Attending an intro-level class doesn’t usually land a student a job, but that’s exactly what happened last fall when Eastern Mennonite University professor of business and economics Andrew Miller took his Business 101 students for a tour of the Steven Toyota car dealership in Harrisonburg, Virginia.
“I’ve always been told I’m a people person, so any opportunity or anything, I reach out to people,” said Zach Wheeler, a junior marketing major from Churchville, Virginia. “I’ll take any opportunity I can. I’m always looking for chances to better myself, too.”
That chance came as an off-hand mention during the tour by dealership owner Ryan Sodikoff that he had an open position.
“I pretty much came up to Ryan after the field trip and said, ‘I’d love to be part of this team,’” he remembers. “‘Is there, like, part time whatever you have for me? I can pretty much do anything.’ I honestly didn’t know what my job was going to be.”
Miller put in a good word – as Wheeler tells it, he told Sodikoff, “If you get a chance to hire this kid, go ahead and do it because he’s pretty good” – and Sodikoff’s interest was piqued, he said, even though “I wasn’t trying to recruit or anything at the time,” he said. “It was just a field trip.”
It was the second time Miller had taken students to the dealership to get an overall view of the business but also insight into what he calls “minutia marketing” and working with customers. He also regularly takes students to Washington D.C. to visit a variety of workplaces and learn about the city. (See the photo album below.)
There’s a few fellow Royals already employed there, including senior Zeki Salehi, who has logged five years with the company. He manages the buying center and used car center, overseeing all departments that relate to used cars, such as acquisition, service, sales and reconditioning. Tristan Childress ’19 is a sales and leasing consultant.
Now Wheeler is the dealership’s “listing specialist,” which means he lists non-auto inventory to sell via online platforms like eBay and Craigslist.
At one end of the warehouse by his office is the car photo booth, but in the section Wheeler manages, there are rows and rows of overhead lights removed in a recent facility remodel, no-longer-needed office phones, car radios, tires and oil filters and parts that the service department can’t use, plus personal items from dealership employees – even furniture made in France – all waiting to be sold.
“I put a big task on him, to stage the facility and price out the equipment,” said Sodikoff. But since Wheeler has “kind of volunteered to do anything,” Sodikoff has also made him the face of grassroots marketing. That means that Wheeler will take a new car to, say, a dealership-sponsored golf tournament where it will be the prize for a hole-in-one.
“He represents us well,” Sodikoff said. “It’s a wonderful experience for him, and he’s loving it. He’s a great team member.”
Wheeler’s a big dreamer; he said his “absolute biggest dream is to make a commercial for the Super Bowl.” In addition to his ongoing marketing studies at EMU, he’s also studying to become a licensed car salesperson.
In the meantime, over the summer he averaged 35-40 hours each week at Steven Toyota.
“I never imagined I would come in here doing what I’m doing,” he said. “It’s given me exposure to a different industry that I’ve never participated in before.”