In 1973, Joe Girard sold 1,425 new cars, which according to Guinness is the most cars ever sold in a calendar year by a single human. The tally stood for decades. But a salesman in Dearborn, Michigan, claims to have surpassed that record last year, and Girard, now 89, isn’t too happy about it.
Girard has been many things throughout his life, but he is best known as the (formerly?) world’s best car salesman, having turned to sales as a broke father of two in 1963. He went on to sell over 13,000 cars over the next 15 years in suburban Detroit, before quitting to become a motivational speaker.
Girard now has some competition in Ali Reda, a salesman at Les Stanford Chevrolet Cadillac, who says that he sold 1,530 new vehicles in 2017, enough to best Girard’s total by 105. He isn’t buying it though, telling the Detroit Free Press on Friday that the first thing he did when he found out about the claim was call his lawyer.
From that story:
“If somebody beat my record, honestly, I would be proud of that person,” Girard said. “My attorney is going to get a court order to go into that dealership and have him audited. That’s where I’m going on Monday.
“We want to know if the company’s giving numbers they shouldn’t. If they did, they will be sued beyond their wildest dreams. The dealership knows the numbers. They better be careful, according to my attorneys. We’ll make sure no games are played. Or we’re going to get that dealer big time.”
Girard is nothing if not intense. Here’s some selections from a profile of him in Automotive News in 2011, that is simultaneously one of the darkest and most inspiring things I’ve ever read:
With a wife and two children to support, Girard got on a bus looking for work one day in January 1963. When the bus doors opened, he stepped off in front of a big Chevrolet dealership.
Girard begged the manager for a job. He spent that first day calling everyone he knew. At 8:30 that night, after most of the other salesmen had slipped out, a customer walked through the door. The only other salesman still working was busy. So Girard spent 90 minutes with the customer, did some more begging — and sold his first car.
He borrowed $10 from his manager to buy groceries and sold 18 cars during his second month on the job. But the owner fired him after complaints from other salesmen. Girard went to Merollis Chevrolet in suburban Detroit and set sales records year after year.
But Girard never let go of being fired. Every year he mailed a copy of his W-2 to his old boss, with a note at the bottom telling him, “You fired the wrong guy.” After his old boss died, Girard says he even took a W-2 to the cemetery and buried it atop the man’s casket.
Other than “Good morning,” he refused to talk to co-workers. He ate lunch at his desk so he could dedicate every minute to selling.
But after Christmas of 1977, Girard called it quits. He had topped 13,000 in sales — 13 is his lucky number — and he no longer could take the stress of the job. He had been sweating and shaking at work; he went to a doctor, who told him to quit or die.
Knowing all this, it’s probably not surprising to learn that Girard would fight any attempt to undermine his legacy, and as the Freep reports, he’s doing just that.
A manager at Les Stanford said that Reda’s sales numbers are “very official,” and what most people seem to agree is that the conflict is distracting from Reda’s accomplishment. And, as car salespeople go, he does seem like one of the good ones, referring to himself as an “advisor,” not a salesman, sometimes turning customers away if he thinks they can’t afford a car.
On Monday, Reda (probably unintentionally) turned the screw a bit more on Girard, telling the Free Press that he was so successful primarily thanks to the insights he gleaned from Girard’s book.
“I mean, I would be honored to shake his hand,” Reda said. “Joe Girard is a big figure in our industry. His accomplishments don’t diminish my work. He set the pace for me. He gave me a goal.”
On top of all that, it’d be a strange move for any salesman or dealership to make up car sales claims, since manufacturers obsessively track those numbers, and any false claim would be easily disprovable.
Still, Girard was probably never going to go down without a fight. His website, a shrine to his accomplishments, is another clue, describing him this way: “International lecturer and winner of the World’s Number One Retail Salesperson title, Joe Girard has a lifetime of experience to share with you.”