Cool Hand FLUKE

If not for a chance encounter with a frustrated golfer in 1993, who knows what David Maus would be selling today? But, really, the product doesn’t matter to a natural, yet unconventional, salesman like Maus. He can sell anything—especially himself.



Cool Hand FLUKE

If not for a chance encounter with a frustrated golfer in 1993, who knows what David Maus would be selling today? But, really, the product doesn’t matter to a natural, yet unconventional, salesman like Maus. He can sell anything—especially himself.

David Maus remembers being a “nervous wreck” when he stood before a TV camera preparing to make his first commercial. Working without a script and without a clue about what kind of image he would project to viewers, Maus spontaneously thrust both index fingers toward the camera at the close of the advertisement. “Choose wisely,” he advised, his hands posed like a pair of
six-shooters.

Maus, the general manager of Kissimmee Toyota back then, in 2001, was a natural in front of customers, not in front of TV cameras. In person, he had a knack with people, converting strangers into friends and distrustful shoppers into buyers. He had sold newspapers as a kid, cemetery plots as an 18-year-old just out of high school and golf clubs as a young father. He was born to be a salesman, but his career in the high-pressure world of auto sales started as a fluke, really, the result of a chance encounter. It would be one of many that would foreshadow turning points or the beginnings of close relationships in Maus’ life.

So here he was breaking into TV commercials, becoming the face and voice of a big-time business he didn’t even own. And he was just winging it, making up a spiel and doing that six-shooter thing with his hands in a low-key, I’m-your-buddy manner. His sleepy eyes, stiff posture and aw-shucks grin somehow complemented the corny hand gestures, which included a thumbs-up move he did in some
ad spots.

The quick draw stuck with viewers. Some made fun of the gesture but they remembered it. Maus had unwittingly created a signature move. It was neither forceful, like that of Art Grindle’s finger-pointing, “I want to sell you a car!” rant, nor folksy, like the late Bob Dance’s neighborly “where everybody rides” sign-off. Young and unpolished, Maus came across as an average Joe, not a slick car salesman dangling a bait-and-switch.

Maus was on his way to becoming one of Central Florida’s biggest car advertisers on radio and TV. Only a few years after making his first TV spot, Maus took his quick-draw trademark and his carpet-bombing approach to advertising—spending up to $4 million a year on TV commercials—to another dealership that came to bear his name. He now has 20 percent ownership stakes in three area dealerships, including the No. 1 volume dealer in Central Florida, David Maus Toyota in Sanford.

Sitting in his glass-walled office off the Toyota showroom’s floor, Maus, the once nervous Nelly with the involuntary hand gestures, is a cool customer. His is not a big personality, the Type A that fills a room and sucks the air out of it at the same time. Polite, shy,  attentive and unguarded, he talks as candidly about sales figures as he does about his hair transplant procedures.

Adorning the credenza behind Maus’ desk are pictures of his three children, autographed Miami Dolphin footballs and Toyota President’s Awards the dealership won five years in a row for customer and community service. Maus credits his success to getting a “feel” for people and business.

“Even in golf, it was with ‘feel,’” he says of the sport he played competitively in high school and now plays to relax. “When coaches tried to teach me something in any sport, I’d do it worse. I had to do it with feel.”

Fate Swings His Way

Who knows where Maus, 40, would be today if George Kazery hadn’t had a lousy day on the golf course?

Certainly not selling cemetery plots back in Steubenville, Ohio, where he grew up as one of four boys of Vickie and Jack Maus. “I was pretty good at it,” Maus says of the sales job he took shortly after getting married following his high school graduation, “but . . . I hated to ask someone about death. I was 18 and it was difficult.”

Kazery had just finished playing a round with a new set of clubs that turned out to be all wrong for him. He couldn’t get rid of the clubs fast enough, driving from the course to an International Drive golf equipment retailer where he thought he could trade them in on a new set.

But Kazery’s quickie divorce didn’t go according to plan, luckily for him and Maus. Agitated when a sales rep at Special Tee Golf told him the store no longer took trades, Kazery demanded to see the manager.

It was 1993, and Maus, who had relocated to Orlando with his then-wife, Sarah, six years earlier, was about to win over a customer who knew the art of closing a deal.

