Confessions of a Car Man


The Street Fighting Car Man

I recently got into an email discussion with a professional sales trainer. Well, it was more of a pissing contest then a discussion. Me, being the smart-ass that I am, accused the guy of exploiting car salesmen and parroting what he thinks the dealer wants to hear. It got a little ugly.

In retrospect, I might have been have gone a little overboard. I tried to nuke him when a simple hand grenade would have done just nicely. Upon examining the guy’s website I found it full of the usual hoopla, the nauseous combination pitchman and tent revival preacher that make most sales trainers the most distasteful people on the planet.

Or at least that’s my opinion.

Maybe it’s my ego, but I think if I spent an hour with a bunch of empty-headed liners I could give them more practical advice on how to survive in this business than this guy could in a month. Why do I think this way?

Sales trainers tend to develop their sure-fire programs in one of two areas. Area one is, “you’ll never have to take an up again”. Since most guys burn out on ups from time to time, this type of training exploits their desire not to have to wait on that goof driving the Volvo with the “Kill Your Television” bumper sticker in the back. The trainers pitch follow-up systems that usually involve ingenious file boxes and notebooks that will turn your up into a loyal, life-long customer. Conveniently, these supplies will have to be purchased from the sales trainer.

Their pitch is simple: trying to make a living taking ups is stupid, and ironically they are correct. Taking ups all your life is stupid. But they forget that in reality most car salesmen are floor-whores. They live and die by the up. That’s just the way it is, and that’s the way it will always be. For every guy who has an owner file large enough to never take an up again, I’ll show you a thousand who make most of their money with referrals and fresh ups.

My point is why spend money and time on a training method that will not work with the vast majority of salesmen? I guarantee you that within two months of the end of training, all that training will be forgotten, and the follow up binders will be at the bottom of a desk gathering dust.

The second area sales trainers use is how to be a “super-closer”. This is a more motivational based method, guaranteed to get you pumped up for at least a couple of weeks. In my opinion, becoming a great closer is not something you can learn from a few training sessions or by reading books, or listening to tapes (gladly sold by the trainer).

Guys become good closers one of two ways: they’ve got a natural ability, or they’ve learned how to be a closer by experience. Many of your great sales Car Men are natural born superstars. But unfortunately you can’t train a guy to be a superstar. Either he is, or he isn’t.

For example: big guys always have an advantage over other salesmen. Their bulk instills a little awe and fear into a customer. Psychologically most customers don’t want to mess with a guy who looks like they can (and might) beat the crap out of them at any moment. If you’re 5’ 5” and 135 pounds, you don’t instill fear. You’ve got to be clever.

Sales techniques can be taught, but usually these techniques are “politically correct”, watered down so nobody gets hurt. They have to be. In a formal setting at in the conference room over at the Holiday in, you can't advise salesmen to avoid Chinese people.

One of my favorite closes involves switching a guy from a new vehicle to a used vehicle. A lot of customers think that you make more money on a new vehicle than a used one simply because a new vehicle is usually more money. If I’m trying to switch a guy from new to a used (a mini-commission vs. a potential pounder), I say this: “To tell you the truth I’d make more money if you purchased the new one, but I think this used one is the best deal for you.” A lot of times this close works because customers never want you to make any money.

Can you imagine that sales trainer with the five hundred dollar suit teaching you that? Or tips on how to quickly get rid of a mooch? Or how to handle a sales manager who’s trying to rip you off? No how, no way.

I like to think of my self as “The Street Fighting Car Man”. I believe the best way to help out most budding Car Men is to give them practical advice that they can use every day on the line. Like it or not selling cars, especially these days, is war.

Now I realize that my comments on The Others might sound negative to those looking at our business from the outside, but as a salesmen you’re going to meet these idiots every day. You might as well know how to handle them. That is not to say you should do anything illegal. The days of tossing trade-in keys on the roof or packing payments are behind us.

One last thing. