Archive for April, 2011

Well, at least we thought at the time it was high tech! I can remember the day the owner issued us brand new mobile phones. He called us into the office and announced, “You are all getting 5 watt “brick” phones so I can reach you anytime day or night”. Up until then, we had used pagers to stay in touch with the office. At the time, we thought the pagers were so cool, but, looking back, it was a cumbersome way of communicating. The owner would page us with the office number, and we would have to stop at a payphone and call him. We had to take all our orders with us to the payphone so we could write down any updates he had for us. Oftentimes, we would be in the rain or the snow taking notes on our repossession assignments. There was nothing like trying to write in the rain with the ink from your pen running down your repo order. Even worse was trying to write with a pen that was frozen from the below zero temperature. Having the “brick” phone was a much better way of communication. We could receive and make calls from the comfort of our vehicle. We could ring the police department right away, instead of driving around to look for a public phone to report a repossession. It was nice being able to talk to the owner, clients, and debtors while we were driving around, and it saved us a lot of time. As I look at my HTC Droid phone sitting in front of me, I never would have imagined having the internet, text features, and even GPS with voice to lead me to the debtor’s address right on my phone. I was happy just to be able to make a call on my “brick” phone!

Reason # 5 as to why I liked being a repoman was because I enjoyed the feeling of pride that came with business ownership. Watching my business grow from a “mom and pop” operation to multiple office locations and a fleet of wreckers and rollbacks gave me a great feeling of accomplishment. Knowing I was able to employ local men and women and help support their families through their employment with my auto repossession company was a great source of joy for me. I looked at those workers as family members and I truly cared for their well being. I was not stingy with what I paid them. Unlike some of my competitors, I always paid them on time, even if it meant waiting on getting my paycheck. Growing your own business is like raising a child from birth to adulthood. There are ups and downs to owning a repo business, and it comes with a lot of stress and headaches; however, at the end of the day, knowing that you own it and you are making a go of it outweighs the problems that come with business ownership. Being a business owner is also a manly trait because of the risks involved. Not only are you putting yourself on the line by owning a business, you are also putting the lives of your employees in your hands. They will depend on you to make the business successful so they can provide for their families and pay their bills. Seeing your repossession business grow and be successful will give you a feeling of fulfillment that working for someone else never can. This country was built on entrepreneurs, such as yourself, and knowing you are part of America’s economy is a wonderful feeling. The USA would not be the great country it is without business owners like yourself being willing to invest time and money into small businesses. The feelings of accomplishment I got from owning an auto repossession business is reason # 5 as to why I liked being a repoman.

I am a hunter and a fisherman. I enjoy being in a deer stand or ground hunting for a big buck. I love reeling in a big fish in a boat or sitting on the bank of a river or pond. Being in a deer stand or looking for rubs and scrapes is pretty much the same season after season. There is nothing more fun, aside from hunting big game, than “hunting” for men, trying to repossess a car they have defaulted on. I know that may sound like an old cliché, or maybe even corny, but you won’t understand unless you have spent some time working as a repoman. Rarely is one repossession assignment exactly the same as the next one, and this adds greatly to the thrill of this type of “hunt”. If you find the debtor, you find the car, and you need to hone your tracking skills to get the job done. This type of “hunt” involves using your communication skills when talking to the debtor, his family members, his neighbors and his coworkers. Like tracking game, you must be able to track the information you receive from these people and look for signs that will lead you to the vehicle you are trying to repossess. You need to master your “hunting” skills by knowing how to look at the information the lender gave you and knowing what one piece of information will lead you to the car. You need to master the art of skip tracing, conducting field investigations, dialing for dollars by phone and using street contacts to reel in the “big catch”. Aside from the money you can make, there is no greater feeling of accomplishment than bringing in a vehicle you have “hunted” for a long time.  Seeing the collateral you sought after for so long safely secured in your storage lot is nearly the same feeling as seeing the head of a 12-point buck you shot hanging on the wall of your den. Happy hunting, fellas!

