Local car salesman breaks the mold

Auto manufacturing may have improved over the years, but I doubt we’ll see any mass production of car salesmen like Bill Florence.

Bill Florence

Bill Florence

Florence, 77, just retired after selling cars in Atlanta for 55 years. He would have liked to continue his normal routine of working six days a week, but his physical stability and mobility are no longer what they need to be, following the side effects from a kidney transplant.

Florence, an Atlanta native who spent his entire career working for just two local dealership groups, was a little disappointed that he wasn’t able to work longer than his late aunt. She was employed by an Atlanta paper company for 65 years.

“The work ethic has changed over the generations,” Florence said.

It certainly has. And so has the way many companies treat their employees, especially senior ones.

But Florence managed to survive the ups and downs of the auto industry, partly because he didn’t try to make a quick buck at the consumer’s expense.

“You don’t have to lie, cheat or steal to sell an automobile,” he said. “Put the customer No. 1. … Treat each customer like a guest in your home.” If you do that, he said, things will work out over the long haul.

For 34 years, Florence worked at Mitchell Motors in Atlanta, selling Oldsmobiles and Rolls-Royces, while rising to general manager.

In 1989, he went over to Hennessy, selling Cadillacs, Jaguars and Range Rovers. A year later, as Lexus was entering the U.S. market, he became new-car sales manager of Hennessy Lexus, rising to general sales manager.

“That was a challenge, organizing a new-car line and dealership that no one knew,” he said. In terms of quality, “we went from being a question mark to a benchmark.”

At his Dunwoody home last week, I asked Florence if there were any tips he could share with salespeople just starting out.

He said there’s no magic to selling cars — in good times or bad. You have to enjoy meeting new people all the time, answering their questions and overcoming their objections in a low-key, professional manner. He said he never believed in high-pressure tactics. That’s not the way you’re going to get repeat business.

“You get to the point where you have to know when to shut up,” he said. “I’ve now sold [cars to] three generations of families.”

He also said that salespeople must study the product they’re selling, so they can talk with authority about it and gain the customer’s confidence. At the same time, he said, they should never answer a question that they don’t know the answer to, especially because a customer already may know it and is just testing the salesman.

The right response: “I don’t know the answer, but if you give me a moment I know where to get it.”

While Florence may be a first-class salesman, he could use some advice with his current endeavor. He appears a little lost in retirement, even though he and has wife, Barbara, have four sons, seven grandkids and a great-grandchild.

“I haven’t gotten used to this retirement thing yet,” Florence said. “It’s going to be a test of our 56-year marriage.”

- Henry Unger, The Biz Beat

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14 comments Add your comment

Brad Jordan

January 25th, 2011
7:28 am

I had the privilege to produce Bill’s retirement video a few weeks ago. The interviews I did with his co-workers were evidence of his impact on other people through his professionalism and work ethic. I never worked with or met Bill, but meeting and listening to his co-workers shows his impact will be felt for years to come. God bless you in your retirement, Bill!

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Michael Florence

January 25th, 2011
11:47 am

This article strikes a real chord with me. You see I am one of Bill Florence’s sons. One article cannot convey everything about my Father’s life. I can only say that that I love him, and that I am as proud now as I was when I was younger to say that Bill Florence is my father.

lisa adams

January 25th, 2011
11:53 am

I had the pleasure of working for Bill for 5 years at Hennessy Lexus and I must say, those were the best years of my auto career! He has touched many, many lives over the span of his career and I know that he will be sorely missed. Best wishes on your retirement, Bill! We love you!


January 25th, 2011
11:58 am

Mitchell Motors. Thats one of the oldest Auto Sales companies in Atlanta. I know they moved out to the suburbs. Where all the buyers are. I forget where they used to be located in the old days. You know the original location.

Horace McMillan

January 25th, 2011
1:05 pm

I had the pleasure of working for Bill at both Mitchell Motors & Hennessy Lexus. Bill Florence is a class act. He would never ask an individual to do something that he himself would not do. Bill, my family & I thank you a great deal for the opportunity you granted me back in 1988. Enjoy your retirement & God Bless you & Barbara!

Macy Andrews

January 25th, 2011
2:40 pm

I too had the pleasure of working with Bill Florence. He was not only a true professional inside and out, but he was a pleasure to work with every day. He was always there to listen and to help. He is truly an inspiration to my generation. I hope to have the same work ethic after 55 years! Best wishes Bill and Barbara!

Melissa Schol

January 25th, 2011
3:07 pm

I worked for, and with, Bill for 12 years at Hennessy Lexus. He wasn’t only a co-worker and boss, but is a treasured friend. Bill, I hope you have fun in retirement. Barbara, I’ll be praying for you.

Michael Florence

January 25th, 2011
3:12 pm

The original location for Mitchell Motors was on West Peachtree Street near Downtown Atlanta. They then moved the dealership out to Peachtree Industrial Blvd. After Dad left it became Ford Dealership within a few years.

Cassandra Williams

January 25th, 2011
4:03 pm

Bill made coming to work on a Sat worth while. I thank you for making me feel special whenever I came by Hennessy Lexus to say helloo. Now the real question is will he do a Brett Favre and try a come back? (you never know what will happen with Bill – lol)

Foster Elwood

January 25th, 2011
7:36 pm

I am a newcomer in the life of Bill Florence, and have shared some of the more recent years of his life. I would love to be half the man he is. May God bless both you,Barbara and your family.

Hannah Florence

January 25th, 2011
7:38 pm

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Hannah Florence

January 25th, 2011
7:49 pm

Bill Florence (grandaddy), is first of all a fanntastic person. I’m honored to share the Florence name. I only wish that they would have let him stay at Hennessy, I know how much he loved that job. This artical does him NO justice, I would only be pleased with a novel or perhaps an autobiography. Grandaddy, I love you to the moon and back…if you ever get board with retirement come up and visit (we can go shopping :) ~Sweetcheeks

malinda durham

January 26th, 2011
4:39 pm

Congratulations, Bill, on your retirement. You are the best there is,–always thinking about the other person and how you can help. Back in the day you kept me afloat and I love you. You, too, Barbara.