JC: Happy Thursday. JC here with another podcast at Mercedes-Benz of Flagstaff. I’m sitting here with Trampus. Say hello, Trampus.
JC: He is the GM partner of the dealership with Mr. Michael Martin, which I had the joy of talking to yesterday. And first and foremost, I like to say thank you for giving me your time by the way.
Trampus: No, thank you for your time. I appreciate it.
I know a lot of dealers. It’s kind of hard to get to talking to a lot of dealers and the fact that you took the time to talk to me, I really do appreciate that by the way.
Trampus: You’re welcome. I’m a little nervous but I’m excited for it.
JC: You’re fine. You’re good. You’re good. So simple questions. I’m not going to ask you anything about your childhood or anything like that. So you’re good. So no funky stories, right? So the first thing we’re going to talk about is this mausoleum is amazing. This dealership is just beautiful, man. If you had a Starbucks here, right? Hint, hint, idea. If you had a Starbucks here, people would come here instead of the local coffee shop just to come do their work. That’s how beautiful this place is.
Trampus: Well, thank you. It was a vision. It was the first store that me and Michael ever built from the ground up and–
JC: So you got a chance to put your hands on it.
Trampus: I did, and it was a hard challenge. And I think we both opened it with open arms just because of the fact that being able to understand the architectural, the design, everything that goes into it and appreciate how it got built. You see a lot of it. You see buildings start, you see them finished, but it a real craft. Its a masterpiece what these guys can do, and the talent and every different angle that’s coming in, it was a challenging but very rewarding experience.
JC: Yeah, for sure. Now, how long did the process take overall?
Trampus: Architectural took a long time and trying to get everything through the city of Flagstaff.
JC: Oh, of course. Yeah.
Trampus: Understanding all the different approval process and following all the codes. But once we broke ground, it was about eight months.
JC: Wow, okay.
Trampus: It was about eight months.
JC: That’s actually not too bad.
Trampus: It was great. It was really good. The construction company we used, Levin Construction, shout out. Class act. Did a phenomenal job, just true professional.
Trampus: Local, local.
JC: That’s even better.
JC: Now, was that important to you guys, right? To try and align with a local construction company. I’m assuming that was something that was important to you and Michael.
Trampus: It really was. We really wanted to stay local. Of course, we bid it and they wanted the job. We actually met with Mike Levin, who is the owner of Levin Construction and just as honest as the day is long, and that’s really what was important to us. When the bid comes through, we’ve heard all the nightmare stories about being over budget, seeing everything we were at. We were right there. His team that he put in place was spot on. They were true professionals from start to finish. Every single week, we’ve had a meeting, they didn’t miss any. They were spot on. It was just working in Flagstaff knowing that they’re such true professionals and just it gave me another– just an aspect of how I needed to make sure I always keep in mind how I treat every one of our clients.
JC: Sure, that’s fantastic. So talk to me a little bit about the history of Trampus in the auto industry. So don’t take me back to when you were five. We’ll talk about that later, right?
Trampus: Okay. Deal.
JC: So automotive industry, because this is an industry that everyone’s got a story on how they got into this industry, right? I showed up for a salesman job, and they made me a lot porter, and I washed cars for two months before I even sold a car, right?
JC: And I literally thought I was going in for a salesperson job, right? So everyone’s got these interesting stories in this industry. What’s your story?
Trampus: Well, I was in high school and really wanted to get into body and painting. I thought I could do custom paint jobs and that kind of stuff, and really I loved it. And I got a job at a body shop and doing a lot of body work, and really moving on with it, and–
JC: So you’re a gearhead?
Trampus: I am. I loved it.
JC: Fair enough.
Trampus: Well, I went to VICA, which was Vocational Industrial Clubs of America, for techy-type of kids. And I won the state competition for collision repair.
JC: Wow. That’s a big deal.
