Fred Beans 0:00
I’m very respectful of the opportunity my family and I’ve had to live here. We believe very much in making tomorrow a better day today. It’s very important for my family to give back to this community.
Angela Giovine 0:19
Pop culture has become obsessed with entrepreneurship stories from Silicon Valley, and big startup. But the backbone of our economy is made of small local businesses. Every day, millions of small business owners deliver quality products and services, support the local economy, employ their neighbors and follow their passion. We think their stories are worth telling. I’m Angela Giovine. Welcome to the extra ordinary small business podcast. This episode is brought to you by Click Funnels. Today on the show, Fred Beans shares over 60 years of small business owner wisdom with us. What started with one service station in 1959 has blossomed into the Fred Beans family of dealerships. Raised on a farm, neither his entry into the automotive world, nor his success were a guarantee or even likely, yet here he stands 81 years old, strong as ever and made ever more successful by joining forces with his children. Fred Beans has built himself a family of car dealerships that are not only successful, but pillars in their community.
Angela Giovine 0:19
We are sitting here in your office in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, why don’t you tell me a little a bit about your business?
Fred Beans 1:42
Well, I guess we’re primarily an automobile dealer and and we have 20 rooftops so we employ about 1700 and 50 people today, we 6 have collision centers, we have a large parts wholesale business with about 95 trucks on the road 275 employees, we have two auto parts stores, and auto rent and two auto express quick service operations, and we represent all the domestic products in quite a few of the imports.
Angela Giovine 2:21
Wow. I mean, and that is such a vast footprint that you have with all of those employees and different brands. Where did you start? Did you start from one business?
Fred Beans 2:31
At it during World War Two, I always use a two things happened to you on a farm. You either loved the cows, or farm equipment and I love farm equipment and cars were popular because they were just coming into Romania for the war. We didn’t have television, so it was a big thing when a new car came out.
Angela Giovine 2:50
So when you grew up on the farm, your parents were farmers, your father was a farmer or?
Fred Beans 2:54
My mother and father were farmers.
Angela Giovine 2:56
Okay, what did they farm?
Fred Beans 2:57
We farmed all the hard working things. We raised chickens on the second floor and asparagus, corn, potatoes, string beans, peas, they call those truck farms. I would call them a working man’s farm. You know America was supplied by small farmers.
Angela Giovine 3:14
Absolutely. Absolutely. So you didn’t want to follow in the family footsteps of farming how early on did you know that that was probably not your path?
Fred Beans 3:23
Well, my dad had a most farmers had part time jobs.
Angela Giovine 3:26
Fred Beans 3:27
And my father sold farm equipment.
Angela Giovine 3:29
Fred Beans 3:30
It also sold Oldsmobiles and Cadillacs and then after cars became more available, that dealership build a separate dealership, and I would go with my dad at night when he worked in on Saturdays. While going to college, I worked in a service station part time, and I bought that service station on August the fourth 1959. And I was my only employee. I needed money to buy it. My dad was a director in a small bank and he said of “If I co sign a note for you and you go broke, it won’t look good. He said, but “I’ll tell you what, it’s not a bad idea. As a way for you to get a start, your mom will go with you on Monday”. And my mother co signed a note for $5,500.
Angela Giovine 4:14
And that’s how you purchased the service station?
Fred Beans 4:16
Angela Giovine 4:17
So you started to work at that service station as a college student, and the person who owned it at that time, didn’t want to own it anymore and said, “I’ll sell it to you”.
Fred Beans 4:25
I guess his wife didn’t like the business and the hours, so that’s the reason I got the opportunity to buy it.
Angela Giovine 4:32
How old were you at that time?
Fred Beans 4:34
I was basically the Sinclair oil company, and I guess they thought I was older. And I was I was 20 years old.
Angela Giovine 4:41
You were 20?
Fred Beans 4:43
And I started there with just one employee. I worked seven days a week. But I always had this vision of growing, and what I did is I got so I accumulated a little bit of money. I went to different factories, and they weren’t too receptive to a guy and I guess the issue with no experience. But I then met a gentleman from Ozmobile who liked me. And he sort of gave me some insight. And I used to go home every Thursday afternoon, put a suit and tie on and go knock on of dealers that had no children, or had children but didn’t want to be in the business and should leave.
Angela Giovine 5:18
That’s really unconventional.
