At one point the Kendall Toyota execs asked the men what steps the company ought to take to alleviate friction with the neighbors. Both Ziegler and Masington quickly rattled off a long list. They suggested, among other things, improving the landscaping around the car lot and using lower-intensity lights. They asked that the dealership shut down the loudspeaker system completely and switch to personal beepers. They proposed that the bay doors of the auto shop be closed at the end of the day and that some sort of noise barrier be installed along the open second-floor windows to keep sound inside the shop.
Harter says many of the suggestions, such as the use of beepers, have been tried before and failed. Some are impossible, he says, as was the case with installing sound barriers over the second-floor windows, which are required to be kept open for ventilation.
Faced with such an impasse, some people would throw in the towel. But some people aren't car salesmen. Perhaps it goes back to that inviolable car salesman's credo: Never let anyone leave the lot dissatisfied. And in the grand tradition of a breed that can sell ice to Eskimos, Harter's troops persisted, in the belief that they could sell the notion of tranquility to Ziegler and Masington.
"They asked what could they do for me personally." Masington recalls. "They kept saying they wanted to take care of us personally." The men say that they were confused at first, until they realized they were being offered incentives -- in much the same way prospective car buyers are offered rebates and other goodies -- if they refrained from protesting when Kendall Toyota appeared before county commissioners asking for a zoning change.
Masington and Ziegler say Kendall Toyota personnel director Jack Merriman offered them myriad inducements, including new roofs for their houses and free house-painting. Alternatively, they might have chosen a new washer and dryer, they recall. Or a new color TV set. The men say Merriman even offered them the use of a new Toyota for the weekend.
"I was insulted," says Ziegler. "I couldn't believe that they would be that low. I'm not interested in washers and dryers. I just want them to take care of the problems."
Adds Masington: "I'm not saying that I was shocked that they did it. More saddened. The result that we were looking for is to solve the problem in the neighborhood, not to improve the television that I watch."
Though Adkins, who was present when Merriman made his pitch, says he was taken aback by the offer, chief financial officer Robert Harter thinks Ziegler and Masington misunderstood the gesture. "What we offered these people was nothing more than we've offered other people in the past," he says, stressing that the pitch had nothing to do with the imminent zoning issue. He realizes that having a car dealership as a neighbor isn't always pleasant, Harter explains, which is why Kendall Toyota is eager to compensate in any way possible. In the past, when big construction projects came up on the car lot, the dealership painted some of the nearby homes and provided new roofs. Kendall Toyota has also offered great deals to residents who want to buy a new car, too, he notes. "Our intentions are honorable," Harter adds.
"This was simply Kendall Toyota's way of trying to be a good neighbor," emphasizes Bruce Rubin, a public relations consultant for the dealership. "I think the real problem here is that we have not done a good enough job communicating with the neighbors and letting them know what we are trying to do here.