Editor’s note: This is the first of an occasional series on family businesses where multi-generations work together.
Phil Waterford Junior had made up his mind.
He was going to work for his dad, Phil Waterford at Manteca Ford & Exotic High Line.
Phil Junior — now 29 — had just graduated from Sierra High where he played basketball for the Timberwolves.
Phil remembers the day well.
“He was putting on nice pants, a shirt, and a tie that morning and I asked him what he was doing,” Phil recalled. “He told me he was going to work with me. He thought he was going to start selling cars.”
Instead, his father put Phil Junior to work in the detail shop.
It wasn’t just a case of learning the business from the ground up. Phil believes learning to be the best detailer making sure every crevice of a vehicle is clean, learning to spot imperfections and how to select the right matching color and making it so the touch-up can’t be detected is a great way to sharpen one’s skills. Paying attention to details, taking pride in your work, and making sure the customer has the best possible experience with the vehicle they chose is what Phil himself learned as a teen starting out in the car business in the Midwest.
Eventually Phil Junior made it to the sales floor. He was 18 when he closed his deal, a used 2000 Ford Escort.
“The customer was the nicest guy you could ever ask for,” Phil Junior recalled. “I was so afraid I was going to make a mistake.”
Phil Junior didn’t make a mistake that day or the day he decided his career path would be following in his father’s footsteps.
The decision, Phil Junior said, has made him even closer to his father.
“He’s my father first and foremost,” Phil Junior said of their relationship at the dealership at 555 North Main Street. “If something is bothering me in my personal life he’ll take the time to sit down and talk with me.”
Son, like father,
The conversation turned to who is the better car salesman. Phil recalls how at 18 — the same age as his son’s first deal — he sold his first car. It was at a Toyota dealership in northwest Indiana. The car he sold was a Nissan Sentra that originally was yellow but because it had been on the lot for two years the dealer decided to paint it black to see if that would help move the vehicle.
“The customer told me that was the car they wanted,” Phil recalled. “When I went into the office to get the paperwork started and told them I sold a car and they asked which one, they didn’t believe me. They paid for it in cash.”
So who is the better salesman?
“I’m Steve Kerr, and dad’s the coach of the Cleveland Cavilers,” Phil Junior replied.
“Honestly?” Phil replied with a slight chuckle. “I guess I can live with that.”
Make no doubt, though, that both father and son are competitive. The aggressive play and team work that Phil Junior employed as a point guard for the Timberwolves still burns strong today. But don’t discount Phil any time soon. His competitive nature in adult recreation basketball leagues is legendary. He even impressed his son Eric’s coaches when he was playing at University of Portland and Phil got asked to play on a practice squad.
As to who is the better detailer, Phil Junior doesn’t hesitate: “Dad is.”
Besides inheriting his dad’s competitiveness, Phil Junior also has displays other qualities that Phil and his wife Rose strive to instill in all of their children.
“I’m a good listener,” Phil Junior said when asked about what he thinks makes him a good salesmen.
And Phil Junior listens well. He is consistently one of the top salesmen at the dealership.
Phil Junior also said he listens to his dad.
“I’m still learning from him,” Phil Junior said.
Both also have their feet planted in solid practicality.
Phil Junior said the Ford Fusion is his favorite car.
Based on power, design, performance, and interior touches and comfort he said “it feels like a vehicle people pay $100,000 for.”
For Phil, it’s the Fiord Focus.
“The staff thinks I’m crazy when I’m telling them I’m driving a Ford Focus home when I can take any car on the lot,” Phil said. “It’s comfortable, it has cool styling, the interior is great and it gets great gas mileage.”
Phil and Rose also have four other children: Eric, 26; Brandon, 16; Amare, 7; and Desiary, 3.
Phil ended up in Manteca in 1997 after growing up in inner-city Chicago when he was picked by Ford for training potential dealership owners.
The gig required him to work six months first as a general manager and then things would be reassessed at that point.
Ford had Waterford look at some dealerships in Southern California. Nothing clicked for him. Then, before heading back to Illinois, Ford asked him if he’d take a look at one more dealership the Central Valley. Ford flew him to the Bay Area.
It was driving to Manteca from the airport that Waterford came across a view that took his breath away. Much like the early Spanish explorers from 270 years ago, Waterford was stunned and impressed by the view that lay before him as he crested the Altamont Pass.
Waterford liked what he found in Manteca: A good wholesome family atmosphere and good demographics.
He made a short call to his family in Chicago, asking what the temperature was. It was 10 degrees in the Windy City. It was 55 degrees in Manteca. He was sold.
In 1997, the partnership was struck. Phil Waterford’s Manteca Ford Mercury was open for business. The turnaround was so strong that instead of buying out Ford’s interest in the deanship in 14 years, Waterford was able to do it in 39 months.
Phil said he was fortunate to be able to build on the foundation lout in place by the Knapp family that had owned the dealership for decades before it went through several different owners.
After the Knapps departed, the dealership had hit rough times. Phil was able to hit targets for the dealership within 39 months. He used the bonus that Ford promised when he hit certain benchmarks to retire the funding Ford put upfront to get him started.
“Usually it takes dealers 15 to 20 year to do that,” Phi said.
He’s resisted the temptation over the years to build a new dealership.
The reason is simple. The property and buildings are paid for which means he can offer customers lower prices plus out what money he would be using to retire debt into community endeavors ranging from the Memorial Weekend Commemoration at Woodward Park, the Boys & Girls Club, and staging a Christmas Eve breakfast and to giveaway to countless other non-profit projects.
“Everyone pays the same price for Fords that they sell,” Phil said of dealerships.
Phil Junior noted there’s more family than just his dad at Manteca Ford.
“Everyone here is like family,” Phil Junior said. “It’s a great place to work.”