Walter Frederick III
Twin Lake Auto
Might Just Be Able To Teach The Boys On Wall Street A Lesson… About How To Be Happy
Talking with Walter (Walt) Frederick III is literally like taking a big, breath of fresh, country air. He answers his own phone at his small used car dealership (Twin Lake Auto), in his small town of Twin Lake, Michigan. Walt opened his modest “shop” as he refers to his store, back in 1998. However, he also has a small garage that he opened in the same building nearly two decades before the used auto store. The two companies rest about 10 miles north of Muskegon.
“Twin Lake is doing between 75-100 cars a year and that’s plenty for me. A boomer year for us is 125, and I mean a boomer. We don’t want to be a monster. I don’t want those headaches. As it is right now I’m enjoying what I’m doing and I don’t have any reason to get any bigger. I don’t want to.” Walt in a sincere yet resolute voice; insists that he has no intention of growing his business.
When it comes to his market and his target audience, Walt knows it like the back of his weathered hand.
The people I sell to aren’t looking for an expensive car… and if they were they wouldn’t find it here.
“About 70% of my business is repeat. People coming back because they know I’m gonna take care of em.” Walter states with the utmost confidence. “I have a lot of friends or people that I know that buy from me.” Then he quickly corrects himself, “Actually, anyone who buys a car from me is a friend.” He chuckles and finishes with, “That’s just the way it works if you treat people right.” Walt continued my education, “Look, if a car breaks down after 30 or 60 days and that guy walks back in my door I’m gonna fix it for free. I should say so long as he talks nice to me I fix it for free. I have a good reputation here and I don’t want to kill it, so I make people happy and they come back. That’s why we have so much return business.”
When it comes to his market and his target audience Walt knows it like the back of his weathered hand. The people I sell to aren’t looking for an expensive car… and if they were they wouldn’t find it here. I don’t sell expensive cars, in fact, most all of the cars I sell are under $5,000. That way I don’t have to worry about financing. Plus, I don’t sell warranties with cars. I’m the warranty and most of my customers know that.” Walt made sure to clarify his position on what it’s like to be in the used car business. “This business doesn’t have to be that difficult. Just use your head,” he states very matter-of-factly. “99% of the people are great people and all you have to do is treat them right. 99%! It’s pretty simple if you think about it. They need a car, I got cars. They need to be able to count on that car to run properly, I make sure that they run properly. Now that’s not very hard at all, is it?”
I always listen to what they’re saying and then I tell them, ‘look, its okay. It’s just a car. There ain’t nothin that can’t be fixed on a car.'
Then they calm down and we fix it for them. See, it’s simple as that.”
Well that may be true for, as Walt insists, 99% of the people, but what about the rest? “Well as I said most of the people are good people, but it’s up to you to do things right and they’ll be happy. As far as the other 1%, well you just gotta push them people away and don’t let them get to you. Since I opened my doors in 1981 I’ve only told 3 people not to come back, and to be honest, one of those was another car dealer.”
It sounds good but not everyone has the same results that Walt claims he gets. So how does it work for Walt and Twin Lake Auto? “First you gotta understand people and you gotta know how to talk to em. If somebody’s car is broke they ain’t gonna be too happy. Who would be? You need to understand what they are feeling. I always listen to what they’re saying and then I tell them, ‘look, its okay. It’s just a car. There ain’t nothin that can’t be fixed on a car.' Then they calm down and we fix it for them. See, it’s simple as that.”
So how can Walt and his company afford to fix cars when they break down? He explained, “First off I opened the car lot in 1998 but I’ve had my garage since 1981. It’s just me and my son here (Walter Frederick the IV). I do the car lot sales and he does the repair. It makes it very convenient that our repair shop (Walt’s Garage) and the used car store, are both here together in the same building.” Walt continued, “One thing I always do is I send any broke car to my garage first, my son fixes it and only then does it go on the lot. I go over the entire car myself before I put it on the out for sale. And it doesn’t matter how much the car is gonna sell for; we repair it before we put it out there. If we can’t get the cost of our repairs out of it, we just turn it into scrap.” Then he continued with a phrase he used more than once and was very convincing when he said it, “I’m not selling a piece of junk to nobody.”
