After he returned home in 1956 after serving in the Army in Korea, Frank Lima tried his hand at a series of jobs.
He took orders for delivery of produce to restaurants, made ice cream at Peterson’s Creamery, baked bread and made donuts at Tracy Bakery, and delivered milk for Gordon Felber, the local distributor for Golden State dairy products.
Finally, in 1959, he found a job that would last him the rest of his life. It started when he was contacted by Tracy Dodge automobile and truck dealer John Geringer. He had heard Frank, who grew up on a farm near Banta and graduated from Tracy High in 1951, was looking for a new job and asked him to apply for an opening he had for a car and truck salesman to work alongside his son, Glen.
“I had worked in all kinds of businesses, so I was confident I could succeed in a new job,” Frank said. “I went to John’s house for an interview, and it went well. He offered me a job selling cars and trucks, and I accepted it.”
The rest is history — to be exact, 62 years of selling cars and trucks, all in Tracy. That long tenure, which made Frank Tracy’s most-senior car salesman, ended July 30, when he retired.
“I’m 88 years old, so I figured it’s time to call it quits,” he said. “But you know, I’ve enjoyed almost all of it. Working with people, those in dealerships and also the customers, was great.”
Many of his early customers were Portuguese natives, mostly from the Azores, and Frank’s Portuguese heritage made it comfortable buying a car or truck from him.
“I sold cars to Portuguese customers up and down California, as far south as San Diego,” he reported. “I helped a number of them get drivers’ licenses.”
Frank started out with new-car sales, selling Dodges and then Chevrolets for the Geringers, Chevrolets and Buicks for Roger Birdsall and Tom Nokes, Cadillacs and Pontiacs for Holt Bros. and Fords and Mercuries for Stan Morri.
The last 23 years, though, Frank has been a fleet sales manager, dealing with commercial firms and government agencies, first for Morri and in recent years again for Nokes when he returned to Tracy and bought Tracy Ford when Stan retired.
Working with fleet sales has been quite different from selling new cars in the retail market, Frank reported.
“The commercial firms and public agencies — cities, counties, schools and special districts — know what kind of vehicles they want, and they send out requests for bids that include detailed specifications.” He explained.
Frank said to be successful in that kind of selling, you have to know the car market and which way it’s heading, the customers you’re dealing with and what dealers are likely to bid.
Frank’s experience in filling out the paperwork that made the purchase easier for the fleet-sales customers was an asset for him in gaining sales.
“There are narrower profits in fleet sales, but it is steady income,” he said.
Frank said a major difference between the time he entered retail vehicle sales more than six decades ago and today is that customers today, thanks mostly to the Internet, have much more information on pricing, model differences and equipment options than they once did.
“It’s a more sophisticated marketplace today, but of course it’s not completely different. Customers still want the best deal possible and it’s still important for dealers to gain their trust in presenting information to them.”
In retirement, Frank plans to take some trips with his wife, Karen, and continue playing an occasional game of golf. He takes with him positive memories of more than six decades of many forms of auto sales.
• Sam Matthews, Tracy Press publisher emeritus, can be reached at 830-4234 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.