Fred Beans 5:20
That was fortunately get to know a gentleman in Newtown whose father got sick, and he quit law school to come home and save the family business. So I used to go maybe one night a week and go up to the dealership in Newtown and hang around. And I thought he was a hero. Seventy two, I went to see him and I spent a little bit of Saturday with them, and they were setting up down at the auto show, and he sort of “I want to have dinner with my wife and you, and your wife tomorrow night”. And I shook hands with him on a Saturday night and showed up on a Monday as a 25% partner waiting on Ford approval. And he gave me every opportunity to learn everything I could and grow
Angela Giovine 6:09
What do you think made him want to give you that opportunity that day?
Fred Beans 6:13
I think it was very hard to find people in those days with the, the drive. And I think he trusted me. I think he felt that I was a hard worker. And when I went to work there, I used to be there at 7:30 in the morning, work in a service department, run home, change my clothes, and come back to work in a showroom. That kind of work ethic makes the rest of it easy.
Angela Giovine 6:36
Right, right. And you were doing all of this on top of the service stations that you own.
Fred Beans 6:44
No, I called five of the employees that work for me at my house, wrote them all little bonus checks, shook hands with a gentleman who came to apply for the job on his bicycle part time, maybe six years prior to that, shook hands with them. No agreement and sold the business for $1,000 a month for 55 months.
Angela Giovine 7:03
Wow. Okay, so you sort of exited the service station business
Fred Beans 7:07
Yeah. And then in 75, I got the opportunity come to Doylestown on my own. I always had this belief that if we standardized how we did things, and we developed operating manuals, and we found good mentors, we could develop other people under us, and we could expand through the employees that came to work for us to help them reach their dreams. And that’s been quite successful for me.
Angela Giovine 7:35
I mean, what a risk you took, you had a business that was successful, but you said, “This isn’t where I want to end my dream”, and you took another risk that had to take a lot of courage.
Fred Beans 7:45
I think if you want to do something bad enough, you try to figure out a way and I’ve always believed that I got where I was at because even in a service station, somebody gave me that opportunity.
Angela Giovine 7:55
You just celebrated your 80th birthday and I read that you did 100 pushups to celebrate your 80th birthday?
Fred Beans 8:03
Actually, something I worked up to because I started with a personal trainer when I was 70 years old, so I joke with them because there’s going to be our 11th Christmas together.
Angela Giovine 8:14
So, is that something that you would say has been a key to your success? It seems like you’re someone who puts a goal out for yourself and then does anything possible to achieve it.
Fred Beans 8:26
I’ve always thought that, and I had a school teacher matter of fact, I called him up a couple weeks ago, 93 years old. And he was always about seeking out mentors. And that’s something I’ve done. I’ve tried to seek out mentors in my life and many mentors. I want to pass it on. You don’t have to actually meet her, no. You just have to read about them, like Vince Lombardi and George Patton, Ben Franklin, they were some real heroes. Thomas Jefferson, George Washington. So I became a very avid reader. And I believe that if mind can conceive it, the body can do it. And the last thing my daughter said, when I went home to do the push ups, “The mind will give out before the body”. And I sort of believe that’s true.
Angela Giovine 9:11
Are there times in your business where you felt like you had to put mind over matter to get to the next level in your business?
Fred Beans 9:18
Well, I went through the energy crunch back 74 and 75, when you couldn’t buy gas. And 79, the next crunch came for gasoline. And I can remember go on a whole Saturday without selling a car. And I thought geez, everything I work for, is really in danger. And as a matter of fact, probably the reason I’m here today is the crunch of three and four left this dealership almost broke and that’s how I got the opportunity to buy it. We got things going pretty well. Our relationship with banks is so important in this business. And we were a very loyal customer to a bank, and that bank decided in o eight and o nine to run for the hills.
Angela Giovine 9:59
Fred Beans 10:00
So we we’re left without a banking relationship. And thank God, we had romanced a lot of banks, spoke to a lot of bankers, but we never got up the food chain high enough. A bank came along, named Huntington Bank, and at this point, I was just about to give up. And they wanted to at least look at us, and “I said, we have a little board of directors, which is made up of a few of our key people. Not a real board, but an advisory board”. I met with my Congressman. He was a help. In the same time, General Motors had the bankruptcy in Chrysler, and we lost two saturn stores, two pontiac stores, and saab, and that was all by a FedEx envelope, multiple ones on the same day. And that was scary. But anyway, I said to the bank, and it’s an old farmer saying, “I want to talk to the horse that is has a bit in her mouth, that we’re committed. We’re not just a piece of paper” and with that, they came out and they looked at us, and they kept us at a three percentage points over normal bank rates, but anything to survive. So, that was a I couldn’t even take a walk down the street because all I could think about was, we don’t deserve to go bankrupt.
Angela Giovine 11:16
No. And that wasn’t that long ago.
