• For Dick Murdock… Life Is All About Freedom

    After Years of Selling Cars, One Local Dealer Has Learned the Importance Of Independence

    Tucked away in the small town of Niles, Michigan is a used car dealership owned by a man who has a passion for freedom. Dick Murdock of Murdock's Used Cars, sees his lifelong affinity for motor transportation as freedom – the freedom to drive anywhere, anytime; the freedom to roll down the highway on his Harley with the wind blowing in his hair; the freedom to treat his customers, and treat himself, the way he deeply believes they should be treated; with respect, honesty and a good, fair deal.

    Sixteen years ago, Murdock escaped from working for others, fed up with how he, and his customers, were being flung about in a tsunami of changing ownerships and greed for profits, ignored once the deal was closed, viewed only as a source of income and not as human beings, to be dealt with fairly. "I didn't like the hours working for others," he said. "I didn't like how customers were treated, like a numbers game. It was like you're just a number at the big box stores. It was hard to have that personal relationship with somebody."

  • "I worked for car dealerships that continually play with your pay plan. You start selling a lot of cars, making good money and the pay plan seems to change. I didn't really get a big kick out of that. Most people don't. Going on your own is a big risk, but if you own your own place, you have more control over your destiny. I don't think anybody has a guarantee when it comes to a job. People work for a corporation for 30 or 40 years and, all of a sudden, you go in one day and they don't need you anymore. It happens to a lot of people. At least, I don't have to worry about being fired."

    Murdock says this limited his freedom and that it made the things that he wanted to do at work very difficult. His passion for freedom extends well beyond the workplace. Maybe it started as he formed a love for motorcycles at 16. To this day, he puts 5,000 miles or so on his 2010 Harley Ultra each summer, riding to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan for a few days of cabin living. His fervor for motorcycles extends through both personal and business sides of his life. Murdock is one of the few used car dealers that carry motorcycles as part of his inventory.

  • "I usually sell anywhere from 6-10 motorcycles a season," he said. "It brings in a little different clientele. From my perspective, it’s hard to make a living selling motorcycles. Some dealers do it, but I carry them just because I like them."

    The remainder of his inventory, averaging about 18 to 25 cars at any given time, is mostly home-grown American and heavily oriented toward trucks, SUVs and lower-priced family cars. So far, it's working out. Customers who've bought cars from him, praise Murdock to the skies. In fact, often Murdock receives letters and notes from customers not unlike the one from a local resident, Robert Smith, who sums up dealing with Murdock very simply, "Great guys there at Murdock's. They will take good care of ya and they're honest people and not pushy."

  • Another note Murdock received around the same time was from a gentleman who recently bought a truck from Murdock and wrote, "They got me better financing and for less money than I wanted to spend. It's a beautiful truck and I love it. They did everything they told me they would do and were extremely nice to deal with. I now have a place where I will purchase all my cars and trucks."

    While this may seem just a bit quaint to some people, these thank you notes from customers seem to inspire him and they seem to be commonplace with Murdock’s company. "I try to live by the Golden Rule," he says. "Treat people how you want to be treated and be honest and up front with them. Profit is not a dirty word but 'lie,' 'cheat' and 'steal' certainly are. You have to make a profit. Your customers want you to make a profit because your customers want you to be there when they want to buy their next car. It’s rare for a customer to not want you to make any money, but they also want value. You try to give the customer as much value as you can. So far I've been here for well over 15 years… my approach works for me."

    To credit another one of Murdock's customers, Brian Keith seems to agree in his recent testimonial letter to the car dealer. "I have never had a vehicle buying experience like I had here. They are such down-to-earth people. They will treat you like family. They have been here for a long time and I can see why.”

  • "I try to slow the process down and treat people like they're people and not just a dollar sign." Dick Murdock

    Again, not totally unheard of, but it’s not every day, nor every auto dealer, that get these types of ongoing testimonials. In 2014, Murdock was rated the second best place to buy a car in Niles by the local newspaper – in 2015, he was rated first. "I'm originally from Niles and I have spent my whole life there. For me, the rating was huge," Murdock said. "The people did the voting -- the community. We didn't make any money from it, but it gave us some pride and made me feel good."

    Part of the reason, according to Murdock, is his straight-up approach to doing business. Cars are priced on their windshield, which means there is no annoying haggling over cost. "I try to slow the process down and treat people like they're people and not just a dollar sign," Murdock said.

