Todd Parker’s first car was a 1979 gold Lincoln Continental with shag carpet and yellow leather. And yes, it had an eight-track player. Today, Todd is the co-founder of Florida based Prime Vehicle Traders (www.primevehicletraders.com), a new consignment shop for cars that has garnered national buzz of late.
Featured in the New York Times and on Fox Business in recent months, Todd and the Prime Vehicle Traders gang are enjoying a spiking interest in their unique concept. The founding team, which includes Todd, Jim Larson and Steven Branton, has quickly convinced many Richmonders to give their new approach to buying and selling cars a spin.
Richmond.com slowed Todd down enough to ask a few questions about leaving his corporate gig to start and run a new business in RVA. While he’s no longer rocking a Lincoln with shag carpet, we found he’s quick to whip out a photo of his old ride.
Name: Todd Parker
Title: Co-founder Prime Vehicle Traders
Job duties: My partners and I pretty much evenly split the day-to-day responsibilities of taking care of customers—checking in consigned vehicles, coaching sellers during the sales process, and working with potential buyers. From a corporate perspective, I oversee finance and marketing activities, while my partners handle operations and business development.
Terry: So, tell us about your gig—why is it so darn great?
Todd: Working at Prime Vehicle Traders is hands down the most fun I have had at a job in my life. I work with some extremely talented people, and I love working with our customers. Whether moving overseas, selling a car for a family member, or simply upgrading to a new car, each seller’s situation is unique. No matter the circumstance, we want to make sure each Prime Vehicle Traders customer receives a "wow" service experience.
Terry: And how did you land such a handy dandy job?
Todd: My partner Jim and I worked at Harris Kennys in Richmond from 2003-2005. We had an incredible experience there together and ended up keeping in touch over the next six years while Jim stayed at Harris Kennys and I pursued other opportunities outside Richmond. When I first discussed the Prime Vehicle Traders concept with Jim, I got so fired up I had to check my pants. At the time, I was shopping privately for a used car, which was an awkward, time-consuming and, honestly, agonizing process. The thought of creating a business that made the process of buying or selling a car in the sale-by-owner market more comfortable and efficient hit home with me.
Jim and I had a lot of passion for the concept, and energy to get a new business off the ground, but we lacked what some people—OK, everyone—advising us felt would be an important ingredient— dealership experience. Fortunately, Jim has a real talent in selling a vision and building relationships, and struck gold in recruiting Michael, who has considerable auto dealership experience and a double degree from Harvard and, come to think of it, makes recruiting me look like striking rust, to leave his consulting gig in Chicago, move to Richmond, and round out the founding team.
Terry: Take us through a day in the life of someone in your position?
Todd: No two days are alike, which I love. One day might be seller focused—shuttling cars to and from our repair partners, coaching sellers on pricing decisions, or telling a walk-in customer a little more about how Prime Vehicle Traders works. Another day might be buyer focused—answering phone calls and questions, going out on test drives, or putting together the paperwork so a buyer can move on and start enjoying their car. It’s usually some combination of the two, along with brainstorming ideas for our website, or deciding where we should spend our marketing dollars.
Terry: What are some of the perks you enjoy that are associated with your gig?
Todd: Without a doubt, the number one perk is the people I get to meet. The car business has a wonderfully colorful cast of characters. Our customers, vendors and partners come from all walks of life and have some unique personalities. Our team has a lot of fun sharing stories, challenges and successes with each other throughout the day. A few other perks include having a casual dress code, watching old school movies on Netflix, listening to some good music on Pandora, going out as a team on Thursday nights in our mandatory Prime Vehicle Traders hats, competing in feats of strength, and playing a game here and there on our Wii with customers or each other. I just realized I have a pretty sweet job.
Terry: Tell us about a time that you asked yourself—seriously, am I really getting paid for this?
Todd: Well, my partners and I don’t actually get paid, so I’m not really qualified to answer that question. Maybe, why am I doing this for free? Hmmm, now that I think about it, maybe this job isn’t so sweet after all…the truth is that we are as money hungry as anyone else, but we love what we do and are willing to plow every available dollar into building the business at this point. We’re happy to do it because we’re so excited about the creating positive change for people in the sale-by-owner used car market. Plus, we’re having a ton of fun, which outweighs the hard work and no pay…although maybe you should call me in a year.
Terry: The actual physical place one works can add to the overall experience. Tell us what it’s like working in the playful and relaxed atmosphere that you’ve created at Prime Vehicle Traders.
Todd: I’m not gonna lie, we love our store. We worked with a local design firm to create an environment that would be consistent with our values and the company culture we’re creating—comfortable, transparent, and fun. The car buying and selling process can be intimidating, time-consuming, and even dangerous, given that there are so many scams out there. We started Prime Vehicle Traders to help consumers eliminate all of these hassles, and we want them to feel at ease from the moment they walk into our store to the moment they drive away with their new car or a check. I’ll often look up to see a mini football floating by, a quick game of Wii Mario Kart, a customer drawing a playful picture on our paper-top tables, or someone grabbing a handful of Zotz candy. While we spend most of our time working hard to get a great outcome for our customers, it is nice to have a space that allows us to have a lot of fun along the way.
Terry: It’s obvious that you’re an ambitious and successful entrepreneur. What are some of the ups and downs that come with keeping your business thriving in Florida?
Todd: Starting a business is an all-consuming, 24/7 endeavor that can leave you unpaid for a long time, so there’s that. It can also be lonely and stressful. Sound good so far? The reality is that I’m having the time of my life, and my partners are too. It is pretty awesome seeing an idea turn into something tangible and productive that generates revenue, helps people, and creates job opportunities. Prime Vehicle Traders is a living thing, and we have a blast shaping it everyday, serving our customers, and building a company and culture we’re proud to be a part of.
Terry: What advice would you give the average looking to escape their cubical in favor of working a gig like yours?
Todd: Go for it! It may seem hard, but if you aren’t fulfilled, or on a path toward achieving your goals, make a change and don’t look back.
In deciding to leave our jobs and start Prime Vehicle Traders, probably the most important factor for me and my partners was a passion and excitement for the idea and the thought of bringing helpful change to people’s lives. Starting a business can require an intense amount of time, money, and reliance on your personal and professional networks. If you’re not willing to put all that at stake for the idea, you probably shouldn’t take that plunge.
The team is a big deal as well. I was psyched by the opportunity to partner with two talented and charismatic partners in Jim and Michael. Being able to brainstorm, discuss challenges, and cover for one another when needed takes away a lot of the pressure and stress associated with entrepreneurship.
Another key factor for our success so far has been the ability to sell our vision and recruit talented people to the team. If you don’t have that skill yourself, partner with someone who does…that’s what I did.
Terry: Do you dig this gig enough to recommend it to others, and if so, what would you tell Richmond.com readers about taking on a job like yours?
Todd: Absolutely! I will say that the retail business can be challenging. If you don’t get energized by working with people, stay away. The hours are long, and you deal with people all day. Starting your own business sounds scary, but if you put everything you’ve got into doing something you love, it will work out.