It has been a while since I’ve blogged, and my fingers are itching to ramble aimlessly about something. Anything. Maybe I’ll keep it light-hearted; go back in time, back to my car selling days, reminisce about a cold and rainy Saturday in October of 2013.
If you have heard that the best time to purchase a vehicle is at the end of the month, you heard correctly. The pressure that envelopes a car dealership, from owners to management, and from the sales team to finance, is so thick that a General Manager might almost miss the bundle of one-hundred dollar bills the owner is hurling in his direction as a bonus incentive to close the last few car sales in order to hit the monthly goal. He might almost miss the stack of cash through the tension, but the sales team, hiding beneath their desks and out of sight from the impending wrath, always see the money flying around, and their poor, starved mouths water at the sight of the green bundles that will never be theirs.
Such was the atmosphere at my dealership on the last day of the month on that October day. I needed one more sale to hit twenty, thereby holding, for another month, the cherished throne as Salesperson Of The Month. I was hunkered down inside an old red F-150, somewhere in row three of our used trucks section, trying to will some unsuspecting customer to drive down that specific aisle so I could appear from thin air, hands in my pockets, pretending I didn’t see the vehicle moving in my direction, giving off the appearance that I am just an innocent salesperson out for a relaxing walk.
The dented and rusted Chevy Impala that became my only hope, was dragging its rear bumper on the concrete. Exhaust fumes floated thick and gray from behind a trunk that was tied down with a bungee cord. The donut tire on the rear left side was just another in a long line of clues indicating that this customer couldn’t afford to buy lettuce on a whopper. The final clue came when he cracked the driver side window and a thick cloud of what smelled like skunk fart floated out and lifted me high enough that I got a nice overhead view of my surroundings.
Despite the fog of skunk perfume, I still held out a tiny morsel of hope in the salvation of my last sale. I stuck my hand out toward the four-inch cracked window and, receiving no hand in return, asked my new best friend what vehicle I could find for him.
The driver, a boy in his late teens, careful to avoid eye contact, told me he was interested in the Corvette with 17,000 miles, at that time listed for $44,000. I did some quick math, and then I made the mistake that my General Sales Manager, watching from the sales desk, would use as an example of what not to do, in future meetings for years to come.
If there is a defense to be made for me, I was just experienced enough in reading new customers to know that this person most likely had little to no credit and, after a long test drive he would go sit in the finance office until it was determined that he indeed, did not have the necessary credit to purchase this vehicle. By the time all this transpired, the dealership would be closed, and I would lose that opportunity to hit my last car sale.
I told Mr. Skunk Breath that the Corvette, which in truth was in the shop getting detailed, was already sold. And I told him that I would be happy to take his cell number in case a similar Corvette came in soon. I barely felt guilty as I ducked out of my GSM’s sight and began scanning all three entrances to the lot, in case a more “qualified” customer had appeared while I was coughing skunk farts.
Imagine my surprise when, a few minutes later, from the safety of the same used F-150, I watched as one of our brand-new sales hires pulled the Corvette up to the showroom, and Skunk Breath and he took off on a test drive.
I didn’t get my final car sale, but my ears burned at the Monday morning meeting when the new guy was hailed as a hero, and a serious example was made of me and my smooth “lot drop” from the previous Saturday.
I will never know for sure if Skunk Breath had credit, nor is it important. Here is what happened… Skunk Breath had just won a lottery sweepstake that netted him $125,000. And he paid cash money for the Corvette, paying the full price without negotiating. I sank lower and lower in my chair as a room full of Managers and sales staff shifted in their seats to judge me for pre-qualifying a customer.
For most, the story would end here. For me, it was not to be. Two months later, on a cold, December day, I was once again outside, this time braving the cold wind and gusts of snow. When, to my surprise, what should I see pulling into the dealership? I recognized Skunk Breath and his Corvette immediately and, remembering the previous lesson about lot dropping, and with the rookie salesperson who had sold the Corvette being long fired, I jumped quickly onto the opportunity.
This time Skunk Breath was in the market for a pickup truck. He was not picky, stating that even a rear-wheel-drive would suit him just fine. I did some quick calculations, decided he probably still had about $60,000 left over from his lottery winnings, and picked out a used truck for him. There was some resistance when I insisted on going on the test drive with him, but knowing that on this very slow winter day, the very same Manager would be watching from his exact same spot behind the desk, I persisted, and Skunk Breath caved.
A few miles into the test drive Skunk Breath informed me that we would be taking the truck to a local lumber company to see if the lumber he had bought the day before would fit into the bed of the truck. I agreed, in my defense, reluctantly. Once the large stack of assorted lumber was loaded, however, things took a suspicious turn. Skunk Breath now wanted to challenge the truck’s power to see if it had the capability of hauling the lumber to his new house. If the truck passed the test, this was clearly the truck for him, and the sale was a done deal.
The twenty-five mile drive gave me plenty of time to build on the much-needed relationship expected between salesperson and customer. One of the topics that was discussed was the purchase of the Corvette, and the fact that the lumber was going to be used to build a lean-to for Corvette, in order to keep it out of the weather elements.
I looked the other way while Skunk Breath lived up to his name by breaking in his new truck with several hits on his skunk pipe. Anything for a sale, right?
With lot dropping bygones forgiven and forgotten, I helped unload the lumber at the newly-purchased house, and having sufficient experience in the world of construction, I stayed an extra hour, instructing Skunk Breath on how to erect the lean-to properly. Next, I was given a tour of the new digs. The house was located in a flood area, and for this reason had been purchased at a very affordable price. I tried to withhold judgement when I saw the yellowing sheetrock where the most recent flood had reached almost to the ceiling of the house. The smell of mold filled the air. The porcelain toilet in the bathroom sat on floor that was rotting away but would be replaced soon. The two highlights at the newly purchased house were a brand-new leather sofa, and on the opposite wall, a brand new ten foot flat-screen HD TV.
Skunk Breath joyfully informed me that the move out of his mother’s basement was long overdue. He had also quit his job in the deli at the local grocery store when he struck it rich. Life was good. The women, who had previously ignored him, had magically begun to take notice of him again, and although he still had no steady girlfriend, there were several nibbling at the hook.
The sun was sinking low in the west when we neared my car dealership. By now, the strange foreboding I had been experiencing in the pit of my stomach was a full-fledged inferno of warning signals, but I squashed them away. I would get this sale, come floods or high water, no pun intended.
As we turned onto our street, Skunk Breath had to make a quick phone call to his accountant to discuss the transfer of money for his new truck. We parked in front of the dealership and I watched with a sinking feeling as he, in a heated discussion with the phantom person on the other end of the phone, got in his Corvette and drove off, the job of hauling lumber out to his new digs crossed off his list.
The faces of the managers and sales staff that stared at me at the Monday morning meeting were anything but judgmental. Instead, faces reddened with humor, knees were slapped, and a few of the more rowdy of them actually rolled on the floor with uncontrolled laughter at the story of the salesperson who had not one, but two chances to close a cash car deal, and failed on both attempts.