    Another part is Murdock's practice of concentrating on cars with a few years and a few miles on them. "I try not to buy new cars -- they're not a very good investment. They depreciate faster than you can pay for them. I try to sell customers a one-to-four-year-old car, because there's such good value there. I buy a lot of Chevy Impalas. Customers can buy them at $12-$13,000 with 50,000 miles on them, and that's a good value. You can pay half of what that car costs brand new. If I can save them some money on a 1-2 year old car, I do it. If not, I send them to the new car stores."

  • Much of his financing is done through an indirect auto finance company which enables many of Murdock's customers with weaker credit to get a car loan which they could not obtain easily through a bank.

    "We actually can guarantee financing for almost everybody," Murdock said. "We don't do financing ourselves. It's for people with marginal credit. Maybe they've got medical bills or divorces. Sometimes, life just happens to people. They need a little help." And Murdock accomplishes that without the need for using strong-arm tactics according to his customers like Christy Shriver who wrote: "I've never had more personal service or worked with guys that deliver what they promise without ANY pressure. I felt like I could change my mind at any time and they would've been just as nice! Talk about great new friends! Thank you guys. I can't tell you how much I appreciate all you've done for me!!"

  • Murdock came into the car business from over a decade of keeping the rubber on the road, operating Payless Tires in Niles for 11 years. He began car sales at a Chevrolet and Buick dealership in Niles and eventually opened his own lot, which he considers an "average" sized dealership for the Niles area where he now moves an average of 14-19 cars per month.

    "Niles is not a large community," Murdock said, "We're kind of a blue collar town. I don't sell a lot with imports. I like them but they don't really sell real well for me. The only imports that do well for me are the Camrys and Hondas. I do well with those two, but mostly we sell GM, Ford and Chrysler products.

    "My business is doing nicely. We're really blessed. We have a good clientele and I sell a lot to the same people over and over. I find that if you're honest with them and you take care of them, if there's a small problem, it works. You don't just get their money and forget their face," Murdock said.

    "A good analogy is that people buy people and the product is free. There's a lot to that. It's all about service. You can buy a car from anybody but if you have a problem, do they help you? We've all been down that road with different products. We all have gotten screwed. Most car dealers deserve the bad reputation they have because many are not up front or honest with people, but you don't have to operate that way."

  • Murdock also credits his pre-sale preparation on cars before they are put on his lot for contributing to his business success. "Before I put cars on the lot, I send them out to three or four shops I do business with. They make sure that the cars are ready before we put them on the lot. I don't want a car out there that's going to fall apart, because the least amount of problems and headaches, the better I like it."

    "My complaints are very, very minimal," Murdock said. "Probably 95 percent of everything we sell has an extended warranty. We are pretty 'soft sell' on the cars but 'hard sell' on the warranty, to make sure people are covered. I haven't had anybody who has been really upset for 8-10 years from that perspective, because most everybody buys an extended warranty. If they have a problem, it's a good warranty and they are taken care of."
    With no employees, Murdock keeps his business simple on his 1.5-acre lot, a former bank building which still houses the old vault, "but they didn't leave any money behind," he jokes. He uses the vault for storage – "kind of a junk collector."

    While he bridles at being called "religious," Murdock also credits his "personal relationship with Jesus Christ" for much of the contentment in his life. "I don't care to say I'm religious. I would prefer to say that I have a relationship with Jesus Christ. You know the difference? You have a relationship with your wife. You're loyal or faithful with your wife, not because you signed a contract and have a ring on your finger, but because you have a relationship. It's the same with the Lord. It's not a bunch of 'dos' and 'don'ts.' It's because you have a relationship."

  • "I love the car business. It's different every day. It's a lot like riding a motorcycle. I like the freedom I feel, as much as anything, out there in the elements, with the wind blowing in my face."

    Today at 57, he has been with his high school sweetheart Jackie, a realtor, for over 40 years, and married for 35 of those years. They have two children and three grandchildren. While Murdock certainly seems to have a close family, neither child has plans to take over the family car business when he retires. "I plan to stay with it for another 10 years," he said. "I have no plans to expand the business. Right now, this is perfect. It's pretty peaceful. I can control it and I can go home at 5-6 o'clock at night and don't have to worry.

    "I love the car business. It's different every day. You're dealing with people and the vast majority of them are fun to deal with. It's very rewarding. It's a lot like riding a motorcycle. I like the freedom I feel, as much as anything, out there in the elements, with the wind blowing in my face.

    "It's a great life."