Kazery, at the time the general manager and part owner of Kissimmee Toyota, remembers Maus assuring him that they could work something out. They did, and Kazery drove away a happy customer, his slightly used set fetching about half of what he paid for it.
“Before I knew it, he had me in an $1,800 set of clubs,” Kazery says, his smile widening. “It was the way he cared for me. He personally took care of me. I’m driving to work and it hit me—it was like a car deal. I said, ‘This kind of guy needs to work for me.’”
Maus didn’t immediately take to car sales. He quit and returned to Special Tee three weeks after Kazery hired him away. Maus recalls feeling alienated by co-workers, possibly because Kazery brushed aside his own interview policy that three managers approve a new hire. Kazery had unilaterally brought Maus into the dealership. 
Bryan Carter, who worked as the general sales manager at the Kissimmee dealership, remembers Kazery saying, “‘I see something in this young man. And I’m telling you he’s going to be a star.’”
Kazery lured Maus back with the promise to personally train him. Soon enough, car sales and Maus were like ham and cheese.
Maus “was selling 35 to 45 cars a month,” recalls Carter. “That’s a car a day. The average salesman sells eight to ten a month. It was like clockwork. It was what he was meant to do.”

‘Do the Right Thing’
In the Mount Dora home she and Jack now live in, Vickie Maus stores keepsakes of their second-oldest son’s formative years when the family lived in Steubenville. Vickie, 68, digs out an assignment David completed in second grade in 1976. Entitled “I Would Like,” the assignment shows that Maus filled in blanks to questions about his life’s dreams. He wanted to be a football player, and he wrote “five hours a day,” “four days a week” for his desired work schedule.  “Yes” he wanted many helpers, but he also hoped to work alone. Where did he want to live? Where it’s warm, he wrote.     
In the family’s hometown, David played shortstop and pitcher in a Babe Ruth League. But when he went to Catholic Central High School he joined the golf team, which his dad coached.  As far back as his parents can remember, David wanted to move to Florida—especially after winter trips in the 1970s to Walt Disney World, Gatorland and Silver Springs—to escape the cold weather. Since childhood, a constant in Maus’ life has been his love for the Miami Dolphins. Before he turned 20, he would get his wish to live in a warm place.

 

In Steubenville, an economically depressed steel-industry town best known as the birthplace of entertainer Dean Martin, Jack worked as an engineer driving a train that shuttled raw materials between mills in the area. Jack, 64, a former Ohio car salesman and one-time dealership general manager himself, made all of his boys work when they were youngsters. They had newspaper routes, and they raked leaves and shoveled snow, sometimes as good deeds for elderly neighbors. In the Maus household, the bottom line for business and life was the same: “Do the right thing.”
 David Maus says he took that principle and applied it to the process of selling cars to wary American consumers.
“If you just took care of [customers] and treated them like people, they loved it,” Maus says of his secret to success in the car business. “I gave them the information,” he adds, referring to disclosing invoice prices, “and told them we had to make a profit.”
At Kissimmee Toyota, Maus progressed through management jobs in finance and in used and new car sales. He worked his way up to the top, becoming the dealership’s general manager. Maus took innovative approaches at the time: showing customers invoices if they wanted to see them; telling buyers what was wrong with a car; posting in the showroom finance rates for various credit scores; and promising price and payment within 10 minutes, and delivery in one hour.
“Hi, I’m David Maus of Kissimmee Toyota,” one of his commercials began. “Car buying should be fun, fast and easy.”
 
Discovered—Again
Larry Van Tuyl caught one of Maus’ commercials and was impressed. “He was more about the selling experience than the price,” recalls the co-CEO of the nation’s largest privately held automotive sales company, the Van Tuyl Group. The company has 68 dealerships from California to Florida, with annual revenues of about $6 billion.
Van Tuyl lured Maus from Central Florida Toyota (the new name of Kissimmee Toyota) in mid-2003, making him a minority
partner in Magic Toyota in Longwood. Maus’ former employer,
UAG Kissimmee Motors, didn’t let him go without a fight. UAG sued Maus in Orange County Circuit Court, accusing him and two top managers he hired away of stealing trade secrets. The suit also claimed that Maus “raided” the dealership by taking 27 employees with him.
Why would so many people follow their former boss who took over a less-accomplished dealership?
The answer: Maus was money.
Documents filed in the case show that under Maus, from January 2001 to June 2003, Kissimmee Toyota-Central Florida Toyota doubled its average monthly new car sales, to 388; increased average monthly used car sales by 49 percent, to 137; and nearly tripled monthly profit, to $602,000. Details of Maus’ salary also were disclosed in the case, showing that his 2003 contract called for him to make up to $702,000 in salary and bonuses. He earned $456,000 before quitting mid-year.
Maus countersued, saying UAG hadn’t lived up to the terms of his contract. The suits were settled out of court in 2004.
About two years later, Maus and the Van Tuyl Group moved the Magic dealership—renamed David Maus Toyota—to a new, 96,000-square-foot location in Sanford, just off Interstate 4 and State Road 417 near Seminole Towne Center.
The new dealership was a huge success, selling 8,160 vehicles in 2006 (up more than 2,000 units from 2005). From January 2006 through September 2008, David Maus Toyota sold 20,716 vehicles, according to AutoCount by Experian Automotive, an independent sales monitoring service. Toyota Scion of Orlando, the No. 2 volume dealer, sold 18,705 vehicles during the same period, AutoCount reported.
Over the past year, the Van Tuyl Group upped its investment in Maus. It added a south Orlando Volkswagen dealership and opened a Hyundai dealership in DeLand, operating both under the Maus brand. 
Like other dealers, Maus has been hurt by the economic slump and tight credit market. Sales have dropped since 2006, when his Toyota location averaged 680 sales a month. Overall sales at his
Toyota store fell 8 percent in 2007, and Maus expected 2008 to close with sales off by 30 percent over the previous year.
“It’s tough right now. The toughest it’s ever been,” Maus says. “But we’re still No. 1 in the market. We have a lot of repeat customers.”