Another reason I liked being a repoman was the simple fact that it is a cool job – a manly job. I do not think I could do a job that was not a tough guy’s job. I could see myself as a policeman, a fireman, a construction worker or maybe working offshore on an oil rig. I also know that you would not catch me for a minute waiting tables, being a nurse or working in a nail salon! Being a repoman is not for everybody, and I have seen plenty of guys come and go because they were not man enough to get the job done. I also have known plenty of men that would not even think twice about riding around in the middle of the night looking to repossess a car from some gangbanger. As a matter of fact, I know some dudes that would pee their pants if they were asked to get out and check a VIN in some high-class community – let alone do it in a housing project. Please don’t get me wrong, I am not invincible – bullets do not bounce off my chest and baseball bats do not snap in two when they hit my head! Being a manly repoman is not only about being a tough guy, but also about knowing when to walk away and what to say to diffuse an ugly situation.  It means knowing when to follow your gut instincts, as well as knowing your limitations. It is about how you hold yourself and about possessing confidence. A career as a repoman may not be every man’s dream job, but certain men are meant to be part of the repoman fraternity. There is a certain breed of men that just fit the mold of being a repoman. I can look at a newbie in the repossession industry for a quick minute and know deep inside if he is going to make it or not. Let’s face it, being a repoman is a cool job and a fun job, and I loved every minute of it!

The second reason why I liked being a repoman was being able to write my own paycheck. I did not want to trade hours for dollars and get paid for the time I put in. I wanted to be paid for my efforts and productivity. There were not many jobs out there that paid $200 to $400 a day or more – at least without a bachelor’s or master’s degree.  I was able to write myself those kind of checks simply by picking up two to four cars a night. If I picked up an average of 18 involuntary repossessions a week and a few voluntary repossessions, I would rake in $2,000 a week. That is over $100,000 a year, which was not bad 20 years ago. Hey, making over $100,000 a year is good for 2011! Having a job in 2011 is a feat in itself. I know some of you do not have that sort of repossession assignment volume and times are tough right now, but it is possible to make that kind of money even in today’s market. The key is to make big money when times are good, and to be sure you save some for the times when times are lean. This week I have spoken with several collection managers that work for major lenders. They all expressed to me that things are going to pick up between now and August and that the last quarter will be extremely busy. I can’t say whether this is true or not, since I do not have a crystal ball. I can tell you that the auto repossession industry, just like anything other business, is cyclic. The slow time we are experiencing at the moment is not a permanent thing, and it will turn around at some point.

The main reason that I enjoyed my repoman career is plain and simple – FREEDOM. I liked being able to make my own hours. Sure, if a lender scheduled a voluntary repossession at 7:00 p.m. on a Friday night, I had to be there to get the car picked up. However, if I really had to, I could often schedule it for an earlier or later time the same day. But, for the most part, my time was my time. If there was something I had to do or someplace I had to be, I could make it happen. I took lunch when I was hungry, and taking a break or a day off was basically up to me. When I was out working, I could visit a friend for an hour or two or even three. I could make as many phone calls as I wanted to while cruising around in my wrecker, minus an unbearable boss breathing down my neck. To be honest, it was kind of like getting paid to hang out, as long I repossessed the cars I had repo assignments on. I can even recall a few times where I made a weekend vacation out of repossessing cars. One time in particular – when the lenders would actually pay investigative and stakeout fees – I spent time camping with my family and also fit in stalking a debtor. In fact, it was another auto repossession business owner that had nine wreckers up for repossession. All of his wreckers were assigned to his repossession agents, and they would oftentimes come to home base on the weekends.  His office was about five hours away from my office, but just a few minutes away from the lovely campground where I had pitched my tent. After several camping trips over a month’s time, I was able to get all of his wreckers picked up – four of them with keys, followed by talking him out of the other five. Again, FREEDOM is reason #1 for why I liked being a repoman.

