The story of Erik Hale could be described simply as the American Dream, but there’s nothing simple about Hale.
Most recently, he had been driven by the pursuit of happiness. He sought fulfillment.
Why else would a highly successful car salesman quit his job and start his own company in what has been viewed a dying business?
The 42-year-old behind the pages of Locale Magazine has a story all his own, and it has little to do with the best place to eat a burger or the latest fashion trend.
Hale, a Newport Beach resident, halted a lucrative career at Fletcher Jones Motorcars and bolted for the print industry. He compares it to sitting at a poker table in Las Vegas and pushing all of his chips to the table. He is unabashedly realistic, as he says he went from the frying pan to standing in lava.
In 2010, amid a moribund economy and failing newspapers and magazines, Hale said goodbye to Jones and hello to Locale.
Yet somehow, he made it all work. His product was built from nothing but dreams and scribbled notes on a pad of paper.
He believes his topsy-turvy background paved the way for success. Locale, a lifestyle and culture magazine based in Costa Mesa, has branched out from Orange County with editions for San Diego and Los Angeles within four years.
“The one thing about my life experiences is that every single thing I did seemed to be on some preordained path that got me to where I am now,” says Hale, who is twice divorced and has two children and a 24-year-old girlfriend. “Some people know what they want to be when they are younger. I just took a little longer to bake.”
A child prodigy
“I’m 42 years old,” Hale says. “And I’ve lived in 43 houses.”
Hale is originally from Hughson in the Central Valley, but his family moved around a lot. His father, Otis, was an ordained minister who also worked as a butter-churn operator for Foremost, and his mother, Dena, was a hair stylist. They are now divorced after 40 years.
Even though they were opposites, Hale and his brother, Brandon, who is one year younger, drew closer because of the moving. Erik is the outgoing one and, back then, was a bit of a prodigy. He was gifted enough that he advanced two grades and eventually finished high school at 16.
“I’m a listener, and he’s a talker,” Brandon says.
Erik was always told by teachers he was destined for greatness. The family’s strong belief in God and faith, based in the Assemblies of God church, solidified young Erik’s belief that he could conquer anything in his way.
But Erik soon realized such victories would not come easily.
One of the biggest moves for the Hales came just before Erik’s senior year, while he was playing with his travel baseball team. Erik had to stay with friends when he returned “home” because he found out his family moved to Flagstaff, Ariz. His father moved the family and then notified Erik they were gone.
Erik did his best to remain on his path toward success. He attended Northern Arizona University and became part of the Sigma Chi fraternity at 17.
“That was a mistake,” Hale says of his early partying days. “College lasted about a year for me.”
Soon after, Hale moved on his own to Las Vegas, escaping his feelings of not knowing what to do with his life and a challenging relationship with his father.
He stayed with his uncle, Kenny Smith, and began work as a busboy for a coffee shop at the Las Vegas Hilton. But Hale returned home within a year.
“I was kind of feeling lost,” he says. “I already failed a year at college, even though I was supposed to be a smart kid who graduated from high school at age 16. I partied too much. I already moved out, and I was sitting around thinking about what I would do with my life.”
Hale had a few beers while watching the movie “Stripes,” starring Bill Murray. He still laughs about the movie that convinced him to join the military, a decision that changed his life.
A stop in Kuwait
Hale entered the Army as a petroleum supply specialist. He soon endured a rough first Christmas away from home in 1990 in Germany, where, 10 months into his duty, the majority of his barracks left to fight in the Gulf War.
Hale remained behindas a guard and worked 16-hour patrol shifts. He felt lonely and sad during Christmas. He masked his feelings with alcohol.
Hale still drinks now — but for different reasons, mostly fun.
“I work hard, and I like to play hard,” Hale says.
Hale served in the Army for a little over four years. A tour of Kuwait was a highlight for Hale, who was part of Operation Restore Hope and helped guard the border of Kuwait and Iraq.
‘I had to learn a lesson’
Hale says the key to his story of success comes from his sales background. He was urged by his first mother-in-law to try oil sales because he was such a good talker.
He bombed in his first attempt at car sales. But he thrived with oil sales and earned raises and promotions before moving to Las Vegas again to work. He became no stranger to recruitment from competitors and even car dealership owners.
It wasn’t long before he landed what he thought at the time to be his dream job as a salesman for Ray Beshoff and his Mercedes dealerships.
At 30, after two years with Beshoff, Hale became general sales manager, and was making $25,000 a month. But, by his own admission, Hale became big-headed and acted out.
