Automotive marketing exec preaches passion, excellence

Decide what you want to do in life. Be passionate about it, pursue excellence and don’t let anyone stop you.

That sums up the advice of Mitch Cummins, whose passion is making a difference in people’s lives and helping businesses reach their potential. He’s a combination motivator and business coach.

Cummins is a longtime automotive sales and marketing executive who more than two years ago launched Las Vegas-based Opportunity Max, a digital consulting service that he recently sold to the Maritz Corp., a global sales and marketing services company. He remains as president of Opportunity Max, which helps auto dealers with online marketing and analytics to boost sales.

That’s a long way from where Cummins started when he was a theater and film major at the University of Houston. Once he took a job selling high-end audio-video equipment at a Houston mall and earned $5,000 to $6,000 a month at age 20, he knew he had a calling in sales.

“I said, ‘What do I need school for?’ and I went off into retail,” he said.

Question: How did you go from the electronics business into the automobile business?

Answer: I got recruited to run video superstores, and I did that, but it ended with an employment dispute with that last owner. During that time, I had to go get a job, and I went to buy a car. By the time the transaction was over, management came over to me and said, “You need to be in the car business and not on the other side. You’re brutal.” I said. “That’s not for me.” He said. “Give me a week of your time, and I will show you this is for you.”

Question: What happened?

Answer: I went to work for the Gillman Cos. in Houston in a Mitsubishi dealership. I was in a mobile- home selling Mitsubishis for this big organization. I rose to management within a month of being in that role and became general sales manager in that first year and then ended up running six of the dealerships for that group. I was then recruited to another large organization, the largest GM dealer group in the world.

Question: Why leave electronics for automotive?

Answer: It was an accident, but I quickly realized sales were sales. If I could sell a Walkman, I could sell an office building. If I could sell an office building, I can sell an airplane. If I can sell an airplane, I can sell air. That’s when I realized, why hold myself back? I love retail. I love working with people. I wanted to be different in the car business. And I always had a motivational type of personality to get people to do more than they realized they could.

Question: How did that lead to what you do today?

Answer: Why I am here today is I try to bring a solution to these giant car dealers spending millions of dollars in advertising with no rhyme and reason to say why don’t we put a little science to this. Why don’t we put a little accountability to the dollars that car dealers spend. I developed a product, a program (with my partner and company called Dealer FX out of Toronto) to help show dealers how to spend their money more effectively. I went to work with General Motors. They said, “Why don’t you roll this out to our dealers?” We did that and we rocked that. We had such great results that GM hired me to train the entire U.S. sales force of GM, 1,000 of their employees, on understanding the car retailer and get better factory relationships with the dealer and understand the dealer’s world. I did that and the bankruptcy happened with GM.

Question: What happened?

Answer: It was a startup company, and I ended up selling my interest in that company to my partner, and I opened Opportunity Max 2½ years ago.

Question: What do you do?

Answer: Two things we do with Opportunity Max is to make sure your marketing is working. We want to ensure every dollar you spend both conventionally and digitally (is spent effectively). We believe conventional media still plays today as well as digital. And we ask, “Are you are getting the return on investment that you should and holding the vendors responsible so that you’re getting your money’s worth?” Your job is to spend your ad dollars properly to bring in traffic. Are you bringing enough traffic to hit 300 cars or are you bringing enough traffic to only hit 150? It’s not fair to your staff to hold them accountable to what they can’t control. But then more importantly, are your people working the opportunities? That’s is where the breakdown is in most businesses.

Question: Where are you working now?

Answer: We work all over the country, including manufacturers. Mazda was the first we signed for a national agreement. We are their digital marketing company. We are working with about 90 dealers with a bunch in the pipeline.

Question: Why did you sell to Maritz?

Answer: Maritz is the largest research company in the world. Opportunity Max was a company that now is a product. We have a taken a consulting gig and moved it into a true deliverable product of 66 people and growing where it was just four people a year ago. The reason we needed that is we found in the old days as a consultant, I was trying to teach that 60-year-old business owner about digital. But at the end of the day they just want it done. What we did is create the fulfillment teams to just do it for them.

Question: What are the biggest changes in the industry?

Answer: The confusion is the business owners feel like they have to have a different strategy for digital than they do conventional. You’re talking to the same consumer today. The old days it was the pipe-smoking guy that booked out his car, knew the cost of our car and had his financing lined up. He was the guy you didn’t want to do business with. You couldn’t make any money. He was painful.

Today, we know 80 percent of the consumers are coming from digital in some way but most business owners have less than 1 percent or 2 percent of their entire staff dedicated to 80 percent of their traffic. That makes no sense. We’re trying to change the culture to understanding that. Internet customers are expecting a new experience and better experience from the retailer. You better live up to it.

Question: What do you see yourself doing in the future?

Answer: I think sharing my expertise. I almost want to do a charitable “Shark Tank” in my future. I want to go out and help young entrepreneurs and take them to levels.

Question: What do they need to do?

Answer: Focus and have a plan. We believe in a solid written plan for everybody with due dates. It’s that simple. Green: we did it. Yellow: we’re working on it, and Red: we missed it. That’s how we write our game plan. Once you have a game plan, you have to have priorities.

We might have a list of 100 things we have to do but someone needs to stop right now and say what’s the top three lowest hanging fruit out there that’s going to make the biggest difference to our business, to our consumer and let’s focus on that. If you don’t, we’re shotgunning it everywhere, and we never get great at anything. We’re just OK at everything. We want to be great at whatever we’re focusing on.

Question: What’s your advice for someone starting a business?

Answer: For me, Nike says it well. Just Do It. It’s that simple. If you want a cheeseburger, get a cheeseburger. I equate life to that and your business. Decide undeniably what you want and don’t let anything stop you. Be undeniable. Whether you’re the garbage guy and that’s what you’re happy at or you’re the CEO of a company, be the very best at what you do.

I love my work. I love getting up every morning. It’s part of me and I’m blessed to have that opportunity to get up and get after it and help people. I like to see that everybody in the store is doing better. It affects their families. Most of these car dealers have hundreds of employees and their families. We’re talking about thousands of people that I can go in and change their business in an effective and positive way. That’s my mantra every day. Get up and make a difference in somebody’s life somehow.

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