Staying on Point
Perhaps an even more telling testament to Maus’ do-the-right-thing ethos is how he and Sarah divorced, in 2005, after a three-year separation. They used the same attorney, splitting assets and agreeing to shared custody of their three children, David, Tyler and Savannah, now ages 20, 15 and 13, respectively. The exes live just a mile apart in Lake Mary.
Maus drives Tyler and Savannah to school each morning, and young David, a mirror image of his dad, works at the Toyota dealership. He is a sales manager and “closer,” the final negotiator who gets involved in a car deal when the salesperson can’t get a customer to commit to buying. Father and son often attend the weekly lunchtime Bible study session employees hold at the Sanford dealership.
When Tyler was born with a hole in his heart, requiring a long hospitalization, Maus pledged to someday help others in need. In 2005, he formed The David Maus Foundation, which has donated more than $400,000 to various charitable organizations like the Ronald McDonald House, the Children’s Miracle Network and Give Kids The World. His Toyota dealership has helped sponsor other charitable events, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars more.
 “He heard our story and just started getting involved,” says Lou Ann DeVoogd, executive director of Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Florida. “He really believes in giving back. And his employees walk the walk, too.”
The “walk” Maus walks often leads him to lasting relationships. His inner circle includes Kazery and Van Tuyl, both of whom discovered him; a former professional wrestler who bought a car from him and now works as one of his managers; and the doctor who performed two hair-transplant procedures to cover up his receding hairline. 
A young TV advertising account rep crossed paths with Maus six and a half years ago. Maus hired Nicole Fogus a year later and took her with his cadre when he jumped ship in 2003 and began building his empire. After Maus’ divorce, he and Fogus began to date. They were engaged in 2006 and plan to marry this year.
A couple of years ago, Maus stopped the finger-pointing on TV because he and Fogus, 31, thought it was annoying viewers. Fogus, who is protective of Maus and the image he presents, says the response was immediate. “People started calling and they said, ‘Why are you not pointing anymore?’ I said, ‘David, you look at a swoosh and you know it’s a Nike. You look at a sombrero and it’s a Toyota.’ That was his signature move or trademark. That was his thing. We were shocked. So we put it back.”
So Maus resumed pointing customers to Sanford, and now points them to south Orlando and DeLand as well. Although his message generally has remained along the lines of “we’ll do whatever it takes to earn your business,” his hair color has varied noticeably—from blond to brown to black—over the past few years. Fogus says callers questioned that, too. 
“It’s gray if I let it come out,” Maus confesses.
That’s Maus, honest about personal details that many people would rather not reveal. He was raised to do the right thing, and he isn’t about to forget the Maus family’s Golden Rule back in Steubenville. His mom still keeps an eye on him, working once a week at the Sanford dealership’s Maus Café.  His three brothers and father have worked for him at one time or another, too. 
And in early 2008, Maus and Kazery reunited, with the former mentor working for his star student as head of sales and training.
“I’m still learning as I go,” says Maus, who never attended college. “I’m the type of guy who believes in keeping my ears open and listening to the people around me. People in business who are successful have successful people around them. One or two bad people can ruin you.”
Personal injury lawyer John Morgan, a neighbor of Maus and a local television-advertising icon in his own right, says Maus has created a brand image that sticks with the public.
“If you walk down the street in Orlando and ask what guy makes you think of car dealers, 50 percent will say David Maus,” says Morgan. “He’s gotten into the head of
the consumer.”
 

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