“I became this lion that no one wanted to deal with,” Hale says. “I lost my job at 30. I had the big car and everything fancy. On top of the world.” He snaps his finger. “And it got taken out from under me.”
Hale had to change his lifestyle as he went from $25,000 a month to $8,000. He went back to work, this time for McKenna as a GSM, and eventually landed a job at Fletcher Jones.
“I had to learn a lesson and swallow my pride and not care about position,” Hale says of working at McKenna. “I had to not care about those things I was told were so important.”
Hale had quite the run at Fletcher Jones, where he says he averaged 42 cars sold each month for the seven years he worked for the dealership in Newport Beach.
Within his first year, he told his brother, who was selling Hondas in San Diego, to join him. Brandon continues to work as a salesman at Fletcher Jones.
They formed a successful team, the Hale Group, with a few others and sold up to 130 Mercedes-Benzes each month, according to Erik.
“In 2006, we sold as many cars as the top 30 Mercedes dealers in the nation,” he says.
But the constant work caused Erik to experience a breakdown in 2008. He was still finding himself, it appeared. He rebounded and continued to sell cars at an amazing rate.
Two years later, he left Fletcher Jones in what he describes as a Jerry Maguire moment because he gave his opinion of what was wrong with the company before he left to start Locale.
“It was kind of an indictment of our staff,” he says. “Looking back, it wasn’t the right thing to do. In 2010, you thought the world was going to end. Everyone was losing their 401(k)s. I think that was a way I dealt with the pressure.”
Erik had always loved magazines, and, with virtually no knowledge of the business, he decided to start Locale.
“When he decides he going to do something, he goes out and just does it,” Brandon says of his brother. “There were people who told him not to get into print, and that just fueled the fire. He just proved them all wrong.”
Hale left a great impression at Fletcher Jones. Garth Blumenthal, the Fletcher Jones general manager, says he would hire him back if there was an opportunity because Hale was such a rare salesman.
“He was not one of those guys who would wait for something to happen,” Blumenthal says. “He went out and always thought outside of the box. He’s creative. The way he thinks and develops business is quite unique.”
Blumenthal says Hale embraced social media early on and adapted well with the times to help sales. He also calls Hale a tremendous salesman and says he was impressed with Hale’s ability to thrive in such a challenging business as magazines.
Hale being in charge of his own business made sense to Blumenthal.
“He spent some time working in a management role with us, and ultimately, he likes being his own boss,” Blumenthal says. “He likes being able to control his own destiny.”
Hale refers to the companies who advertise in his magazine as “partners.” He refers to himself as “a travel guide for locals” and doesn’t always follow the rules of journalistic ethics.
“I never looked at myself as a journalist,” Hale says. “I like to write. But I’m an entrepreneur. What I offer businesses and my partners is that I’m not coming in to do a review. I’m encouraging people to try it out. Journalistic integrity has a lot more to do with news than it has to do with reporting culture.
“I’ll write if I think a place is a good spot and it’s a good fit for our magazine. A portion of those are those who advertise with us. And if I didn’t include them, I might be a great journalist, but I would be a horrible entrepreneur.”
This is not to say Locale’s rise was easy or based on getting in good with local restaurants. Hale worked long hours to build Locale and received great help from Ashley Hickson, the magazine’s co-founder.
The two have worked well together.
“He is extremely good at selling at the businesses,” Hickson says. “I was very good about the logistics. It seemed like a natural fit. It was easy to be passionate to do well.”
For the first edition, Hale wrote the majority of the stories, shot the photos and acquired advertisers. He also delivered the magazines, driving all over Orange County in his Jetta.
He later came up with a concept: to “hire” unpaid editorial. The majority of writing and photography in Locale is made up of young up-and-comers who want to get their names out and are willing to work for free. The magazine introduces each editorial worker with a short bio toward the front of the edition.
With the magazine, Hale tries to stay ahead of trends and writes about the places to eat in Orange County. Past editions have also featured meaningful charities, local music and local fashion.
Locale, which comes out quarterly, is set to have another OC issue released July 1, and, as always, there will be a release party, this one July 3 at Newport Dunes. There will much to celebrate: Since the last party at the Triangle in April, Locale has seen an increase of over 30 new advertisers. The OC magazine has added 68 pages.
Hale is not making more money than he did with Fletcher Jones, but he says he is on his way.
“I feel extremely happy, but never at peace,” he says. “I’m happy and I feel fulfilled. I love my place in the community. Do I have bad days? Hell, yeah, I have bad days. I work more than I did at Fletcher Jones, but I love what I do.”