Trampus: It was huge for me. It was really big. And I was excited. I really thought I was going to do really well with it. Well, that summer I went back to work at the body shop. And I was young. I didn’t understand everything and made a mistake. We were draining a gas tank on a truck. And didn’t realize that a 20-gallon gas tank would not fit in a 5-gallon bucket.
JC: Okay. That’s tough.
Trampus: Gas started going everywhere, right?
Trampus; Well, it was a little weird, freak accident, but the fuel, when it was pouring over me, went to the breaker box. And we had electrical spike at that time.
JC: This already sounds like a bad ending, by the way.
Trampus: So the body shop started going up in flames. My best friend, Dillon Talbot, who works for me now, he’s my manager at the Buick GMC store in the body shop–
JC: I think I met him yesterday.
Trampus: Yes. He was there.
JC: Good guy.
Trampus: And I seen the flames coming, and they were coming in a hurry. I instantly jumped out. I tackled Dillon, true story, and I went over the top of him and went out the building. Dillon, I think, got tackled another time by the owner of the body shop, and Dillon was the last one out. But needless to say, the body shop burned to the ground. Virtually every car in it, everything in it burned to the ground. Well, at that time–
JC: So the roof is on fire, literally.
Trampus: It’s on fire. It burned to the ground. I mean, firetrucks could not come quick enough. So it was a horrible experience, but I think that’s what started me in this direction. So all my body shop tools, which cost a lot of money– I didn’t have enough money to buy new tools. So the only tools I had that were still any good was my sockets, my wrenches. All the paint guns and body shop tools, they were done. So I needed a job. So I went to work at a automotive service facility, and no longer doing bodywork. And as I was doing that, when I won that VICA competition, I got a scholarship to go to a tech school. So I was turning wrenches, and I said, “You know what? I’m not going to let the scholarship go to waste.” But I knew I wouldn’t– tools are expensive, regardless, but I knew I would have enough money to go buy all those body shop tools again. So I said, “I’m going to take advantage of it. I’m going to go to UTI.” I went to Phoenix, Arizona. I went to a tech school. I came back. I went to work for an independent shop. Well, I kept trying to get in with a Ford store. I really wanted to get in with that Ford store. I finally got in with a Ford store. I worked my way up, and I was a Ford master tech.
JC: So you started on the service side? Okay. All right.
Trampus: I started on the service side. So I was a Ford master tech there for four years, maybe five years, and kept wanting to go to the sell side. And I couldn’t convince them. They didn’t want to lose me out of the shop. I couldn’t get the opportunity on the sell side. Well, in late 2002, maybe ’01, they were short a salesperson on a Saturday, and they were busy. And they asked me if I wanted to come sell a car. I said, “Yes.” I didn’t know what I was doing, but I said, “Yes.” I was excited.
JC: You were knighted, right?
Trampus: I was ready to get– yeah.
JC: You know what I mean, right? Like, “Get on your knees, we’re going to knight you right now.”
Trampus: It was. It was the biggest opportunity for me, and I was so excited. I went up there and I sold a car that day.
JC: Isn’t that just the greatest feeling–
Trampus: It was.
JC: –when you can service that client like that?
Trampus: As being in the back, I really appreciate and had a lot of pride in what I was doing when I was fixing cars, and I wanted to make sure I did it right, but I never got the reward that I wanted to have on the front side. And the first customer I ever sold was Ray and Cheryl Ripka.
JC: The fact that you remember their names, by the way, is monumental.
Trampus: It was Ray and Cheryl Ripka. And I remember the truck that I sold them. It was a true cap Chevy, four-door, gas motor. And I remember not even knowing what I was doing. But I just remember I did it right. I don’t know what I did, but I did it right. They were extremely happy. And I felt so good about it, and I wanted more. I was hungry. I wanted more of it. I really loved pleasing people. And I felt like I got to do that in that role. Well, needless to say, Monday morning I went back in, and I went straight to the general manager’s office, said, ”This is what I want to do for a living.” No. Did not happen. I got to sell a couple Saturdays a month at best. Well, Michael Martin came in out of nowhere and bought that store. And I remember he came in. I remember the change. None of us knew that the sale was happening. We were all scared.