Fred Beans 11:18
Wasn’t long ago. And had it not been for Huntington Bank and a gentleman named Steve Steinhauer, I wouldn’t be sitting here today was, and I’ll never forget it.
Angela Giovine 11:29
Needless to say there were many times over your long career where there were inflection points where there were times where you might have closed up shop, but you were found a way you worked outside the box, you found people to make it happen.
Fred Beans 11:44
I’ve been very fortunate that pretty fussy individual and always had a very, very good vision. I can’t draw very well, but I have a good vision of how things ought to appear. And I happen to believe that we have to stay true to our convictions, we have to have a plan, and work that plan and mentors that I’ve never met, I think it’s important in our lives.
Angela Giovine 12:11
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Angela Giovine 15:07
Now you mentioned your daughters a few times, you have many members of your family working here in the business correct?
Fred Beans 15:14
I have three daughters. One operator, fleet department and does a great job, the other one has auto rent, which is basically her company and operates several hundred rental cars, and my daughter who’s vice president, and I’d say that she’s the true visionary, capable of probably taking this company to the next step. I have a son-in-law that’s very active, and he’ll undoubtedly soon take my place as I sort of step aside and slow down. I think he’s in that role today. And my daughter’s guidance. It’s very important for my family, to give back to this community.
Angela Giovine 15:52
Certainly I’ve noticed you’re very involved in the community. How has that affected both your personal life and your business? I’d Imagine that being involved in the community has really made your business part of this community.
Fred Beans 16:07
My dad told me something I never forgot I was nine years old in 1948. And I’m lucky to be my age incidentally and have all my faculties.
Angela Giovine 16:16
Fred Beans 16:17
And I think my mind might be overstuffed, but I think it bam! works pretty well. He told me in 1948 I never forgot it. He said, “You’ll never live to see the demise of Doylestown”. And whenever he made a statement like that, he proceeded with the answer. “I ran up by somebody today”. And he said “Here it is. It’s a county seat, it has two museums, a hospital and a college”. Today we have a university, We have three museums, a great hospital, and we’re a bedroom community. So we’re not dependent upon any industry.
Angela Giovine 16:51
And I mean people really look up to your business as a pillar of this community. What are some of the things that you’ve done to become involved in the community.
Fred Beans 17:00
We’re proud to live here and I went to George school. Quakers are very much about giving back, and I’m very respectful of the opportunity my family and I’ve had to live here. We believe very much in making tomorrow a better day today. My daughter has some great quotes one of them came from Peloton, we didn’t come this far to go this far. I didn’t come to work today to repeat yesterday. And we’re not average. So we’re lucky, we have a great community that’s receptive, and we can make contributions to it to make it better. One of the things we did originally, we got involved in a mystery museum. And I guess it was going to be torn down, but today, that was the Doylestown prison in 1972, and not a nice place and today, it’s probably one of the finest small museums in the United States.
Angela Giovine 17:51
Certainly very well photographed to think of that it was a prison. Certainly, it’s quite beautiful now.
Fred Beans 17:58
You know, what was engaging to me the other day, the chief of police called me, we donated a vehicle for their canine service and asked me to have lunch with him and to see not just his wisdom but the fact that he’s excited about living here.
Angela Giovine 18:15
Fred Beans 18:16
There’s a saying I love, It’s that old men plant trees whose shade they’ll never sit under. I think that’s a little bit of me but, I think that’s reminiscent of this whole community.
Angela Giovine 18:29
Building towards a better tomorrow, always keeping that future in mind, absolutely. I respect so much that you had this ultimate goal for yourself of wanting to own a car dealership, and instead of saying, “Okay, I’m going to own these service centers, and I’m going to keep pursuing my dream of the car dealership on the side”. You closed one door, you made a clean break and you said, “I’m going to keep going for my main goal”. You didn’t let yourself go down the different road.
Fred Beans 18:58
Well, I sort of knew, when I went to Bill Marsh that, I just knew he was a Yale graduate, going to think of some law school that had to come home to save the family business. And ultimately, I always thought that I’d be the guy that did all the hard work, and he’d be the brains. That time it didn’t work out that way because when I came to Doylestown, we thought that I’d be a partner in Newtown, and he’d be a partner here. That’s when it started, with us on a handshake.
Angela Giovine 19:24
Fred Beans 19:25
But on those days, Ford said you couldn’t own two contiguous dealerships.
Angela Giovine 19:29
Fred Beans 19:30
So we had to divest ourselves.
Angela Giovine 19:31
Fred Beans 19:32
So we divested. And now, the rules changed. When I became a car dealer. You had to live in a community you served, which I thought was a good idea. So I’m basically for the old school.
