It was nearly 49 years ago that Dale Daniels, president and owner of Reynolds Ford, decided to move from his hometown of Des Moines, Iowa, to Oklahoma.
Daniels remembers he was in church and it was late March, when a high school buddy, who was studying at Southern Nazarene University in Bethany and was home for the Easter holidays, said he’d forgotten how bad the snow was there; that it was 70 degrees back in Oklahoma.
“I didn’t know anything about Oklahoma, but I, too, hated the snow, and had been saving up for college since I graduated high school two years earlier,” said Daniels, who was studying business management at SNU by the following fall.
Today, Daniels has five car dealerships — Reynolds Ford in Norman, northwest Oklahoma City and in Edmond, Reynolds Mazda of Norman and Reynolds Lincoln of Edmond — which together sell some 600 new and used vehicles a month.
He credits their success to the 300 “key employees who surround me, from the guys cleaning the cars up for us to our sales managers.”
Daniels, 68, sat down recently with The Oklahoman to talk about his professional and personal life. This is an edited transcript:
Q. Tell us about your roots.
A. My dad worked 33 years at the John Deere factory in Des Moines and my mom was a homemaker. From her 20s on, she suffered from severe rheumatoid arthritis, but every night managed to cook us a big meal in a big, black iron skillet and do the washing, carrying loads of laundry baskets from the washer in the basement out to the line to dry. There were five of us, so things were tight. But we never went hungry. Of my two younger sisters, one still lives in Des Moines. The other died in a car crash when she was 20. I haven’t taken life for granted ever since.
Q. What were the highlights of your school days?
A. I mainly worked. In junior high, I got a paper route, which I threw mornings and evenings for three years. And in high school, I worked as a soda jerk, for 50 cents an hour and all the malts I wanted, in a drugstore near Drake University. I was a pretty straight kid; didn’t drink or smoke. I did chase girls.
Q. What was your first car?
A. A 13- or 14-year-old 1949 maroon — and rust — four-door Plymouth with holes in the floorboard. I paid $30 for it. Once on a date to the movies downtown, the people in front of us stopped on a hill in the two-story parking garage. The clutch on that puppy slipped; the sucker wouldn’t start up again and all the cars lined up behind us had to back up. I think that was my first and last date with that gal.
Q. And following high school graduation?
A. I’d planned to take a week off, but applied for a job with Look Magazine (Cowls Broadcasting) and got it. I graduated on a Friday and started work the following Monday. Initially, I worked 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., running a printing press for cards they’d throw in the magazines. Then, I moved over to days, running a printing press for a radio and TV station they opened. It was while I was working the night shift that President Kennedy was assassinated. My mom woke me to tell me. It was a weird time. I had another first date that night (I’d upgraded a couple cars by then), but all the movies, restaurants and businesses were shut down. The whole nation was in a state of shock.
Q. Once you got to Southern Nazarene, did you have any fun in college?
A. I did. I wrote a jokes column for the college newspaper called “Jest for Fun,” and embellished a bit my past experience with the radio and TV station in Des Moines to land a job playing elevator music with a new FM radio station starting up in Bethany. Before anyone gets too impressed, remember nobody in those days had FM radio and about all I got to say was: “You’re listening to KNBQ 104.9 megacycles, Bethany, Oklahoma.” I went to Central State (UCO) one year when I ran out of money, but managed to graduate from SNU, in business management, after I’d started working in the car industry.
Q. How’d you get your start, and move up, in the industry?
A. A good friend got into the business a year before me, and I started in May of ’68 at the old Dub Richardson Ford at 36th and May. Lynn Hickey was the sales manager. I eventually moved up from salesman to assistant used car manager, manager of our operation in Bethany and, finally, to new car manager. From there, there was really no place to go. So I, in March ’74, started as sales manager with Reynolds Ford in downtown Norman, because Jim Reynolds was going to allow me to truly manage. But, just like the FM station, don’t be too impressed; we only had four or five salesmen and sold only about 40 new and used vehicles a month, compared with more than 135 new cars a month at Dub’s. He began buying into the business 35 years ago and bought out Reynolds some 12 years ago.
Q. What’s the secret to successful selling?
A. You have to have a burning desire — hunger — for more, and there’s a lot of delayed gratification. Over the years, I’ve eaten many a warmed-over meal and missed, or arrived late, to several of my daughters’ dance deals. In sales, there’s a lot of rejection, and some people can be rude and crude. But versus react, where they’re in control, you’ve got to learn to respond, where you’re in control. I hate the stereotypes many people have of car dealers. But, I realized a long time ago that I can’t do anything about those stereotypes, but I can do something about what people think of me. Much of selling, and life, is about you and how you feel about yourself and your value.
•Position: Reynolds Auto Group, president and owner.
•Birth date and birthplace: Aug. 26, 1945; Des Moines, Iowa.
•Family: Gloria, married Aug. 31, 1968 (Daniels stole her from one of his former college roommates, but introduced him to one of his old girlfriends and they also married); daughters, Danielle Thyen, of Tyler, Texas, and Stephanie Schultz, of Norman; and six grandchildren, ages 12 and under.
•Education: Southern Nazarene University, bachelor’s in business management.
•Military service: Six years in the Army National Guard. He and a buddy, rather than wait to be drafted, drove to Smith Center, Kan., on July 4th weekend 1966 to grab two of the last remaining spots. “I’m glad I was in. It taught me a little more discipline. Plus, I feel I owed that debt to my country and the people who served before me.”
•Church: Bethany First Church of the Nazarene.
•Downtime: They have a vacation home on Lake Kiowa in Gainesville, Texas, where he enjoys golfing, boating or just kicking back on his dock, sleeping and reading.
•Favorite book: “The Greatest Salesman in the World” by Og Mandino.
•Last movie seen: “Captain Phillips.”