By on November 3, 2012

A wad of hundred dollar bills flew through the air, landing in the center of the conference room table. It was the start of a new month, and the Dealer Principal was making what was to be our main focus quite clear.

“You’ve got an entire row of used cars out there that hasn’t moved in far too long,” he thundered at the sales staff. Producing a sheaf of papers from his jacket pocket, a list featuring about a dozen vehicles that had been on the lot approaching 100 days appeared. “These are all in Recon as we speak, getting turned into cream puffs. That cash goes to the person who sells the most off this list.” A bounty,  then. Game on.

I enjoyed selling second-hand vehicles off the lot, if for nothing else than earning the favorable commission when compared to most equivalent new models. Knowing the commission percentage of gross profit for new and used, and there was often a lot more profit built into the asking price of something from the left-hand side of the parking lot, I tended to sell as many used as possible. The smell of a new car is alluring; the smell of money even more so.

One month the Sales Manager inexplicably purchased from auction several used examples of a compact sedan when we already had a plethora of the exact same new sedans sitting unsold up in the back lot. Logically, the sales staff latched onto the used models like a newborn latches onto its mother. Equivalent car, more profit, more commission – what wasn’t to like? Predictably, a cease-and-desist order was issued by way of a bounty on the new models, causing all sales staff to gravitate towards those cars in search of extra cash.

This particular month, though, there would be no easy way to earn the extravagantly offered bounty. From the list, I recall a wretched station wagon in a horrible shade of green. A plain, no frills hatchback with mismatched side moldings – different textures from the factory. A sorry looking minivan whose interior appeared to have been previously inhabited by an angry lynx. Whatever the Sales Manager was smoking when he bought these cars to create this fiasco, he should have shared,  it must have been good.

Recon is a short term for reconditioning – the wash bay, in less glamorous terms. At the dealer, nearly everything looks nice and shiny. Those dozen cars in question? They all just got sprayed down by the pimply faced, minimum wage teenager in the wash bay before going up on the 3 foot high display overlooking the main road. Every one of those vehicles had languished on the lot for a reason. As a customer, it pays to look at and study used cars with the same care as if they are plutonium filled tax forms.

Three of the twelve was enough for me to earn the bounty. The wagon went to a local delivery company who mercifully painted it in their livery colors. The base model penalty box was pawned off to a new college student who was excited to simply have wheels. I vividly remember selling the mechanically sound but tattered minivan to a very nice family who apparently cared not one whit about the shredded interior. Perhaps they had a pet lynx of their own.

When shopping, go ahead and open the hood. Open the trunk. Open the doors. Listen to Steve Lang. I took pride in being as up front as humanly possible with those customers because referrals and repeat customers are the key to being successful in this business. An ounce of prevention is indeed worth a pound of cure.

Matthew buys, sells, repairs, & races cars. He is fond of making money and offering loud opinions. He can be found on Twitter @matthewkguy

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7 Comments on “The Car Salesmanuscripts: Bounty Hunters...”

  • avatar

    Back when I was selling shoes in a department store in college, I wish the management had offered a bounty on some of the uglier – slow selling shoes.

    • 0 avatar

      Dan I worked my way through high school selling ugly shoes and telling the ladies they were the latest from Paris. Who would not believe an apple cheeked kid? We called those dogs “spiffs” and they brought as much as 3 bucks extra to your pay check. Good dough when you were making 75 cents an hour. Needless to say I am old.

  • avatar

    They must have had something like a bounty on the brown Durango the dealer who sold me my last three vehicles had. The salesmen called me monthly trying to get me to bite. Sorry, but I don’t want a shit colored SUV, car, or truck. If it was blue, black, red, silver, maybe, but I hated the seats in that generation of the Durango anyway, so I passed on some great offers. That thing sat there on the lot for at least a year, getting more and more sad looking. I always wondered who bought it and if they got it for less than I could have. The last offer I turned down was amazing. A friend of mine almost jumped on it, but for some reason passed on it. I’m sure the color was part of it..

  • avatar

    A buyer can actually get a good deal on a vehicle with a spiff. Often dealers will add a spiff or extra commission cash for salesmen to move a vehicle that has aged on the lot even if they are selling the vehicle at a loss. It is still a better for the dealer than wholesaling the unit.

    A few years ago I got a great deal on a used Toyota Tundra from a local Ford dealer. I asked the salesman if there were any vehicles the dealer was “motivated” to sell, and he said that they had not been able to move the Tundra because “nobody comes to a Ford dealer to buy a Toyota.” I got a great deal on a great truck and the salesman pocketed a spiff for selling an aged unit. Nice win-win deal.

  • avatar

    Back when I was selling you had a job or didn’t. No joke! You move ten units a month or clear off your desk and get the F*** out.
    I’d have loved to work somewhere where they tossed money around like that.

    • 0 avatar

      As a former salesman and then, later, a sales manager I was never particularly thrilled about the whole “spiffs” system.

      In the example given by the writer I can see some benefit to it but, in all the years I was involved in the biz, almost always I saw the spiff money going to people who had really just accidentally sold a “bonused” vehicle rather than specifically pointing a customer at it.

      Philosophically the system makes little sense to me. “OK guys, listen up. You have completely failed to do your job with these 10 vehicles so now I am going to reward you better just do what I actually pay you for.”

      If anything it makes more sense to incentivize selling newer stuff but, of course, that doesn’t really work either.

      No, my system (well, I didn’t invent it but is the one I worked) was this….at the end of the month the top 9 salesmen (we usually had 10) got to choose their demo ride for the next month (top guy 1st choice obviously) and #10 was fired unless he had a truly valid excuse and/or it was a genuine 1-off bad month for a normally good producer.

      As for “landmarks” we just didn’t worry about them too much. As soon as a car hit 90 days it was flagged and the managers tried to ensure any suitable punter was persuaded to look at it. If it was still there at 100 days it went off to the auction, no exceptions.

      On average we usually got most of our money back on them, often even a small profit so, as I’ve said, we didn’t worry too much.

      Of course, the key to the above, as it is to all used vehicle dealing, is to make sure you have it bought at the right price in the first place which all but ensures you don’t get hurt.

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