Angela Giovine 19:44
Yeah. So, going back to that being a part of the community thing like you live where you work, so it’s not just someone coming in for an investment, bringing in the dealer, knocking out the locals.
Fred Beans 19:56
Well Henry Ford, good or bad, had a lot of rules. He was a very strict, hard-headed bird. But he also did an awful lot, right for America. And today, I think the Ford family the difference I see is that, Ford operates with a conscience.
Angela Giovine 20:17
And that matters.
Fred Beans 20:18
I’m a product of World War Two. I remember the fact that young men got on trains in the middle of America that never been to East or West Coast. And we fought a war.
Angela Giovine 20:28
And you said you were in the military?
Fred Beans 20:30
I was in the Coast Guard.
Angela Giovine 20:31
The Coast Guard.
Fred Beans 20:32
I enlisted in the Coast Guard. I served six months of active duty and six and a half years in the reserves, and I was lucky enough that when I was going to ride our carriage, there was a Korean War veteran, and I convinced him to operate my service station while I went in the military, and it was there when I came home.
Angela Giovine 20:51
I was going to say that’s a really hard thing to do step away from your business to do that. What period of time would you say that the company experience the most growth?
Fred Beans 21:02
We’ve been nipping away at it ever since we started.
Angela Giovine 21:05
So it’s really been a slow and steady thing.
Fred Beans 21:07
I think that the toughest part for me was the service station, are the 12 years knowing where I wanted to be, and sort of struggling on a way to get there, and not having somebody to guide me or help me. And I was always afraid to give it up and go to work for somebody, because that’s where I’m headed- not been for Bill Marsh of Newtown, given me the opportunity, I wouldn’t be here today.
Angela Giovine 21:32
And you say give you the opportunity but you asked for the opportunity. Did you make sure you put it out there? And I mean, I’m sure he didn’t just come up to you and say, “Hi, Fred. I think you’d be a great partner”.
Fred Beans 21:43
Well, I have a lot of isms of people, joke about. And one of them is nobody ever died at work. And I sort of believe that very few people do. It’s always, if you look at the obituaries and I joke about it, it’s always home wrestling with their family around.
Angela Giovine 22:00
Fred Beans 22:00
So, we better get to work.
Angela Giovine 22:03
Yeah, yeah. And you mentioned having that vision and always sticking to it. But I think one thing people maybe overlook is, having that vision always does involve sacrifice. What What kinds of sacrifices do you think have made the biggest difference in being successful?
Fred Beans 22:21
Well, now as I’ve gotten older, the hobbies on the outside, I want to be here and I moved to a farm because I want to live on a farm, but I couldn’t handle it because it was twenty four minutes away, and I leave live six minutes away.
Angela Giovine 22:37
Oh, so you moved back to a farm as an adult?
Fred Beans 22:39
I bought a farm and move back, but it just didn’t work out because 24 minutes was too far for me to drive
Angela Giovine 22:47
Fred Beans 22:47
to come to work.
Angela Giovine 22:48
Fred Beans 22:49
So there’s an old saying, keep the main thing, the main thing. And this business has done so much for me and my family, and I think our community, that is the main thing today.
Angela Giovine 23:00
This business has changed so much over the years. How have you stayed on top of all of these changes? And what kind of changes have made the most impact in your business?
Fred Beans 23:11
Well, I think the no question about it- the internet, no question in my mind. And I’m not very computer savvy, but when the computers first came out and we got AOL, I think was like one of the first players.
Angela Giovine 23:26
Fred Beans 23:26
We have all computers and put them on every salesman’s desk. I think I was the first dealer in Pennsylvania, I always been a pretty good future thinker, and I go a lot of pushback, I remember one guy, you know, I’m not going to touch this thing and how I was not young. And then I went up to the high school, we got classes in every Thursday afternoon, we courted half our salesmen up there, learn how to then my assistant sitting next door to me, she helped us develop our first website. And today, it’s a big part of our business and we work hard. And the competition is fierce. It is not first anymore. It’s not the first dealer to have a computer on their desk. It’s how well do you utilize it? About 64% of our business here comes from the internet, and the telephone.
Angela Giovine 24:16
When you say it comes from the internet, meaning the sale starts on your website?
Fred Beans 24:20
I think the average customer spends about 17 hours on the internet. And there’s far less traffic visiting a dealership today, because the customers pretty far down are buying, pretty well narrow all the things that he doesn’t want.
Angela Giovine 24:33
Right. They sort of know which make and model they want before they get here, or at least they’ve narrowed it down.
