John Vance Automotive Group is a mainstay in Guthrie, Perry and Miami, Oklahoma and represents twelve automotive brands in 3 communities. I knew they invested in each community but, when they became the lead sponsor of Guthrie’s Red Brick Nights summer concert series, I had to learn more about them, their history and their motivation. I recently spent a few minutes with Megan Vance Ochs, Vice President to hear their story.
Good morning Megan. John Vance Autogroup has been around for a long time. Tell me a bit about the history.
This industry is in our blood. Both sides of my family have been connected with the automotive industry for 3 generations. My grandparents, Mike and Carolyn Vance, were big supporters and always very well respected in the dealership. My grandfather, Phil Galleher, was a service representative for Pontiac for 30 years. That’s who inspired my dad, John Vance, to started selling cars at Ernie Miller Pontiac where my Grandmother Mary was the Controller. My dad worked his way up to General Sales Manager and then, in 1983 he and my mom bought the first dealership in Guthrie. Family is a huge part of our business. My Uncle Mark worked here until he passed away in 2005. My brother Garrett, cousin Derek and I plan to carry on the legacy.
The Guthrie Dealership was probably a lot different in 1983 than it is today, correct?
Oh yeah. When he bought it, it was a small, GM dealership in a wheat field. He grew that business and then began adding more. He became the youngest Cadillac dealer in the nation. He then added a Chrysler and Ford store; added a mobility department; then more stores in Kansas, Perry, Texas and Miami, Oklahoma. We’ve since sold the Texas and Kansas stores and started our latest venture, Vance Insurance, May of 2014. It’s been a great run and we’re grateful for it.
You grew up in and around the dealership businesses. But, you haven’t always worked there.
That’s right. My first job was at the Prairie Rose Cafe which was next to Guthrie’s Blue Bell saloon. I worked at Granny Had One and a carpet store during college then, my first “real” job was at the dealership.
“I love to make things better—people, processes, you know—with whatever ability and means I have”
That’s interesting. How did those roles prepare you for what you do today?
Well, traditionally, people advance in the auto sales industry through the sales path or finance path. In my role in Customer Relations, I was really focused on process development, process optimization and customer experience.
The core and heart of our business is taking care of people. That’s how I’m wired as a person and that’s what my prior experience shaped in me. It was really a great way to start my career in the automotive business.
Before I go much further into your career path, I have to ask, what makes you tick? What do you love in your work?
I love to make things better—people and processes—with whatever ability and means I have. I love to see people grow. I love doing what I can to help them. I also love making processes better, easier and more efficient.
Thanks Megan. How did you land your current role at the dealership?
When my son was a year old, I got a call from the dealership to run our business development center. I brought a service oriented approach and worked hard to improve all the processes to make the shopping and buying experience more efficient for our customers.
What happened next?
In 2007, I became the General Manager. Which was interesting. It was right on the front end of a recession that hit everybody hard including the car businesses we ran.
I remember that period of time, 2007 to 2010, or longer. It was really tough. As the new General Manager, I can imagine it was stressful. That said, how do you manage stress?
And, I have to choose my mindset. Stress is always around. I have to recognize that and choose to be optimistic. I also work hard to focus on doing the things in my control with that spirit of optimism.
Megan, you invest in the communities you serve through corporate sponsorship and charitable gifts. Why?
That’s easy. It’s the right thing to do.
In an ideal world, we wouldn’t spend money on advertising, we’d just do good work and invest back into the communities we serve and let people tell our story. Our main source of business has always been repeat customers and referrals.
You partnered with James Long and some others through the years to launch and grow Guthrie’s Red Brick Nights. Tell me about that.
I love music. I love Guthrie and James is really enjoyable to work with. He’s a true professional.
Are you surprised it’s drawing tens of thousands of people to Guthrie each season?
I’m happy, but certainly not shocked. We had a vision for the event. It is just the perfect event at the right time for the right community.
“Passion. That’s it. Passion drives perseverance. Going in, you have to know it’s not going to be easy—nothing comes easy. I think it was Einstein that said something like, ‘you can’t fail until you quit.’”
What do you find most rewarding?
Making a difference through all of our community investments is most rewarding. Helping teachers, students, communities grow and enjoy one another is always rewarding. With Red Brick Nights, I think it’s so fun to see many, many people outside of Guthrie show up. Last month I was in Nashville for a meeting and ran into some local musicians trying to catch a break. When I told them I was from Oklahoma they said the had been trying to get into this new venue called “the red brick”. I had not even mentioned Guthrie. The word is getting out about about what is happening in our little town!
O.K., you told me you listen to music every night. What’s on your play list?
Ha! Everything…Pearl Jam, CCR, Tom Petty, Citizen Cope, Levi Parham, Turnpike Troubadours. I could list more…
Alright Megan, last question: Do you have any advice for entrepreneurs and your fellow business owners?
I’m trying not to sound like a fortune cookie…
Passion. That’s it. Passion drives perseverance. Going in, you have to know it’s not going to be easy—nothing comes easy. I think it was Einstein that said something like, “you can’t fail until you quit.”
Thank you Megan. You’ve inspired me and others to keep going and keep making a difference as we work to make a living. I appreciate you.
About Made Possible By
Made Possible By is the new way community minded companies manage and share their grant, sponsorship and charitable gift requests. Made Possible By is reinventing the community investment process for companies with an easy to use, online toolset that saves them time and money and helps them earn community and customer trust. Learn more at our website or blog.