“My wife won’t ride on anything but the full dresser. She likes that big comfortable seat with arm rests. She just sits back and cruises."
Walt says he has always enjoyed working on cars. “When I was 12 or 13 years old I used to tinker on my buddies’ cars. They were older than I was. I can’t say I didn’t have cars at that age but I didn’t have a driver’s license. Once I fixed their cars I got to ride with my buddies. That was part of my pay. Actually I still enjoy working on cars. I have a garage at home that’s even bigger than the one here. That’s part of what I do for a hobby”
But Walt does have room for more in his life than just cars. He also enjoys hunting and fishing. In fact, the morning of the day I spoke with him, he had intended to go out deer
hunting (his preference today) but the activity was interrupted by an errand he had to run. It was a brisk 3 degrees Fahrenheit that morning in the Muskegon area. Walt says he really enjoys hunting, I think that he would have to if he were willing to voluntarily wander out in that weather.
Another hobby that Walt seems to enjoy is motorcycling. “I enjoy riding motorcycles. I’ve been doing that for over 40 years.” Walt owns a full dresser as well as 3 other Harleys. Two of the others are hotrods and the fourth is an antique. “My wife won’t ride on anything but the full dresser. She likes that big comfortable seat with arm rests.” Walt chuckled again, “She just sits back and cruises. It’s nice because it’s something that we enjoy doing together.”
You could sense the passion he has for hopping on his bike and cruising. “I love my motorcycle. I’ll climb on it and put over 3,000 miles on that bike in 7 or 8 days. Last week I left the auction in Mishawaka and drove 2,800 miles. Funny story, I didn’t drive home. Instead I found myself back at the auction the following week… then I went home. I cruised east until I seen the sign for D.C., then I turned south and drove down through the Carolinas and all over through the southeast. I’m not a fan of D.C. Anyway, on my way back north, it was Wednesday and the auction was going again so I drove straight back to where I left 7 days earlier.”
I keep telling my wife I’m gonna retire in two years and she keeps telling me ‘no you’re not. You’re not going to be sitting home. That ain’t gonna happen!'
I ask him why he comes to Mishawaka for his cars. He responded with an adamant, “I can’t buy the quality of cars around here or for the prices I pay down at GMAA. Plus, Karen Smith, she is an A, number 1 person to deal with in my book. She’s tops. She treats people very, very well. She spends more money on her dealers than she has to. And if you talk to most of the other dealers you’ll find out they say the same thing, she cares about everybody. She even cares about how they’re doing. That makes me want to do business with her.”
“Plus, let me tell you,” Walter went on about the owner of GMAA and her approach, “She does a heck of a job with her Customer Appreciation Party. My wife and I actually get a motel room when we come down there for that party because it takes me over 2 ½ hours to get there. My wife looks forward to the party even more than I do. I don’t dare miss it or my wife would have a fit. We even have some dealers down there we run with so it’s really a great time. We had a ball the last time, we went through that amusement park there, watched the fireworks and it was a blast.”
As far as the future Walt is in no big hurry to go anywhere. “I keep telling my wife I’m gonna retire in two years and she keeps telling me ‘no you’re not. You’re not going to be sitting home. That ain’t gonna happen!” He just laughs as he finishes his comment. “So here I am.”
Personally, I could have gone on and chatted with Walt for hours, except that I was already behind trying to capture all of the great tidbits that he continued throwing at me. Plus, in the background I could easily hear one of his friends who has walked in during the interview, who continued to razz him throughout our conversation. I can’t publish the gentleman’s comments but I can tell you, they were colorful and, I have to admit, humorous.
As I wrapped up my talk I realized that, just possibly, Walter Frederick III already has what so many others are in search of, a little peace… and a lot of happiness. Thank you Walt, for your time and for the inspiration!