Fred Beans 24:39
We have to work so much harder today. And this why we have a dress code, and we have the reasons to buy a car from us. Somehow, to prevail in this business, we have to leave the customer with an experience that’s memorable. That’s difficult because all competition is strong today. There’s nobody that doesn’t work hard every day. But somehow we have to create the experience that you want to come back and deal with Beans again.
Angela Giovine 25:06
Sure. One of my favorite TED talks that I always share with all of my clients is the Simon Sinek.
Fred Beans 25:13
Angela Giovine 25:14
It’s the people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it?
Fred Beans 25:18
Oh, that book I think I It’s about three of them.
Angela Giovine 25:21
Fred Beans 25:21
In one year, he actually called me on the phone.
Angela Giovine 25:23
Fred Beans 25:24
because we gave all our people for Christmas, Together Is Better. And I say to my people all the time, if you want to go fast, go alone. That’s not my saying. Unfortunately, I don’t have a saying that hasn’t been used before. And he also says if you want to go far go together, and I believe that’s so true.
Angela Giovine 25:43
Yeah, and everything you were just saying about giving people reasons to come here. Now, you said we have to give people more reasons, but does the internet make customers come from a larger radius?
Fred Beans 25:55
There’s no question that customers come a further because of the internet, but it also means that our customers, that used to be our customers go further.
Angela Giovine 26:04
Fred Beans 26:05
So we have to work hard in our community, and but I also look at when somebody drives here from Newburgh, New York, we better roll out all the carpet we have, be given the reasons they’ll come back here, and that’s why my home phone number, sits on everybody’s desk in every one of our showrooms.
Angela Giovine 26:23
Fred Beans 26:23
because what we’re really selling is the experience and the fact that somebody does care.
Angela Giovine 26:28
Well, yeah, I mean for sure, when you’re buying next to your home, your car is usually one of your largest expenses in the household. So people want to feel good about that.
Fred Beans 26:38
The cars really to a lot of degree to young people, today’s become a commodity. When people used to bring their trade in here and they had their children, their car had a name, and the children cried because they were saying goodbye to Betsy or
Angela Giovine 26:51
Fred Beans 26:51
Louise. So today, I keep telling my people, we have only one thing, that the experience here has to be better than somewhere else. And the people to work here have to be more sincere, and that’s not easy. That’s not easy to build that bit culture so,
Angela Giovine 27:08
Especially when you have so many employees to be able to make sure everybody has the same mentality.
Fred Beans 27:14
I try to joke around and I, I call this a military school. And if you brought your son or daughter here, and you said, “What’s the end result?” We said, well, Mr. Beans’ the end result, for your child will be, we’re going to do everything we can to teach them mentally, physically and morally, how to live their lives, and if we can do that, we’ll probably wind up with a better team member. We need to hire happy people.
Angela Giovine 27:39
Fred Beans 27:39
that are focused, that have good values at home, and we work hard to teach those values. We also work hard to seek out people that want to be mentored.
Angela Giovine 27:49
Sure. You want to have that positivity around you. Absolutely. What’s the most gratifying thing about what you do?
Fred Beans 27:57
Hiring someone, and see them grow from wthin, we have a NADA Academy, which is a dior academy, and we’ve put quite a few of our managers through that. And I have another boy here to applied for the job has been with us, I guess, maybe 17 years. He’s now service director. It’s nice to see people come to work for us, and maybe it’s because we’re Beans and beans grow. We like to see him sprout and grow.
Angela Giovine 28:24
Finish this sentence. I would not be here today, if not for.
Fred Beans 28:31
I would not be here today if it wasn’t for my mother, my father and the farm.
Angela Giovine 28:36
And what is one piece of advice if you could go back in time that you would tell yourself at 18?
Fred Beans 28:44
I think at 18 years old, if you can, it may be harder today as to have a vision of what you want to do, and stick to it, and stay true to task every day.
Angela Giovine 28:56
I imagine there were many times where you could have gone down different paths of different types of businesses to own, and you really, at 15 had a vision for yourself that you wanted a car dealership and you’ve really stayed to that.
Fred Beans 29:09
No matter what we do in life, we have to know ultimately what we want to do. And the clearer we see something, the better chance we have at completing it.
Angela Giovine 29:18
Awesome. Well, thank you so much for your time.
Fred Beans 29:20
My pleasure, thanks for the opportunity.
Angela Giovine 29:23
One more shout out again to today’s sponsor, Click Funnels. Make sure you go get yourself that offer it is amazing. Head to extraordinary small business dot com backslash Click Funnels.
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