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Skunk Breath

It has been a while since I’ve blogged, and I find my fingers itching to ramble aimlessly about something. Anything. I decided to keep it light-hearted; go back in time, to my car selling days, and reminisce about a cold and rainy Saturday in October.

If you have heard that the best time to purchase a vehicle is at the end of the month, you were correctly informed. 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 that 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, lurking under their desks and out of sight from the impending wrath, always sees the money flying around, and their poor, starved mouths water at the sight of the green bundles of wealth that will never be theirs.

Such was the atmosphere at my dealership on the last day of the month, sometime in my third year in sales. 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, willing 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; attempting to give off the appearance that I am just an innocent sales person out for a relaxing walk among the used car inventory.

The dented and rusted Chevy Impala that became my 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 that indicated that this person most likely 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 to almost land in the state of Kansas.

Even in this dense fog of rich perfume, I still had 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, I asked him what vehicle I could find for him.

The driver, in his late teens, and without making 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 thinking, and then I did a thing which 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.

In my defense, I was just experienced enough in the art of reading a customer, 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 him the car, which in truth, was neatly tucked away from our vision, was already sold, but that I would be happy to take his cell number in case a similar Corvette came in soon and I would call him then. I barely felt guilty as I ducked out of 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, I watched as one of our brand-new recruits pulled the Corvette up to the front, and him and Skunk Breath take 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 the guy had credit, nor is it important. The circumstances that transpired were these: the purchaser of the Corvette had just won some lottery sweepstake that netted him $125,000. He paid cash money for the Corvette, and he paid the full price without attempting to negotiate. I sank lower and lower in my chair as a room of some thirty people shifted in their seats to judge me, the veteran of three years, for pre-qualifying a customer.

This is where a story such as this would normally end, but in my case, it was not to be.

Two months later, on a cold December day, I found myself standing on the lot, braving the cold wind and occasional cloud of snow that blew in gusts across the used car lot and down my upturned coat collar. When to my surprise, what should I see pulling into the dealership, but the exact same Corvette? I recognized it immediately, and remembering the previous lesson, jumped on the opportunity.

Skunk Breath was now in the market for a pickup truck. He was not picky, and even a rear wheel drive would suit just fine. There was some resistance when I insisted in going on the test drive with him, but I, 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 I got my way.

A few miles into the test drive, Skunk Breath informed me that he wished to take 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.

Once the large stack of assorted lumber was loaded, things took a suspicious turn when Skunk Breath wished to challenge the truck to see if it had the capability to haul the lumber to his new house out in the country. If the truck hauled it successfully, this was clearly the truck for him, and it was a done deal.

The twenty-five-mile drive gave me plenty of time to build the much-needed relationship that is healthy for a salesperson who is always looking for a new customer. One of the topics was about the purchase of the Corvette, and the fact that the lumber was going to be for a lean-to to park the Corvette, in order to keep it out of the elements of the weather.

During this lengthy test drive, 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, I thought.

With “lot dropping” bygones forgiven and forgotten, I helped unload the lumber, 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.

After this, I was taken on a tour of the newly purchased house. The house was located in a flood area, and for this reason it had been purchased at a very affordable price. I shuttered when I saw the yellowing sheetrock where the flood had reached almost to the ceiling. The smell of mold filled the house, and the porcelain toilet in the bathroom sat on a wooden 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 HD flat-screen TV.

Skunk Breath was happy to inform me that he had been very happy to move out of his mother’s basement. He had quit his job at the deli in the grocery store when he struck it rich, and he now had his own digs. Life was good. The women who had previously ignored him, had magically begun to take notice of him, and although he still had no steady girlfriend, there were several on the hook.

The sun was just setting in the west when we arrived back at the dealership, and only one sales manager and one finance guy remained behind to help finish my car deal once I got back. As we turned onto our street, Skunk Breath decided to make a quick emergency call to his accountant to discuss the transfer of money for this perfect truck. We parked in front of the dealership, and I watched with a sinking feeling, as he, in a heated discussion with the person who was most likely never on the other end of the phone, got in his Corvette and drove off; the job of hauling his lumber out to his house, crossed off his list.

The thirty faces that turned to stare at me at the next Monday morning meeting were anything but judgmental. Instead, faces reddened with humor, knees were slapped, and a few of the more rowdy of my fellow sales team might have actually rolled on the floor with uncontrolled laughter, at the story of the person who had not one, but two chances to close a cash car deal, and failed on both attempts.

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