FELTON — C.J. Faison mousses his brown hair up into his trademark tiny point so customers can still spot him when the four lanes at Delaware Auto Exchange get so crowded that you can’t move your arms.
With four auctioneers simultaneously selling cars, trucks, vans, motorcycles and the occasional limousine, searching for Faison inside the auction building on U.S. 13 can feel like wandering into a “Where’s Waldo?” book.
For starters, Ron Faison, C.J.’s father, always attracts a crowd as he gives away crisp $100 bills, birthday cakes and big-screen TVs.
Then, there are the four lanes of used vehicles rolling through the auction house in quick succession — Honda sedans, Grand Cherokees, minivans, vintage BMWs, a gold Jaguar X-Type and a towering red tow truck that comes with the auctioneer’s assurance: “This rollback Ford does everything it’s supposed to do.”
Plus, it gets crazy loud inside this multimillion-dollar public auction nestled inside a former cattle auction building that once sported a cow statue on its roof.
It’s so loud that auctioneer Mark Marshall gives a preemptory warning to the novice shoppers who line up for the free first-time customer clinic: “It’s going to be a madhouse. It’s going to get real loud in here. There’s a ringman in each lane to answer your questions. Don’t try to talk to the auctioneers. We can’t hear you. We don’t care what you said.”
So why is everyone looking for C.J. Faison?
At 23, he runs the company and manages 54 employees. Sales are up 24 percent since he took over last year, and, next month, he’s taking his sale online to 65,000 dealers nationwide.
Several buyers said they heard about the sale from his tweets, Facebook posts and his YouTube videos where he says things like: “Today, for some reason, I’m in the mood to just give stuff away, so here’s what I’m going to do for you.”
And: “Bring your tax check here. Don’t waste it. You’re going to spend wise this year and you’re going to buy an entire vehicle with that tax check, not just a down payment on a car, ok.”
And: “Seeing is believing, folks. So get here this Thursday night.”
He said he knows people won’t buy from him if they don’t trust him, so he brands himself in all his social
media posts. “Then, when they actually come to the auction, they’re like ‘Hey, there’s the guy on Facebook.’ So they feel already more comfortable,” he said. “It’s all about building a reputation as someone who is trustworthy. That’s Business 101 in my eyes.”
One common thread ties together hundreds of assorted auction shoppers every Thursday evening: they’re all in the market for a used vehicle.
A man in a Redneck Mafia sweatshirt eyed a motorcycle.
Sheri and Nancy Bailey of Seaford searched for a vehicle to pull a trailer so they can take their foster children on a road trip.
Eric Ballard of Princess Anne, Md., rushed from lane to lane carrying his 3-month-old son in a plastic baby carrier.
A family of three who looked like they stepped out of a Land’s End catalog leaned forward whenever an SUV pulled up.
A man in a stocking cap raised one finger and bought himself a truck.
George Rockwell of Elkton, Md., came just to watch the action. “Ron treats everybody really good. He’s part of the community. They’re really good people.”
Ron Faison, C.J.’s father, is no rookie marketer. He had some innovations of his own:
- He built a glass-sided money machine hooked up to a blower that makes dollar bills fly up. Door-prize winners can keep all they can grab in 30 seconds.
- He hired Santa to give presents to the first 100 children who show up at Christmastime.
- He serves more than 250 pounds of free pork barbecue on the last Thursday of every month. (“We have some people who come just to eat the barbecue and then they go home, and that’s fine with us because at least we know they got one hot meal that week. We’re very blessed to have a thriving business, and it’s our way of giving back to the community.”)
His son upped the ante.
“He just brought a new element to it,” Ron Faison said. “We gave away three or four flat-screen TVs in January. He’s taken our business to the next level because he’s from that young group of individuals who are very savvy with social media and the Internet.”
One example: They garnered more than 5,000 responses to a contest where they asked customers to tell them about an individual who deserved to win a used car.
The new manager, who has worked in the family business since he started sweeping floors at age 7, said his dad was his mentor and he learned marketing on the job: “I’m pretty much self-taught. I’ve never taken a marketing class or anything of that nature. My biggest thing is I have to be different than anyone else. That’s how I get attention. Actually, there are people who know who I am just because of the way I style my hair.”
He reads constantly and gleans tips about what works and what doesn’t. Motivational author Grant Cardone is a favorite.
“People feel most comfortable dealing with people in blue and solid color shirts. If I want to express an urgent message, you’ll see me in a bright shirt,” he said.
“People have to realize that, in business, it’s all about how much you put in. I never take no for an answer. I’m always selling. I’m 23 years old and I’m trying to make a name for myself in life,” he said. “My goal is before I turn 25 I want to be able to write a book for young entrepreneurs. “If I would have had that book six or seven years ago, there’s no telling where I’d be today.”
His next step: Expanding the dealer portion of the business with a national online auction. Now, sales to the public comprise about 49 percent of the company’s sales and dealer sales comprise about 51 percent.
A year and a half in the planning, the online auction will involve car transport, third-party inspectors and extensive con-dition reports. Faisons won’t disclose how much that will add to their costs, but they said they have the capital to pull it off.
“It did take a good amount of capital. I don’t want to disclose what we spent, but it was a good amount,” C.J. Faison said. “Nobody can save their way to wealth. You have to reinvest back in your business to keep it going.”
“You can jump into this simulcast and not be ready and have egg on your face,” he said. “We’ve properly planned, and I think it’s going to work for us. I really do.”
Ron Faison talks like a man who has handed the steering wheel to his son. “C.J. eats and sleeps what we’re trying to do here,” he said. “He told me, ‘The first 20 years were on you, Pop, but I got the next 20.’”