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6/20/11

Tales from the car lot - my stint as a car saleman (and what you need to know about car sales)

Since I am starting a new job this week, I would like to share with you a story from a previous career.  While I was getting ready to move to Idaho, and when I first arrived, I worked as a car salesman.  I was fortunate enough to experience the sales environment in a California dealership as well as an Idaho dealership.  While sales strategies differed, one thing is clear:

Being a crook is universal.

I got the job at a Southern California dealership (rhymes with "Breast" Chevrolet...) because my friend's dad worked there.  I was told if I worked hard, and was good at what I did, I'd make a lot of money.  What I didn't learn, until after a few weeks, that "what I did" was try to scam people out of as much money as possible for sub-standard cars.  It doesn't matter if you're selling Toyota, Chevrolet, Ford, etc.  The car itself doesn't matter.  Cars don't sell cars, salesmen do.

One movie I would recommend for everyone to watch is Suckers.  It's a horrible 90's movie, but it rings fairly true about what goes on at a car dealerships.  Used cars are marked up thousands of dollars.  You can talk them down $3,000 and they're still fleecing you.  Dealerships prey on people who don't do their research, don't know how to negotiate, and don't know how to simply walk away, even when they know they're getting taken advantage of.

Salesmen are taught from the beginning: commission is king.  The more profit you make on the car, the more you get paid.  Sell high, get a big paycheck.  I was put into training classes to learn how to doubletalk, how to answer questions without really answering them, and clouding a customer's judgement enough where they think THEY actually one-upped YOU and got the best deal possible.

My former workplace: Aug-Sep 2010
I went to a bar after work one night, and ran into my SoCal sales manager.  After a few drinks, he told me something I will never forget:

"Brandon, one thing you have to understand about selling cars:  We club baby seals for a living.  It's a horrible profession, but damn those lil pelts sell for a lot of money.  Just get over it, live with it, and club away."  He toasted 'to clubbing baby seals' and I turned in my resignation the next day.

I'm all about making money, but I don't want to take advantage of others in order to make a living. 

When I moved to Idaho, jobs were scarce.  I applied to the local Chevy dealership up here, since I had a good knowledge of selling cars.  This place had a good reputation, and seemed more interested in building long-lasting relationships instead of drugging and raping ever wallet that entered the door like the SoCal dealership did.

This Idaho dealership focused more on building repeat customers.  Yes, they still made a LOT of money on every car they sold, but were slightly less sleazy about it.  Gone were the days of selling a $20k car that's only worth $10k.  Now they were only $15k...  "Because we care."  (ha)

The main thing I learned from this dealership was the art of goofing off.  When assigned to go to a women's convention to hand out roses (and business cards), two of the other three salesman decided to flirt instead of work.  One went as far as getting a facial from a cute girl, just so he can sit and talk to her for 10 minutes.  Instead of using his charms to sell a car, he used his charms to get a phone number.

Or maybe he's just into getting facials and eyebrow waxing.  There were talks about that amongst some of the other salesman, and this guy was a few steps beyond the normal metrosexual...

Another fun activity to pass the time was 'decorating' some of the newer salesman's cars.  When you have 5 salesman on a lot, and only one has a customer, the 4 "bored" people would often find #5's car and decorate it with things laying around.  I can't tell you how many times I could find Vaseline on my door handles, or one of my tires missing.

Oh, don't get me wrong.  We worked too.  When we had customers, we would hustle, and say all the right things to make them think THIS was the car for them.  Yes, you're looking for a fuel-sipping car that seats seven, but this little hatchback has A NINE-SPEAKER SURROUND SOUND SYSTEM!!!!  Oooohhh...

We also tried to stay efficient while goofing off.  To your right, you can see two salespeople fooling around, but also talking about techniques to downplay the value of a customer's trade-in vehicle.  (The way dealerships make the most money is by offering you $7,000 for your car that's worth $10,000, and then selling it for $12...)

"Oh, but it needs work.  Look how dirty it is under the hood..."

"The tires aren't wearing at an even rate.  We can't sell it like this (BS), we are going to need to put a brand new set of tires on it..."

"Do you smoke in the car?  Have you ever let anyone smoke in your car?  I smell a smoker.  We are going to need to overhaul the interior..."

If you let them, car salesman will snake and hustle every dime they can get out of you.  I should know, I was one.  I didn't like the job, but it puts food on the table.  Even when the food tastes like shame, it still fills your stomach.

I'm glad my new career is more honest.  More worthwhile.  One where I'll be able to sleep at night...
Please Share it! :)

21 witty retorts:

Lady Estrogen said...

I think the WORST part, is that even the dealers at the NEW car dealerships were sneaky - I mean - it's brand freckin' new - why you gotta be like that, yo?!

Pickleope said...

You mean it's not like the Kurt Russel movie "Used Cars" or "Cadillac Man"? My dreams are shattered.

The Angry Lurker said...

Funny and a good insight, used to watch King of Cars.

Al Penwasser said...

Congratulations on your new career! I could never be a salesman. I can always take "No" for an answer (I got used to that in high school).

Whiskey Girl said...

I feel like Hitler shoving the Jews in the ovens telling them everything is going to be ok..... I totally follow you on the baby seal thing. It sucks.

