The year was 1984. Merrill, Michigan. Wade Swarthout was 26-years-old, doing double duty working at a bank and helping his dad farm 800 acres.
The farming? He loved. The bank? Not so much.
Thankfully, the automotive industry came calling.
“There was a dealership called Siler Chevrolet Oldsmobile in Merrill,” he said. “One day, the guy who owned it called me. He said, ‘On your way home, why don’t you stop in? I want to talk to you.’ I said, ‘I don’t really need a car.’ He said, ‘Well, have you ever thought about selling cars? I’m like, ‘No, not really,’ but I disliked the bank so much that I started to think it over more.”
And that is how Wade Swarthout began his career of 30+ years in automotive sales. He now works as the Vehicle Sales Development Manager at Garber Chevrolet in Saginaw.
His start with Garber comes later…but not without a couple of other chapters first.
Going with the Flow
Wade’s early years in automotive sales did not go without change. In fact, it was defined by it.
“Throughout my career, I’ve worked for seven different owners in two different locations,” he said.
Ownership changed multiple times at the Merrill dealership he started in. After several years – and working in nearly every role the dealership offered – Wade decided to join Martin Chevrolet a few miles down the road in Saginaw.
He worked as a sales consultant for nearly a decade at Martin. Then change came calling again.
“One day, Bill Martin [dealership owner] called me into his office and said, ‘Shut the door,’” Wade explained. “I’m like, ‘Oh no…what?’ He said, ‘I don’t know how to tell you this, but I’m getting older, and I’ve decided I’m going to sell the dealership to Garber. I know they’ll take care of my people.’
“I said, ‘Bill, I’ve been here almost 10 years now.’ Bill told me, ‘Well, you’ll be good working for Dick. Dick Garber will take care of you’.”
Because Wade was accustomed to change – and because he trusted Bill Martin and Dick Garber’s reputation – he was not worried about the transition.
“I remember when Bill Martin held a meeting when we were switching over to Garber, I was sitting over in the corner and everyone was nervous,” Wade said. “But I’ve been through this enough, and I said, ‘I don’t think a lot of you guys realize that Bill is looking out for us. Garber will take care of us.’ I didn’t want to go anywhere else.”
While ownership changed when Garber acquired the dealership, the key foundational elements stayed the same.
“Everyone pretty much stayed when we transitioned from Martin to Garber,” Wade said. “We care about the customers. And after all these years, it’s still the same for me: I get paid to talk to people, and that is such a blessing. I don’t know what else I’d do in life.”
While certain things stayed the same, Wade has witnessed positive changes because of Garber’s leadership.
“Garber is different,” Wade said. “What’s nice is we have the backup here of a big dealership, yet each single dealership as part of the Garber family seems to have its own personality.”
He also feels a strong sense of pride when people ask him where he works. It starts and ends with the character of the company.
“With Dick and the leadership here, every place is a class act,” Wade said. “It’s nice to be associated with that. There is no embarrassment when you say, ‘Hey, I work for Garber.’ It’s the opposite. In the past, I’ve worked for dealerships where you have to say, ‘Yeah, it’s not going good here.’ But working for Garber has been great.”
Wade’s past experiences have given him a solid gauge of appreciation for what Garber offers as an employer. He said the support that the dealerships receive from Garber Management Group, which helps handle company administration, is a game changer.
“Garber has a great benefits package…and I know that because I’ve worked for a lot of dealership owners, so I’ve seen different options over the years, and this one is really good,” he said. “I like how Garber is big, but we have a ton of employee support. How many other dealerships have departments specifically that deal with just IT, or can focus solely on answering our questions about retirement or health care or whatever we need? We have people we can call to keep things up and running. A lot of people don’t realize how special that is.”
‘I Will Retire From Here’
Nowadays, Wade doesn’t have to worry about change. His career is cemented with Garber.
Leadership even has to make him take vacation.
“Sometimes I need to get forced to take vacation because I don’t get out of here enough, which is my choice because I was taught to give 110% all the time,” he said. “Once in a while, the managers will say to me, ‘Wade, you gotta go home.’ The team watches out for me.”
He said it is a blessing to work where he works and do what he does here at Garber.
“I will retire from here,” he said. “There is nowhere else I’d rather be. There’s nothing else I’d rather be doing.”
What was your first job? Newspaper route when I was 10. I had to put it in my brother’s name because I wasn’t old enough. I grew up in Merrill, and I liked being outside. We worked around 2 or 3 in the morning. The work ethic I developed from doing that has bled over here into my career now. If you do what you’re supposed to do every day, that’s all you can do.
Favorite animal? Deer. I like watching them and hunting them.
What are three things you can’t live without (aside from food, water, air…)? My hunting time. I would go nuts without it. I live in the woods about 400 yards back, so it’s nice to be back there. I like my time with family and friends. That also keeps my sanity. My third thing? Hm. Snowmobiles.
What is something people would be surprised to know about you? I worked for seven different owners in two different buildings.
What was the best piece of advice you’ve been given, and who gave it to you? The best piece of advice I got was from my dad. I was farming with him until 2 or 3 a.m. in the morning, and I enjoyed that a lot. It was hard work. While we were farming, he said, ‘Life is short, so work hard, play hard.’ That keeps me going.