When Charles Dumont and his wife moved from California to Washington state in 2007, he figured he was going to ease into retirement after a 40-year career as an automotive technician. Little did he know he was about to launch a new career as an award-winning counter professional.
Shortly after moving to Belfair, Washington, a sign on the back of a NAPA Auto Parts truck caught his eye. The sign was an ad seeking a part-time driver. At Dumont’s stage in life, that sounded perfect.
“I thought to myself, ‘That’s what I’m doing,” Dumont recalls. “Part-time driver – no responsibility.”
Dumont got the job. However, to his surprise (and to the delight of his future customers) NAPA put him behind the counter instead of behind the wheel of a delivery truck. A few months later, the store closed, but NAPA found a position for him at a store in Shelton, Washington.
Even though it wasn’t what he expected, the job was a blessing from the start. The extra income helped Dumont and his wife get through the Great Recession of 2008 and 2009. And as fate would have it, Dumont turned out to be a darn good counter professional. His dedication and skills have earned him several awards, the latest of which is the 2020 NAPA/ASE Parts Specialist of the Year honor.
“Charles has numerous credentials he can be very proud of,” Ron Ramey, manager of NAPA store 389 in Shelton, wrote in a reference letter for Dumont’s NAPA/ASE Parts Specialist of the Year nomination. “However, I feel his strongest attribute is his willingness to go the extra step to service our valued customers, and he has a tremendous knack for developing customer loyalty. Many of our customers are greeted by Charles using their first name, and his following is one to be proud of. Many times he will have a line waiting for him and no other salesperson will suffice.”
Dumont’s approach to customer service is fairly simple.
“My philosophy is greet them, understand their needs and do whatever you can to take care of them,” Dumont says. “That’s why I have a good following. They know if it can be done, I will do it for them.”
Dumont’s background as an ASE-certified technician and his commitment to ongoing education have put him in a strong position to serve his customers. He has completed more than 1,300 online training modules in the NAPA AutoTech program. And his credentials, as Ramey points out, are impressive. In addition to earning his ASE P2 Automobile Parts Specialist certification, he has maintained his ASE Master Technician status, and he holds active ASE certifications for:
- Collision Repair – Mechanical & Electrical Components (B5)
- Automobile Service Consultant (C1)
- Auto Maintenance and Light Repair (G1)
- Medium-Heavy Truck – Preventive Maintenance Inspection (T8)
“I am very proud to wear my ASE patches on my uniform sleeve every day while helping customers,” Dumont wrote in his application for the NAPA/ASE Parts Specialist of the Year award. “I get questions and comments about them every day. Customers return to me over and over to discuss concerns with their vehicles because they recognize that both NAPA and ASE stand for knowledge and commitment. I discuss their vehicles’ symptoms with them and recommend different ways to pinpoint what the possible problem might be. That contributes to solid sales and happy customers.”
According to Ramey, Dumont is the store’s top retail salesman “month in and month out.” A big reason for that is Dumont’s ability to communicate and connect with the region’s Latino population.
Dumont spent much of his childhood in South America. His father, a successful life-insurance salesman, “decided to pioneer life insurance in developing countries,” Dumont explains. That took the Dumont family to Columbia, Venezuela and other Latin American countries.
“We would spend our childhood touring around those countries, and really absorbing the culture,” Dumont recalls. “My Spanish got really good. When you’re young and you’re immersed in it, you learn really quick.”
As an adult, Dumont’s Spanish skills fell by the wayside. However, that all changed when he started working at NAPA in 2007.
“I noticed that there was a steady stream of Latino customers coming in and trying to communicate,” Dumont recalls. “So I went to the local community college and took a Spanish refresher course for a semester.”
Dumont often gets tamales “or some other tasty treat” as a thank-you from his Spanish-speaking customers.
Dumont’s Spanish quickly returned to form. And as word quickly spread that someone at the local NAPA store “wanted to help them,” as Dumont puts it, Spanish-speaking customers began seeking him out. The region has a growing Latino population – many of them agricultural workers – and Dumont’s ability to understand them has been “a definite advantage over the local competition,” according to Ramey.
Says Dumont: “I continue to have Spanish-only-speaking people that I’ve never seen before showing up at my counter asking, “Eres tú quien habla español?’ – ‘Are you the one who speaks Spanish?’”
In his 13 years at NAPA, Dumont has developed “many strong and wonderful relationships” with the area’s Spanish-speaking customers. On many occasions, Dumont has visited their homes to help them find a part or diagnose a problem with their vehicle. And his customers aren’t shy about showing their appreciation. It’s not uncommon for a wife or relative of his Latino customers to show up at the store with a warm baking pan full of tamales, enchiladas “or some other tasty treat.”
Dumont’s positive impact extends well-beyond his customer base. At the suggestion of one of his firefighter customers, Dumont recently became a member of the local fire district’s Community Response Team. To join the team, he had to complete training on first aid, CPR, disaster response and incident command. As a member of the volunteer team, he provides support to firefighters and paramedics during emergencies (but he doesn’t put out fires).
Dumont is a sustaining member of LeMay – America’s Car Museum in Tacoma, and has been volunteering there since the museum opened in 2012. The museum is “a nonprofit organization chartered to preserve and interpret the history and technology of the automobile and its influence on American culture,” according to its website.
The facility boasts a fully functioning NAPA AutoCare Center, featuring multiple bays outfitted with NAPA parts, tools and equipment to service the museum’s collection of vehicles. That’s where Dumont helps restore the vintage automobiles that come to the museum.
One of the “more interesting” projects that Dumont encountered at the museum was a vintage Corvette Stingray. When the vehicle came to Dumont, he was told it had “a charging problem and they had replaced everything electrical on the car.”
Using his voltmeter, Dumont saw that the battery wasn’t charging at all. And then he heard “a little humming noise coming from the fender.”
“I looked and there was a voltage regulator, and when I saw it, I knew what the problem was,” Dumont explains. “What happened is those voltage regulators have to be grounded, and when they restored this car, they painted the fender and they mounted the voltage regulator on a painted fender so it couldn’t ground. So I took it off, scraped away a little bit of the paint underneath it and bolted it back down and boom, it was charging again.”
A Full-Time Commitment
What Dumont initially thought would be a part-time gig – a bridge to retirement – is a full-time job at a store that’s about an hour away from his home. He says he doesn’t mind the commute, though. “It’s a nice hour, because it’s a drive down a gently winding road with no traffic.”
Clearly, Dumont doesn’t do anything halfway. Ramey, his supervisor, marvels at Dumont’s “desire to become the best at his profession.” “NAPA and ASE training are a big part of his success,” Ramey says. “Coupled with his enthusiasm, the sky is the limit for Charles, and I am fortunate to have him on my team.”