Trapp Chevrolet’s Boudreaux sees no end in sight as salesman

Emile Joseph Bourgeois Sr.
May 25, 2009
Madeline Marie Cadiere Usie
May 29, 2009
Emile Joseph Bourgeois Sr.
May 25, 2009
Madeline Marie Cadiere Usie
May 29, 2009

Even at half speed, Ronnie Boudreaux keeps a quick pace.

The 66-year-old moves briskly from the new to used car lots and the body shop at Trapp Cadillac Chevrolet in Houma, taking care of his customers’ needs.

Last month, Boudreaux celebrated his 40th year as a sales representative with the dealership. Technically, he’s been there 50 years – he joined the company while he was still a high school student back when Trapp dealt solely in Chevys.

Throughout the years, Boudreaux has maintained the same simple philosophy to become successful.

“My main goal in this profession has been to be honest with people and create a clientele that will be repeat business,” he said. “I’m not just looking to sell you a car today. I’m looking at you to come back time after time after time.”

That approach has paid off as the automotive industry has struggled in these leaner economic times.

“Right now, the way the economy has slowed, I still have a fairly good amount of repeat customers coming in,” Boudreaux said. “That’s what I pretty much rely on.”

The Houma sales rep has survived economically challenging times before – the gas shortages and high inflation of the 1970s and the oil bust of the 1980s. Staying focused on and maximizing the positive aspects was critical then – and now.

“I put the blinders on and I look straight ahead. I don’t look to the left or to the right or to the back,” Boudreaux said. “If you slow down too much and start looking around, you’re going to get in a slump, which has happened to me sometimes. But for the most part, I just move ahead.”

Boudreaux knows there are many stereotypes – mostly negative – that come with being a car salesman, but he made it his goal to prove the label wrong.

“It’s been a general feeling people have about car salesmen. I want to show that we all don’t have to be that way,” he said.

One could say Ronnie Boudreaux was born into the car business. His father was a mechanic for 20 years at a dealership before he quit and opened his own shop called Boudreaux’s Auto Repair on West Main Street in Houma. Today, Witty’s Automotive Repair operates from that site.

But the dealership business beckoned Boudreaux. He got his start in Trapp Chevrolet’s parts department in 1958. He graduated from Terrebonne High School in 1960 and spent a year and a half as a service writer.

Boudreaux moved to two other dealerships through most of the ’60s, but returned to Trapp’s sales department in April 1969.

Inspiration to continue in the business came from men who showed, “You can be honest and still make a good living,” Boudreaux said.

Leonce Gauthreaux, a salesman who worked in an adjacent office, was one such teacher.

“I could hear his presentation to customers and hear how honest he was,” he said. “That really made an impact on me. He was a salesman here until he was 80. He was a mentor to me.”

His brother Neil, a former Trapp service manager and current customer assistant, has also been a huge help.

“He used to keep an eye out for when someone would be needing a vehicle, and he’d let me know,” Boudreaux said. “That helped build my clientele. I also made connections from my days as a trumpet player in local clubs and for organizations.”

Before he goes on the lot and shows customers around, Boudreaux sits down and talks with his clients about what their needs and wants are to develop some idea of what they are looking for. He still sees himself as an advocate for his customers.

“Because of my clientele, I don’t have to do a whole lot of negotiating,” he said. “When I go to the sales manager to get the sales price, I am acting as the negotiator on their behalf. So they know when I come back with a price, it’s going to be a fair price.”

While customers’ tastes in automobiles have changed over his 40 years, getting them the right vehicle at a great price has been Boudreaux’s only priority.

When gas prices were nearly $4 a gallon last year, passenger cars were the top models Boudreaux was selling. Today, trucks have returned as his best sellers.

“South Louisiana is a truck territory,” he insisted. “Everybody has a boat or a camper, and they want something that can pull that camper or boat.”

In the current economic climate, Boudreaux understands that more people will delay purchasing a new vehicle or even a used one. But he insists Trapp is in a good position to weather the storm and thrive.

“People might keep their current vehicle a little longer. They may have wider intervals to their trade time. They may spend a little more on repairing them,” he said. “We have a really strong body shop. In fact, we do body work for other competitive dealers. But eventually, people are going to get something to replace that vehicle.”

With that, Boudreaux has no plans to retire any time soon. His only regret to date is that his wife of 33 years, Betty, has cancer. But his job has allowed him the flexibility to tend to her.

“The owner of the dealership, Heinke Trapp, has been a really good boss to me,” Boudreaux said. “He has given me leeway to take whatever time I need for her care.”

So can Boudreaux keep selling cars until he reaches age 80 like his mentor Leonce Gauthreaux did? If it were up to Boudreaux, he would stay on even longer than that.

“I have such a good, loyal clientele, I’d feel like I was letting them down if I retired. These people rely on me to work for them,” he said. “Retirement is like closing one chapter of your life and moving further to the end.

“I don’t want to get to the final chapter,” he continued. “I know eventually I will, but until then, I’m still going to be here.”

Trapp Cadillac Chevrolet’s Ronnie Boudreaux (right) shows off this Chevrolet Avalanche to Paul DuBois. Boudreaux celebrated 40 years as a salesperson with the dealership last month. He has survived the rough economic times during his career by “(putting) the blinders on, and I look straight ahead. I don’t look to the left or to the right or to the back,” he said.