By Myron Love
WININIPEG, MAN. – In more than 60 years as a sales rep, Bob McKee has seen it all. Now, at 87, arguably Canada’s longest-serving sales rep has driven off into retirement.
Murray Chevrolet in Winnipeg, his employer for the past 43 years, marked the occasion of McKee’s retirement with a reception in his honour in early December.
“Bob McKee was an expert in building relationships with customers before the concept became popular,” said Dan Murray, president of the Murray Chev store in Winnipeg.
“For years, he was always the first sales rep at our dealership to welcome new customers to our store. And he was always following up on his clientele.”
Murray Chev sales manager Jim Chewka noted that while McKee never mastered the computer, he was always willing to learn and adapt.”
Dan Murray pointed out that during the course of his career, McKee sold more than 5,000 vehicles with a total value of over $100 million. And 30 times in his career, he earned a ranking in General Motors Sales Guild – possibly a record.
“Bob was admired and respected by everyone,” Murray said. “He was honest and forthright and had a very good work ethic. Even during the 1997 flood, when he was fighting to save his home, he still came in to work every day.”
McKee grew up on the family farm just south of Winnipeg. He still lives on the farm property. He remembers cars with wooden spokes, acetylene lights and hand cranks. He recalls breaking his wrist once trying to turn a crank.
He entered the auto business in the late 1940s after the crop was destroyed by hail. He started as an apprentice mechanic in Winnipeg then relocated to Trenton, Ont., to finish his training.
In the fall of 1949, he recalls, GM employees went on strike. The strike lasted for six months. McKee was working at the time as a mechanic for a GM dealership in Trenton.
“Because GM was on strike, there were no cars to service and no work,” he says. “After a while, I went to the local Ford dealer to apply for work.
The dealer didn’t need any mechanics but was looking for a sales rep. I figured I would give it a try. I found I was making more money in one month in sales than I was making in six months as a mechanic.”
Shortly after his sales debut in Trenton, McKee moved back to Winnipeg and began his sales career here. For the next 17 years, he worked for a number of domestic dealers. In 1969, he joined the staff of Carter Motors and has been with the same dealership ever since. (Murray acquired Carter Motors in 1994.)
Success in auto sales isn’t rocket science, McKee observes.
“Service is the key,” he says. “You put your customer needs first. If you take care of your customers, they will take care of you.”
He also praises Murray Chev: “This is a good outfit,” he says. “I believe that our service department is one of the best in the industry.”
He isn’t planning anything major in retirement. He expects to drop in to the dealership every now and then and keep in touch with former customers who have become friends over the years.