JC: It’s typically what happens. Yeah.
Trampus; We were really scared. I wasn’t sure what was happening. Well, Michael Martin came in when he bought that store. I went to him first thing.
JC: And this is back in what year?
Trampus; This is May of 2003. And I said, ”Hey Mr. Martin, I’ve been in the shop for a long time. I got to sell cars for a few Saturdays a month for the last several months. But I want to do this. This is want to do for a living. This is really what I want.” And he says, ”You know what? If this is really what you want, I’ll find another technician. Let’s make the move.” And I remember going home that night, and I didn’t have much money. I was young still. And there was a little store in Page called the Dam Bar & Grille. And right next to it they had an outlet store. And I went in there and I bought myself four button-up shirts. Didn’t have any. Bought myself two or three pairs of slacks, and a pair of dress shoes. And I remember laying them out on my bed. And I still lived at home with my parents. Didn’t have much money to get out of the house or nothing. And I remember my dad walking in and said, ”Son, what you got going on here?” And I said, ”Dad I’m going into sales.” And he goes–
Yeah. ”I’ma go sell cars.”
Yeah. And he had that look on his face like, ”You know what? What changed?” I said, ”I really want to do it. I really want this bad.” I said, ”I had a goal for a long time to own my own independent shop. But now, I want a dealership, Dad. I think I can do this.” I said, ”I understand the back end, and now I can go up to the front end and I can understand that and learn it.” And he goes, ”Son, you’re guaranteed work in the shop.”
Sure, as a tech.
”You’re going to make it all the time.” And I said, ”Dad, but I can do this.” And he says, ”You know what? I hope you can.” And he goes, ”I know you can. Long as you work hard, I know you can.” That just meant so much to me. I think that means more to me talking about him now than it even did then. I lost my dad about a year ago, and I think about it all the time, and him pushing me all the time. And I remember putting on– I can actually remember the color of the plaid shirts I had. They were all the same, just a little different color.
JC: Did you say plaid?
JC: I’m not going to hold that against [laughter] you by the way.
Trampus: They were. They were plaid
JC: I’m going to leave that one alone.
Trampus: They were plaid. They were plaid.
JC: I’m going to leave that one alone.
Trampus: And I can remember them. And I didn’t know how to iron a shirt. I mean, they were wrinkly. I didn’t get it. But I know when I went there, I was full of passion and I loved what I did. And I could not get enough of it. I just wanted more and more and more and more. And it consumed me. It really did [inaudible]. Michael and myself, we worked together from May, and probably two years later, he moved me up to start helping in the finance office as maybe a finance assistant / sales person. So more time went on. And I remember him taking me to the auction for the very first time. And when I went to an auction, I had always assumed one lane and a couple cars running through, and you try to do what you’re going to do. I had no clue that there’s–
JC: It’s nothing like that.
Trampus: –26 lanes and–
JC: It’s nothing like that. Yeah.
Trampus: –thousands of cars going through. Well, Michael’s educating me on how to buy. I don’t know if Michael remembers this. He might. So he’s buying some cars and I remember walking down the lane, and I seen this gold Cadillac. And it was like new. It had 7,000 miles on it. I don’t remember the year, maybe a 2003 at the time. It looked brand new. 7,000 miles on it. I was excited about the car. And it was so cheap. I remember I raised my hand so quick. Michael wasn’t with me, he let me go for a few minutes. I don’t think I was supposed to be raising my hand, but I did. And I raised my hand with that bidder number so proudly and I bought that car. And I was so excited. I bought my first car at the auction. And I remember that slip coming out of there and I was so proud of it. I remember taking it over to Michael. I said, “I just got a great deal on a car Michael. Great deal.”
