Country Motors, where he has worked since 1979.
“When I first started selling cars, I could sell you a brand-new (Ford) Fairlane for $1,750. Now that same car is $32,000,” he said.
The price isn’t the only thing about the cars Thomas sells that has changed.
“They’re a lot better than they used to be,” he said.
The technology has changed and cars are safer now, and the people that sell them have also changed.
When Thomas started, there weren’t any women on the sales floor.
“Some of the best car salesmen are women,” he said.
Customers have also changed, he said. People have more money now, and are better educated about the cars.
That doesn’t mean customers always end up with the car they came in for, he said.
“They come in looking for one thing and go home with something else,” he said.
Thomas works four days a week — often more — from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“I used to sell a lot more. I think the highest I ever sold in one month was 31, 31 cars. But I slowed down,” he said.
Slowing down hasn’t changed the way he sells or treats his customers.
“Treat ’em good and be honest, and they’ll keep coming back,” he said.
Repeat customers are now the majority of his customers. He makes appointments — “If you don’t have any appointments in this business, you’re sunk,” he said — many of them with the children and grandchildren of his customers.
“Dad sent me to see you,” he said.
Thomas said his career has been primarily selling Fords, but he has sold Chevrolets and Town and Country sells Toyotas, Mercurys, Lincolns, and Jeeps.
“Dollar for dollar, this is still the best car,” he said, patting a Mercury Grand Marquis on the showroom floor.
“He’s one of the youngest salespeople by how he operates. In physical age, he’s the oldest,” said Tim Whitmore, general manager of the dealership.
“I hope that I live that long, but I hope that if I did ... I hope I’m as much on the ball as he is,” said Whitmore. “I’m glad we have him.”
The dealership has 10 or 11 salespeople, he said, but Thomas still manages to beat some of the younger ones to the customer.
“There’s very little that he hasn’t seen or done and he’s willing to share that with other people and give them the benefit,” he said.
Thomas’ colleague of 20 years, David Gaspard, said Thomas has taught him about much more than selling cars.
“He enjoys life,” Gaspard said, and tells Gaspard to be laid back and do the same. Patience, tolerance, and compassion are just a few things Gaspard credited Thomas for teaching him.
Whitmore said that at this point, Thomas is not just a salesman, he’s an icon.
“Homer has a desk here for life, and we’ll do whatever we can do to support him for as long as he wants to be here,” he said.
Thomas has no firm plans to retire, just “one of these days, before too long,” Thomas said.
He goes fishing occasionally, and likes to drive — he still tests out the new cars once in a while — and said his wife, LaVonda, is glad to see him get out of the house.
“I enjoy meeting the public and selling cars,” he said. “My problem is, I can’t just sit around, got to be doing something.”