We all have our thoughts when we think about the dangers involved in being a repoman. Of course you could be shot, stabbed or beaten to a pulp by an angry debtor. I have known of more than a few recovery agents that have been run over by a fleeing debtor. A few repo agents were fortunate enough to just have their foot run over, but a couple of repossessors I know were actually run completely over and seriously injured at the hands of a crazed debtor. These types of violence are deliberate acts perpetrated by a debtor, debtor’s family member, or maybe even their neighbor. Other dangers that exist could be injury or even death resulting from an auto accident. When you work at night, you always face the possibility of being involved in a vehicle accident with a drunk or sleepy driver. There are also some dangers we do not always think about that repomen face – like falling asleep at the wheel, an accident caused by mechanical failure or a crash that is caused by weather conditions such as ice or snow on the road. While typing this article, I remembered a situation where a recovery agent I know could have died facing an unseen danger.  He had recovered a crotch rocket and the keys from a cooperative debtor. His partner had another car they had repossessed earlier that day on their wheel lift, and the agent decided to ride the motorcycle to the storage lot. He took the expressway and traveled at highway speed all the way back to the lot. Upon arriving, he was going on and on about how much fun he had riding the bike in. I happened to look down at the rear tire and saw it was split and the rubber was hanging off of it. If the tire had blown while my friend was riding the motorcycle back, he would have crashed and maybe been seriously injured or even killed. We often think of the obvious dangers, but do we consider the unseen dangers of being a repoman?

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I own several revolvers, pistols and rifles, and years ago I spent a lot of time at the practice range. I like guns – what red-blooded American repoman does not?  I just do not like them when they are stuck in my face! I know a lot of you repossession agents are not big on door knocking, but once in awhile you have to hit the door and talk to a debtor. We had one account in a small farm town that was about two hours away from home base. We had run it a few times without any positive results. We knew there was a pole barn in back that possibly housed the Cadillac we were looking for. It is funny, they say all farmers are poor, but a lot of them own Caddies! We walked up to the old farmhouse and I had my fist ready to rap on the door when it suddenly flew open. I was staring down the barrel of a Cobra Python. The gun owner loudly announced, “She ain’t here!” and for a second I thought he was talking about the car I was there to repo. You can run when someone points a gun at you, but that often gets them into shooting mode. So I just calmly told him that I was there for the Cadillac. He was surprised, laughed, lowered the gun and told me he thought I was his girlfriend’s husband. He promptly got the keys, took us to the pole barn, cleaned out his car and let us drive it away.

Well, we were back in business dent pulling ignitions, pulling steering wheels and repossessing a bunch of cars, trucks and motorcycles. I think life was a lot easier using keys to repossess cars back in the day before self loaders. We only used a wrecker to repo a car if we had to. If it was wrecked, did not run or had flat tires, we called for a rollback. When we called we did not use a cell phone either, but dropped a coin into a payphone. Am I dating myself? Using keys was a breeze. It was quick, quiet and easy. There was no clatter of a diesel wrecker to alert the debtor that his car was being repossessed, but just a couple of taps of a dent puller extracting the ignition lock tumbler and popping a new one in. Sure, once in a while you had to pull a steering wheel, but it was at least quiet. The other nice thing was that it was not expensive to drive around or take public transportation to look for cars that were up for repossession. Now you have programmable and chip keys to take the fun out of being a repoman! Has technology ruined the auto repossession business?

What other types of technology have destroyed the repo industry?

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We got prepaid to repossess fifteen units and went right back to work. Are you wondering why we decided to work for this shady repossession company owner? I am not surprised that you are, because we kept asking ourselves the same question. Of course it came down to money – nothing more, nothing less. Despite being a conman, his auto repossession business had the lion’s share of the repo work in our area, and we repossessed automobiles for all the big lenders and local banks. He knew how to talk to clients and keep them happy with excellent customer service. He was also an excellent skip tracer, and his company had a reputation for always getting the collateral repossessed. His downfall was that he did not manage money well and was not real good at paying his repo agents in a timely manner. As far as our decision to keep repossessing cars? He paid well and also paid close and investigation fees. We were also repossessing cars the old-fashioned way – without a wrecker – and he willingly paid us for any gas we put into the cars we repossessed, as long as we turned in receipts. We picked up fifteen units rather quickly, and he topped off his prepaid repossession agents for another round of fifteen repossessions. So far, so good!

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