The Simple Dude said...

I've always dreaded buying cars but have also been pretty hard nosed about it when I did, not taking any of their double-talk.

Fortunately I bought my most recent vehicle at a dealer where I knew a sales person personally. We had worked together in the past and I had helped her close some big dollar deals so she felt she owed me. Which really only meant she was honest with me - but that was enough.

SD
www.TheSimpleDude.com

The Minute Man's Wife said...

I just bought a used car from a dealership six weeks ago... I feel a little sick now.

A Beer for the Shower said...

Car salesmen hate me. I AM prepared, and chances are good I know just as much about the car as they do or more. When I got my Mustang, the price was actually misprinted on the cars.com ad. I printed it out, talked to the manager, and they verified that they HAD to sell it to me at that price, but only if I bought on the spot. They didn't think I'd do it, and went to fix the ad. I paid in cash. What I spent was $5,000 below kelly blue book value. The real price that they wanted, in fact, was $8k MORE than the blue book. Suckers.

Not the Hero said...

What gets me is that with just a "little" research you can throw a wrench into a salesman's game.

I went in pretending to not know jack shit about the car I was looking for. I caught him in a lie, then another, then another. Finally I just asked for a different salesman.

When I got the new salesman he didn't lie. He was honest about how much the car was worth and how much the mark-up was, he told the truth. I bought the car, he still made money.

Astronomy Pirate said...

My truck has lasted me forever, so I haven't had the pleasure of a car dealership for myself yet. I went with my mom recently, and I have a friend who sells cars, so I know a good amount of the game. Heck, I'll shoot them down for all their worth. I don't even need a radio in my car, I believe in actually being aware of your surroundings when driving, and a huge part of that is audio input (horns, sirens, ect.)

Alice X said...

Never trust a used-car salesman, scratch that, never trust a New-car salesman, nope scratch that, just Never trust a car salesman. Capiche?

Leeanna said...

Thanks for the insight even though I already knew car salesmen were crooked. No matter who you take with you, like your dad, hubby, or even the family dog. You're gonna to be taken. It's the way things are in life.

Charlene said...

I bought one new car in my life. That car is 15 years old with 57K miles on it. Dealing with car dealers is why I've not bought a new car in 16 years.

Zombie said...

I never buy from dealerships. I always buy from craigslist. lol.

D4 said...

Dammit, I'm scared as hell to TRY to buy a car now. How messed up is that.

The Empress said...

The whole car dealership racket is just another form of legalized crime. And while no doubt there are some decent and honest car sales people out there, I think this post highlighted the sad reality of what really goes on when a potential buyer walks into their shark tank. Thanks for sharing!

Aaron M. Gipson said...

I have failed miserably at every single sales job I have ever had for the very reasons you just described. I am all for making money but not for taking advantage of people. One of the sales jobs I had was at a place called TruGreen Chemlawn that I believe is a national franchise. I would have to call people in their homes, tell them I saw how crappy their lawns looked and offered to charge them $100 a month to spray chemical that was chemically identical to cat pee on their grass...yeah I didn't end up staying too long...

Looking forward to hearing some cool stories from your new job though, man!

Shutterbug said...

Used car salesmen can be sleazy...

Dale said...

I'm so glad you wrote this post, it's SO intimidating to go into a car dealership. The last car I bought was pre-negotiated and I was just going in to pick it up and sign the paperwork and all of a sudden it was totally different and 3 grand more. I had to have a guy friend drive and hour and re-negotiate everything to get the original deal. It was so frustrating and I felt completely bullied. I actually received an apology call from the manager but I'll never buy a car there again. It was refreshing to hear your funny realistic stories as a car salesman. Nice post

Dale :)

Thank, Q said...

Wow! I never knew the attitudes of car salesmen were like that. I knew some people were out to get you, but I didn't know that the mentality was actually taught. BTW, Vaseline on the door handle sounds disgusting.

Anonymous said...

I work for a National Corporate Leasing Company Resale Center. We basically co own the car with the company for the entire lease term. The cars must be maintained, and inspected 3 times per year.Our cars have below average to above average miles, but they are extremely clean and reliable. We then sell them at a Dealer Direct Pricing concept. We base our prices on what the car is worth, not how much we have in it. We are not paid bonus for higher profit deals. We are only paid bonus based on the number of cars we sell. We show the NADA price, and the discount, which shows the direct buy price. We then give the actual value of the trade, and the payment based on the credit application you have filled out (only if you want to) if you have your own financing, we will only offer ours if it is better than the financing offer ou have from your lender.We don't flip people to payment only. If you are trying to sell your trade, we hold it for a resonable period of time, and if you get a buyer for more, we handle the paperwork and title work for you. We are asked to let the manangement know if a car is crappy, so it can go to the auction. If a car has a problem,we tell the customer. We are never chastised for walking around a car, or for telling the customer if we suspect a car has a problem. we offer a CARFAX report without being asked, and if it shows damage, wee circle it and show it to the customer. We never refuse a request to let a mechanic look at a car...I have more customers than I can keep up with, and tons of repeat customers. To assume that all salesmen are jerks and crooks happens to be calloused and flat out untrue.

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