He goes, “Let me see your slip.” I could tell he was cautious. He’s like, “Let me see your slip.” I handed it to him. And he goes, “Who did you buy that from?” And on the top of the auction slip– you don’t know who you’re buying it from until you get the slip. It said Car Junkies. And he goes, “That’s not a good sign to start with. But let’s look down the slip a little farther.” And it said salvaged title. I had no clue what I bought. He’s like, “You can’t buy that car.” I said, “Well, I already did.” He goes, “Well, I get that we own it. We cannot take that car. Salvage title.” And I wasn’t that experienced with it but he goes, “But it’s been damaged. This car is no good. We don’t sell cars like this.” And I said, “Well, the car looks perfect.” And I was the technician, I was pretty good. I said, “What do you mean? How do you know this is a salvaged title?” He goes, “It’s branded. They noted it. So when you go by the auction lane there’s lights. Green light means the car’s a good car. Red light means caution, there’s something wrong with this car. Don’t raise your hand in other words.”
So needless to say we didn’t take that car back to the lot to retail it. We left that car at the auction and red lighted it and ran it back through the sell and we lost the money. That car did not bring at the sell what I thought it was going to bring. Valuable lesson. Never knew, didn’t know what to expect. He was telling me look at car values, understanding at that time there was no app to tell you what to buy this car for. It was gut and a yellow book that was about an inch thick. You know?
Trampus: And so that’s what you look through. Finally, I got a little bit better at buying used cars and I started buying a lot of the cars for the dealership, and worked myself up to sales manager and stayed there for a long time. And still regret to this day in March 5th, 2008, I got a really good opportunity to go run a Ford store and go from a sales manager to a general manager.
JC: Sure. Which is a huge leap by the way.
Trampus; Huge leap. And I was young, I was excited and I think it hurt Michael’s and my relationship. It really did. I think it hurt him. I was young, I don’t think I seen the big picture. However, when I got to the new store, phenomenal experience. Opening my eyes, really got me out there and I really learned how to run a store and learned a lot about it. Well, the owner of the store, his name was Gerald Hatch, and he passed away in a plane accident going to NADA. Well, at that time, the family dynamics and a few things came to the situation, and we just felt like that store’s not going to be the best fit for me and my family. So we reached back out to Michael and went back to work with Michael. And we’ve been at it ever since. We went from one store, added a few more stores on, and our friendship has just continued to grow. And this is probably the last place I ever want to work. This should be it for me. No more [inaudible] [laughter].
JC: Yeah. The synergy between you guys is unbelievable.
Trampus: I can tell you, you never know who your true friends are until you’re down and out. And in this business–
JC: Of course. It’s when you’re at the bottom, by the way.
Trampus: It is. When you’re at the bottom. And my dad was diagnosed with brain cancer October 16th of last year, and we knew it was terminal, and that was my Superman. That was my hero. And I couldn’t figure out why there was nothing we could do. And I was at a really low spot, and I could tell you, every day, he’d send me a scripture almost by text or give me a phone call, every single day. I wanted to be there with my family, and any time I needed to go to be there with my family, it was never questioned. It was never about business. It was never about, “Do you got everything done at work?” It was, “Go.” And to this day, it was extremely challenging to go through that experience with my father, with my mother, with my brother, with my sister, with my wife, and my kids and everybody being supportive for all of us through that. But I’ll tell you what, when his time passed– and I knew Michael was extremely busy, eight stores, and I knew he had so much on his plate at that time. And I was at my dad’s funeral and lo and behold, he walked through the door. And I don’t know if he’ll ever know how much that really meant to me because I knew his situation and how much work we had, and with me being out of the store, how much more work I added on his plate, and he showed up. Didn’t miss a beat about it. And I never even invited him because I just knew, in my heart of hearts, there was no way he could possibly make it to go from California to Page, Arizona. There’s no flight into there. I knew that he had to probably fly up to Phoenix, drive all the way up for it.
