The first thing you notice walking into Joe Myers Ford-Lincoln—after the never-ending construction on 290 outside, that is—are the orchids. They’re everywhere, as though Queens Botanical Garden opened an outpost in Jersey Village. In their creamy whites, vivid purples, and bashful lilacs, potted throughout the glassy main floor, the flowers are an unmistakable sign that this is not your average car dealership.
The woman in charge here—Carolyn Cross, the 67-year-old native Texan matriarch known as Momma to those who work for her—has tight salt-and-pepper curls and the friendly bear hug of a favorite aunt. She’s dressed in a smart pantsuit as she strides across the dealership’s sales floor, which is so well-appointed, with comfortable couches and plush Oriental rugs, that one could be forgiven for mistaking the dealership for a high-end furniture store that just happens to have a 2016 Ford Fusion in the lobby.
“I have a lady that’s been with me 23 years, and she and I have done all these dealerships together," Cross smiles, gesturing to the pleasant space. Cross herself has been at this far longer, however, having started out as an untrained typist at Southwest Lincoln-Mercury in 1967 and worked her way up various industry ladders from office manager to controller to, finally, general manager for three of the most successful dealerships in the country.
Under her leadership, Lone Star Chevrolet became the no. 1 Chevy dealership in the nation, winning the GM Dealer of the Year award 10 years in a row, starting in 2003. Her success story there was all the more striking for its rarity: car sales is a persistently male-dominated industry, in spite of the fact that, according to Forbes, women influence 85 percent of buying decisions when it comes to purchasing a car.
“I believe I was the first female in the country that had worked her way up,” says Cross. “There were other females, sure, but their daddy owned the dealership, or their husband.” Hard work only took her so far, though; Cross admits that her leap into management from sales owed to one factor: the economy. “I had a lifelong passion for cars, but the truth is that in 1981 the car business went kaput. Interest rates on new cars were at 26 percent, and we lost every manager—and I was the only one left.” She laughs. “So I got it by default, but then I kept it!”
Since that time, Cross has made her mark not only with her successful sales numbers but also with her even more impressive management style, which she implemented at Joe Myers Ford-Lincoln upon joining the dealership two-and-a-half years ago. “I’ve read around 400 motivational and management books,” she estimates, opening various bookshelves and cabinets around her spacious office to reveal a hidden library of titles, many of which she refers back to during weekly motivational meetings. “People buy from people. And people buy from people they like,” she says, adding, “The way you keep that customer is you treat them like spun gold.”
Transparency during the car-buying process is equally important to Cross. Her sales staff at Joe Myers Ford-Lincoln is salaried, meaning the place keeps average purchasing time to under two hours: there’s no haggling here. And that’s not the only change she implemented after taking over in 2013. She also got to work cleaning up the bathrooms (“It was built in the 1970s, and I don’t think the bathrooms had been cleaned since then,” she recalls), replacing the furniture, and planting those gorgeous orchids throughout. “I could probably tell you how financially sound a dealership is just by looking at how it’s taken care of,” Cross says.
In the two-and-a-half years since Cross arrived, Joe Myers Ford-Lincoln has flourished. “When I came here, the turnover was 185 percent,” she says. And while an average high-volume Ford store’s employee turnover rate is usually 76 percent, she says, “right now we’re at 39 percent.” But wait—there’s more. “The first year, we took sales up 185 percent, and revenue this year will double where it was in 2012.”
Her next goal? Transforming Joe Myers into the no. 1 Ford dealership in the country—and under the Cross system, the dealership already stands a good chance. “Every vehicle that’s being made today—I don’t care what it is—they all have a great warranty; they’re all built well,” says Cross. “There’s only one thing that makes a difference, and that’s the people in the dealership.”