Pittsfield, just northeast of the New Hampshire state capital, Concord, is a small town where everyone knows each other. That aura of familiarity easily allows residents of this old New England mill town to get involved with local activities that help build a stronger community, whether at work or home.
Getting involved and promoting a sense of community are just two of the many qualities of this year's Counterperson of the Year, Dennis Call. Call has been a veteran of auto parts distribution for more than 33 years. He is the store manager at the Pittsfield Sanel Auto Parts store, which, along with more than 30 locations, is owned by Parts Plus member Automotive Supply Associates Inc. (ASA), based in Concord.
Call embodies the definition of "leading by example," and many of his loyal customers give him and his team praise for their relentlessly positive attitudes in solving many parts issues.
"He doesn't stop at what the computer tells him," said Earl Weir, district administrator of the Solid Waste and Recycling Department. Weir has worked with Call for at least 30 years. "He goes to the books or the telephone for additional info, and if that doesn't work, his knowledge and experience allow him to go to the shelf and find something that will work. I've seen this happen many times."
Sometimes Call has been known to go far beyond the call of duty to find a solution to a customer's problem.
"One time, I was out plowing snow for the state around midnight and I blew a main hydraulic line. I called Dennis," said Matt St. George of St. George Auto Body and Repair in Pittsfield. "He told me to meet him at the store in 30 minutes. When I got there, Dennis was already waiting for me with the hose."
Call's hard work and professionalism also extends through his fellow counterpeople at Sanel Auto Parts. Linda Munn, assistant manager of the Pittsfield store, has worked with Call for more than 25 years.
"He hired me as a delivery driver and through his patience and knowledge, it only took me a few years to make me his assistant manager," said Munn. "He is willing to go the extra mile for a customer. He is a sincere boss and he is dedicated to the automotive field."
The knowledge and leadership Call gives to his employees has provided them with the tools to become successful at other stores.
"When Dennis hired me in his store, I had no background in selling auto parts and now, I'm the assistant manager in another store," said Jeffrey Moul, who now works at the Sanel store in Raymond, NH. "He showed me how to listen more to the customer. A lot of what I learned about the parts business, I learned from Dennis. I know some day when I have my own store, I want it to look like Dennis' store."
And for good reason - when people walk inside, they see a well-kept store with uncluttered counters and faced shelves - even behind the counter.
"He runs a tight ship, has had consistent growth throughout the years and keeps his people," said Bobby Segal, vice president of store operations for Automotive Supply Associates. "He's so unassuming. He flies under the radar, so it's easy to forget what a great job he does.
He's so consistent."
Call's beginnings in the parts business started at an auto parts store in Suncook, NH. Three years later, Call arrived at Sanel Auto Parts in Concord. Within a year's time, he was promoted to store manager of the Pittsfield store, which turned out to be a perfect fit. He has been there for the majority of his career.
"Henry Sanel told me they needed a store manager in Pittsfield. I said 'yes' - it was only 10 minutes away from my house. The Concord store was big, and I've always been a small-town guy," said Call. "When you're in a larger store, you're don't see your customers much because everything is done on the telephone. I like working with people one-on-one. I like to look at them in the eye."
MAN OF THE COMMUNITY
Everyone who has met Call would agree that his modesty is one of his strongest personal traits. As a kid growing up in a small community, he, along with group of others, would perform chores like mowing grass and shoveling snow for elderly neighbors.
"My father used to tell me, 'You do these things because you want to, not because you expect to be paid for it. Do it because that is what you want to do,'" said Call. "That's how we were brought up and that is essentially what I do at Sanel."
There is no doubt that Call has acquired an unmatched level of experience when it comes to selling auto parts, but he has also built a reputation for being a man of the community. His service to the community started when he was a member of the zoning board and later the budget committee in Chichester, NH. In addition, he was a certified fire fighter, and served on the local volunteer fire department for 20 years. Call was initially inspired by his brother to be locally active.
"My oldest brother was involved in the fire department," said Call. "When I was growing up I always wanted to emulate what he was doing and that is how I got into the fire department."As a young man, he also ran for the Board of Selectmen in Chichester. At that time, he was hard-working young guy with bright, fresh new ideas. The townspeople also knew his grandfather, who was one of the original members of the Chichester Fire Department in the mid-1930s.
"I was always proud of what he did, and I wanted to continue that," said Call. "He sat on a board in Chichester. The first time I ran, I was in my mid-20s. People would come up to me and say, 'You're Charlie Call's grandson, right?' I ran against an incumbent who was much older and wiser than I was, but I won that election from the respect my grandfather had in the community."
Call went on to serve two three-year terms as a selectman. In addition, he served every rank in the Chichester Fire and Rescue Team from secretary to fire chief until he retired in 2000.The sense of community is not only instilled in Call, but runs up to the top of the ASA organization.
"I like to have people who are multi-dimensional - community and family involvement are important," said Segal. "That's what makes people successful in life and in business. People in Pittsfield know Dennis in the context of his life. They know him more than just 'Dennis the Counterman.' They know all the things he does for this community. That's real value. The guys who are active in the community run successful stores."
YOU ONLY HAVE YOUR WORD
Whether it's behind the counter or in front of the community, Dennis Call strives to put his best foot forward and maintain his professionalism. Although it's a clich, Call believes his success is due to his belief that honesty is truly the best policy.
"If you tell somebody you're going to do something, you better do it because your reputation is on the line. It doesn't make a difference if you are inside the store or outside the store," said Call. "If I give somebody my word, that's it. Essentially, that is all I've got."