The Car Salesmanuscripts: Here's My Card
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.
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Thanks.... at the "...in the world" comment I just sent Diet Coke out my nose. Arse. :-)
I got into the 'biz in 1997. I chose GM because I had a '91 Caprice wagon with 260k km on it and everything was original, except 2 starters(?) and the a/c condensor. Had to sell what I believed in. GM still commanded more than 34% market share at the time. Oldsmobiles did well in the affluent, Jewish area where I worked. We worked at a 'one-price' store that had a very high reputation in the 'biz, but stormclouds were on the horizon: 1998 was the last year the Cavalier was the #1 seller in Canada. (Although truth be told, the J-cars collectively outsold the Civic right up to their demise in 2005.) There was the Cutlass gone for a year before the Intrigue showed up. There was the $30k pricetag on a Cavalier convertible. Then the '88 was cancelled, leaving us only with an Impala as the 'big car.' I worked with an old-timer who retired about a year after I started: he had worked there nearly 30 years and had war stories of the dealers glory days. He showed me sales sheets where in September '91, 25 salespeople racked up more than 500 new car sales. The worst guy had sold 9; the best, 25. A 'hat-trick' was common in those days on a Saturday. I think I wrote 2 hat-tricks in my career. The best month the dealer had that I was there was 140, during the first go-round of employee pricing in 2005, I think it was. Spiffs and bonuses were based on 8 and 10 deliveries, not 15 or 20. Not even fleet did that anymore. I built up a clientelle over the years and managed to have a pretty good year in 2007, but then the dealer closed (after 56 years), the victim of a power struggle between a larger GM dealer that wanted to build an auto mall (but never did because they went bankrupt with the real estate investment) and the owners who had import stores that were doing so well, the GM store was really just a piece of nostalgia to keep around. Guerilla marketing? Well, I often took prospects in the Cavalier they were considering and drove them to on of our Toyota stores to test drive the Corolla. CR would collapse, but most of the time it was a sale for the Cavalier: the gutless engine in the Corolla, the hideous cowl shake on uneven bumps in our area and just the general tinniness of the car sold the Cavalier nearly all the time. But when we were shut down and temporarily became a used car dumping ground for the Toyota stores, I tried to sell my first Camry to a referral. My heart was just not in it. I was being too much of a hypocrite. I was violating my own principles, so I sent the General Manager of our main Toyota Store the Jalopnik photo of the 2007 Texas State Fair Toyota NASCAR racing, triple axle trailer, all gussied up with Toyota logos, being towed by a Chevrolet Silverado. Consider that my resignation. For too many years we'd heard the horror stories coming from the Toyota camp: not just the usual coking engines or rust problems with Tacomas, but real nasty issues involving the Rav4 and some of the Lexus SUVs. Now, GM is down to about 4-5% market share in the GTA, of the 43 stores that were in the GMDA 10 years ago, I doubt there are more than 15 left - and none of them are in the central core or downtown where I live. I made the correct decision to get out. There will never again be a time when a $2,400 commision can be made on one vehicle. (The old timer always advised me: get one 'pounder' every month and the rest of the money will take care of itself.) He was right about that. Except when he retired, the internet was just starting.