And then lo and behold, things are tough, and I know that him and his cousin, Chris Taylor, who both worked me, when we were finishing the reception, I got ready to settle up with the bill, and the bill was taken care of. And you can’t find people like that to work with or work for, and it’s just something that you’ll never forget. When you’re down and you’re out and you’re low and you got so many things going on in your mind, for someone to come through and do something like that for you– we don’t have a partnership. I mean, we do on paper, but it’s beyond that. It’s just a true friendship. And that just tells me, you know what, no matter what we leave this world with, if I leave this world with integrity, morals, and if someone just steps up and says, “This guy was a man of his word,” that’s all I want out of life. That’s it. That’s what I want my legacy to be. And I think that Michael’s a good friend. As a mentor, I think he walks in those steps every single day, and that’s just what our synergy is. He pushes me to be a better man, and I hope I push him to do the same, but you just don’t find a partner or a boss to be on that same level with you, and that’s where we’re at.
JC: Yeah. That is a phenomenal story, my friend. And that tells you the type of person that you’ve aligned yourself with. When you’re trying to grow a group, alignments become crucial and key, right? The fact that you were able to align with him and the fact that his moral compass is pointed in that direction, the way your moral compass is pointed, I’ve often said, right, “The character of a man is not what he does when everyone is looking. It’s what he does when no one is looking,” right? He didn’t have to show up to that funeral, but it wasn’t about that. It was the right thing to do. And because of that, right, I think you guys, not only your partnership will continue forever, but again, based on whether you want to or not, he’ll continue to grow because I believe in karma. And people like that will always be blessed one way or another. That’s just the way it is, you know what I mean?
Trampus: I firmly believe in that. I think that every single day– it’s easy to be motivated by money, but what really do you get in return for money? You can’t buy happiness.
JC: You can’t buy happiness.
Trampus: You can’t buy real friends.
JC: No. You cannot.
Trampus: The only thing that you can do is do right every single time in every single situation. And if you do that, you’re going to be paid in more riches and glory than you could ever even [inaudible].
JC: True. I have a saying, “Money should be a byproduct of doing what you love and doing right by others.” I’ve said that when I was 18 in the car business when I started. I’ve said that when I got out of the car business and opened up my marketing company and when I opened up my software company and when I opened up my print shop. That is what you live by, and it sounds like you and Michael run business in that exact same way.
Trampus: We strive and we’re human. We’re going to make mistakes at times. It’s going to happen. That’s okay because we’ll do everything in our power to make it right. We have employees, and our employees might slip up from time to time. And if they slip up at that time, that’s okay. It’s okay, but we have to make it right, and we have to learn from that mistake. And if we can do that in every single day, with every single customer, we can’t fail.
JC: That’s fantastic. Well, listen, first and foremost, I know you did not have to talk to me today, so I am very thankful and appreciative of your time first and foremost. I have nothing but respect for you. I hope the community, after this podcast, has nothing but respect for you, right? I think that this dealership is beautiful. I think that your partnership is amazing. The fact that these two guys are the head of Mercedes-Benz of Flagstaff, Flagstaff Buick GMC, and Lake Powell Ford– the fact that you guys operate in that way, I think the community should be proud and should be happy at the fact that they know they can do business with people just like you at your place of business, you know what I mean? So for that, we thank you. We appreciate you. This will be one in many line of podcasts, by the way, but I was glad I was able to capture this on voice and disseminate so people understand. So I want to say thank you for your time. I really do appreciate it, and we’ll be back.
Trampus: Thank you. I appreciate it [inaudible]
Podcast Episode 2: Mercedes-Benz of Flagstaff Trampus Mansker General Manager
JC: Happy Thursday. JC here with another podcast at Mercedes-Benz of Flagstaff. I’m sitting here with Trampus. Say hello, Trampus.