There’s not really any sense, I’ve learned, in trying to be subtle in this business. Bull in a china shop, full speed ahead, damn the torpedoes is the modus operandi – at least when handling the antics of competing dealers.
Fresh out of business school, where my head was crammed with strategies and theories whilst my appetite was sorted with mucho beer and pizza, I had tons of ideas and concepts I wanted to employ. “Build your brand”, they said. “Be top of mind”, they exhorted. In my early efforts to do both, I took full advantage of all opportunities, earning business and pissing off competitors.
Being employed at the smaller of the two dealerships representing our brand only strengthened my resolve. They were the rich cousin but I wasn’t about to let that stop me. I was in my early 20s and knew (knew!) that I was the best car salesman … in the world.
Towards the end of the calendar year, the other dealership decided to rent space at the local shopping mall to park some cars and build awareness. Privately, I thought it was a great idea. Publicly, I slagged it off with haughty derision in order to mirror the reaction of our Dealer Principal. I think he was just angry that he hadn’t thought of the idea first.
I hated the mall. My girlfriend at the time did not. In pursuit of a “healthy relationship”, I agreed to go shopping with her there on a Friday evening. When we walked through the South Entrance, I saw the cars on display by the competing dealer. I don’t know how much the other guys were paying for space in the mall but if the number of people milling about was any indication – peering through windows, kicking tires, looking at window stickers – it sure seemed like the expenditure was worth every penny.
Then it struck me. “I sell the same damn cars!” I blurted out to no one in particular. While the existence of two competing dealers for the same brand was a huge source of disgruntlement for me, in reality most customers simply didn’t know the difference. I decided to use this to my advantage; and I had just picked up a box of shiny new business cards! How fortuitous. I ran out to my generously supplied dealer SUV to get them.
On returning, I talked to as many of the potential customers as humanly possible. Some were interested. Some treated me as if I were a soiled reader of Playboy Magazine. When I ran out of people to tempt, I plastered all of the competitor’s cars there in the mall with my business cards. They were everywhere. Legend has it that the owner of the other dealership ranted, raved, and generally frothed when he found out what I had done. It’s a documented fact that nine direct sales resulted because of my quick thinking. That’s nine that the other guys didn’t get. Fabulous.
After telling the Dealer Principal what I had done, he roared with laughter.
“Maybe displaying cars in the mall is not such a bad idea … especially if they’re spending money to send us customers!”
I had to agree. Around here, damn the torpedoes is a fine approach.
Matthew Guy buys and sell cars. He tweets as Matthew the Car Guy (@matthewkguy) and writes for the British website for young enthusiasts, Car Throttle.