When I was a kid, starting at about age 12, I spent my summers caddying at a golf course in Niagara Falls called Oaklands. You couldn’t beat it for a summer “job.” You were outside, you got to play golf as part of your compensation package (which, back then, was a whole dollar a day) and you learned a thing or two about life that maybe you would never learn at home.
Like gambling for big money.
All the professional wrestlers of the day played golf at Oaklands back in the ’50s — Gene Kiniski, Lee Henning, Wilbur Snyder, the villainous Lisowski Brothers (Reggie and his brother, Stan, who weren’t brothers at all — Reggie was from Chicago and Stan came from Sarnia, but we didn’t know that at the time), and Fred Atkins and Pat Flanagan, among others. They would all rent beach houses on Fort Erie where they would spend the summers with their wives and children. They’d wrestle in Buffalo Wednesday night, Welland on Thursday, Niagara Falls on Friday, and at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto on Sunday afternoon. It was a relaxing schedule for those guys compared to what the winters were like, when they were in the ring six or seven nights a week, all over North America.
(An aside: they all played different roles, depending on where they were appearing. Whipper Billy Watson was seen by many as one of the finest Canadians ever to walk the face of the Earth. He was involved with charities, particularly the Easter Seals, and when he wrestled, he was a “good guy.” But when he was in Arkansas, or Texas, or Arizona, he was Whipper Willy Watson, the “Canadian Bad Boy.”)
Now, remember: we’re all 12 or so. Maybe more than a little naive. We’d go to the wrestling matches at the Niagara Falls Arena on Friday night. We’d watch those guys beat the tar out of each other. And then, on Saturday morning at 9, they’d all be out at Oaklands, waiting to tee off together.
So, one day, we’re “caddying” for a couple of them. We never actually caddied; those guys were all 6-foot-4 and weighed 250 pounds and carried a complete set of clubs over their shoulders. But they’d take us along to keep score.
One day, a guy (who shall go nameless) missed a six-inch putt (no gimmes in those games, which might have been a hint). When that happened, he completely lost his composure and broke his putter over his knee. He then turned and threw the pieces with all his might into a creek running behind the green.
I was standing there with my mouth open, and it was one of the other caddies who whispered to the wrestler, Stan Lisowski, “What was that about?” And Lisowski (real name: Stan Holek) whispered back: “He just lost a week’s wages.”
As I rode my bicycle home that night, I thought about telling my father. But I decided against it because he’d probably say he didn’t want me going back there anymore. And I was thinking, “This is great!”
When I was 16, I decided I’d rather join that golf club instead of working at it, so I went and got myself a real job. It was at the now-long-gone Rosberg’s Department Store at Queen St. and Erie Ave., in downtown Niagara Falls. During the school year, I worked Thursday nights and Saturdays, and in the summertime, I was on duty five days a week, selling men’s and boys’ clothing.
My boss, the men’s wear superintendent, was a chain-smoking taskmaster named Morris (Mo) Feinberg (“If ya wanna make money, ya gotta make every effort to please the customer; ya make it so he doesn’t want to buy his clothes from anybody but you”). It was Mo Feinberg who gave me the best piece of advice I ever received in my life. It’s a cliche, but he said it and believed it and I still do to this day.
Mo Feinberg looked at me, pointed a nicotine-stained finger straight at me, and after poking me in the chest two or three times, said: “Remember, the customer comes first, even before your mother, and the customer is always right.”
I don’t hear that much these days — hardly anywhere, in fact. I had a beef with a server at a fast-food restaurant near my house last summer (I won’t identify which one, except to say it has the same name as me), and I was right and she was wrong. I complained, and her boss called it a “teachable moment” for the rest of his staff, but he never said sorry, so I don’t go there anymore. I thought, as I drove away, that they really could have used some advice from Mo Feinberg.
Or maybe from Anil Chopra, who’s general manager of Yonge-Steeles Ford Lincoln. When it comes to the customer always coming first, Chopra is carrying on a philosophy that worked well for Mo Feinberg and others in the last century and is obviously paying dividends for his dealership in the present.
Chopra has been in the retail car business for 32 years, and this past October, he received a letter from Marco Dodaro, Dealer Sales Manager, Eastern Region, for the Ford Motor Co. of Canada, informing him that his dealership had sold more than 500 vehicles in the month of September — a most impressive number.
“As far as I am able to go back in our system’s history, I do not see another store that has been able to match your retail sales accomplishment in one month,” wrote Dodaro, adding that Yonge-Steeles:
- ● Was the third-highest overall retail volume sales store in North America for the month of September;
- ● Was the highest overall retail volume Ford Edge sales store in North America for the month;
- ● Was the No. 1 volume retail F-150 store in North America, both month- and year-to-date;
- ● Recorded the highest retail volume — year-to-date — for the Fusion, Escape, Edge, and F-150.
Now, I tried to talk to Anil Chopra this week about those impressive figures and the secret to his success — other than putting the customer first, which is on the dealership’s website — but he was busy selling cars every time I called, and we never did connect.
One of the questions I wanted to ask him, though, was what he planned to do if he won the grand prize in the Trillium Automobile Dealers Association’s “Rock The Road Raffle” in support of prostate cancer research.
That grand prize turns out to be a customized 2017 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat, which would look great in my driveway but maybe not so hot sitting in the GM’s parking place at a Ford dealership.
Also Read: Facing the Challenger
The TADA held its annual Christmas luncheon a week ago Friday and most (if not all) of the Toronto-area auto dealers — including Yonge-Steeles Ford Lincoln — attended with members of their staffs. Tickets for the Hellcat were on sale and, from what I heard, a bunch were sold.
The car has a 707-horsepower engine with 650 pound-feet of torque powered by a 6.2-litre supercharged HEMI Hellcat V8 engine. It is worth a smidge more than $113,000 and is a BOMB.
Don’t worry: Wheels readers still have a chance to win it. The car will be on display at the Canadian International AutoShow in February, where raffle tickets will be for sale. The draw for the car will be made at the show on Friday, Feb. 24.
“We know from Prostate Cancer Canada that one in eight Canadian men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during their lifetime,” said Todd Bourgon, executive director of the association, which donated the car.
“The new car dealers of Ontario feel that this contribution is one of the most meaningful ways that our industry can tangibly help improve the lives of Canadians.”
Remember those wrestlers I told you about earlier? Most of them are dead now and cancer got at least two of them. They were great entertainers who provided great entertainment. Let’s take a page out of their book and put a stranglehold on that disease. You can start by buying a ticket on that car.