Over the summer I was fortunate enough to work at The Auto Gallery in Lewes, Delaware as head detailer and lot manager. Although it is a small used car dealership, it has much to offer. Bryan Hecksher, owner and salesman, runs the operation with one priority: making sure the customer leaves happy. Bryan is extremely passionate about cars and friends. Auto Gallery’s slogan, “Come as a customer, leave as a friend,” explains Bryan’s mentality about the business he runs.
I first met Bryan as a customer two years ago when I was shopping for my first car. Every summer I stay with my family at our house in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, about five miles away from The Auto Gallery. Our neighbor referred us to The Auto Gallery because he knows Bryan quite well and because it is the only used car dealership within an hour’s distance that did not just sell $2,000 dump heaps. When I was first visiting the dealership with my dad, I had never seen the place before. When we arrived, we nearly turned around to head back home because all we saw was what seemed to be a dismal gravel lot with about 30 cars on it, along with a small sales office.
The car lot at the Auto Gallery may not seem all that impressive to many people, but the cars seen on the lot are not all Bryan offers. If you don’t find what you want on the lot, Bryan will hunt down exactly the car for you through his connections with several dealer only car auctions such as Manheim Auctions. Manheim is the largest automobile auction company in the world. No matter what kind of car you are looking for, you will find it at their auctions. Many cars are less than a year old and have less than 2,000 miles on them. Bryan can search through Manheim’s auction lists and find the car you want. Manheim has detailed pictures of almost all of their cars, as well as extremely detailed condition reports that inform the buyer about the entire condition of the car not only cosmetically, but mechanically as well. Each car is given a score based out of 10. Bryan will show you the listing and, once given the go-ahead from the buyer, he will bid on the car from his desk at the dealership via Manheim’s live online bidding. If he wins the car, it’s shipped to the dealership in about three days. Then, Bryan has it all checked out and serviced at a local mechanic’s shop, after which the car is detailed at the dealership. Next, the buyer comes in, sign the paperwork, and the car is yours. Bryan makes the process extremely easy.
Bryan hired me after learning more about my passion for cars and about how I detailed all of my neighbors’ cars. When I worked at the Auto Gallery over the summer, I was a detailer and lot manager. That meant that I, along with the help of Dan, another employee, detailed all the cars on the lot. We washed, buffed, waxed, shampooed carpets, reconditioned leather, wet sanded and buffed paint imperfections, restored oxidized headlights, and much more. As lot manager, I organized the cars on the lot and made sure they all had the correct window stickers, Auto Gallery license plates, frames and decals, as well as making sure Mark, the internet manager, had all the listings and pictures on the Auto Gallery’s website. I also would run errands, take cars to different service centers, and make sure each car had at least a quarter tank full of gas. The most annoying part was when Bryan would ask me to walk his dog, Miles. Miles is a very important member of the Auto Gallery team. He’s there every day and welcomes customers with a bark and a growl. When there aren’t any customers around, however, you will find him laying down on Bryan’s desk.
Other members of the Auto Gallery team include Terry, David, and Nick. Terry is is the guy you need to be careful around; he’s a 76-year-old man who looks like he’s 64 and behaves like he’s 16. He works with Bryan in sales. David manages all of the finances and anything that has to do with money. He also behaves as if he’s 16. Nick is probably the most interesting member of the Auto Gallery team. The best way to describe him would be as ‘The Dude’ in The Big Lebowski. He would help out with odd jobs around the dealership. He’d replace a taillight bulb, or fix the air compressor, and help out wherever help is needed.
As a used car dealer, Bryan faces many challenges. Markets constantly fluctuate, causing changes in the values of used cars, often dramatically. On several occasions, Bryan has had vehicles for sale that have sat on the lot for over a year. Those cars take up inventory space; therefore, after they have sat for a year, Bryan sells them at auction, where he will lose money on that car. However, finances are not Bryan’s biggest concern. Instead, it is the customer. “There’s so many dishonest people in the industry. I wanted to change that and not just take people’s money. I want to earn their respect as well as business, make them happy with their purchase, and, hopefully, gain their confidence to maintain their business in the future.”
Bryan’s day starts promptly at 9:00 a.m., when the Auto Gallery opens. He gets a bowl of oatmeal, sits at his desk and sifts through emails and the latest auction listings. Soon, a few customers may come in, then no later than 10:30, he asks what everyone wants for lunch. We always ordered out for lunch: pizza, chinese, subs. If it was cheap and offered take out, chances are we have had it. Following lunch, I will usually be finishing up a detail. Bryan then comes out and inspects my work. He checks over every nook and crany. If there is one granule of sand or dust anywhere in the car, he will not be happy. At around three or four in the afternoon, Bryan will tell me which cars had sold that day. At that point, I give them one final wash and interior cleaning for customer delivery the following day. When a customer arrives to pick up their new car, Bryan takes a picture with them and gives a tutorial on how everything in the car works and all if its special features. He makes sure they are happy, and then they are off, and Bryan walks back inside with a smile on his face.
Over the course of the time I worked for him, Bryan never expressed any fear or worries about his reputation or the dealership. I once asked him what his biggest fear was, and he said, “Being compared to other dealers that are not honest and not having the customer’s best interest in mind.”
Working for Bryan and with the rest of the Auto Gallery team was the highlight of my summer. I am extremely grateful for having been given the opportunity and to have gained experience in the automotive field.
All photos by Rick O’Shea