Trying to eke out a living in your early 20s is rarely an easy task. Compounded with fresh debt and a lack of solid work experience, I decided to parlay my knowledge of cars into making money, taking a job selling cars. It was intended to be a gap job –turned out I liked it and, more importantly, I was good at it. Some customers stick out in your mind. The 1000 watt bombshell with fabulous frontage to whom I sold a convertible. A raven haired beauty who was equally as sharp a negotiator as she was a testament to the female form. Too late in the game, I realized that dating customers was an extremely poor idea – especially if Check Engine lights and alternator problems were frequent. One red haired temptress refused to tell anyone how we met, lest people think she paid me to be her boyfriend through the commission. At 23 years old, I didn’t really care.
Not all notable customers were of the unfair sex. This guy, I chased for over a month. He was waffling between another car from me and a Subaru from across town. The industry is small, I knew the Subaru folks outside of work. On this particular customer, we agreed that whoever made the sale would get steak and the loser would get beans. As far as I was concerned, it was over before it began. They would dine on beans, I decided.
The Subaru boys were making it tough, pointing out to the customer that my new car was not significantly different than the 8 year old example he was trading, it was FWD vs their AWD, and so forth. I countered with tales of piston slap and a higher MSRP after rebates. It’s predictable who won; I wouldn’t be telling this story if I didn’t end up eating ribeye. But that steak came at a price that was dear. Once he had signed on the line that is dotted, I took his trade and parked it in the back, next to a clapped out Lumina and a Caravan that was leaking all its fluids.
Within an hour I was paged to my office for a phone call. “Hi. This is [customer]. I want to return my car.” Resisting the urge to groan out loud I mentally dug into every sales lesson I ever attended. I asked him what he most liked about the car. I asked him why he kept his current car for so long. I talked about buyer’s remorse.
It didn’t matter. “I’ll be there in about 20 minutes.” Damn. “OK.” I said, using a tone generally reserved for heart attack patients. So I rushed over to the office and explained what’s going on. Not without reason, the manager’s first question was “Where’s his trade?” “Out back, with the rest of the ones we took in today.” It dawned on me now if we explained that the trade was already sold to a wholesaler, it would muddy the waters enough that he probably would go away. Besides, it’s not like we had a return policy anyway.
Usain Bolt in the 100m did not move as quickly as I did. The body shop manager quickly saw what was up and opened the doors, first to the garage, then to the paint booth some 50ft inside. Comfortably ensconced by DuPont and Sherwin-Williams, the traded car had effectively vanished from the face of the earth.
The customer showed up in a cloud of dust and boiling brake fluid. It’s safe to say he did his best Andretti impersonation on the way to the dealership. We had a sit down. It turned out that Subaru called him on his mobile shortly after he left our lot and talked him into making the call back to us. Fair enough; I probably would have done the same thing. That customer returned thrice in seven years, buying a car each time, Check Engine lights be damned. God only knows how many referrals he sent. And that steak? Knowing that I beat the competition not only in the initial sale but also in their attempt to turn the tables made it taste that much better.
Matthew Guy buys and sell cars, he tweets as Matthew the Car Guy (@matthewkguy) and writes for the British website Carthrottle.com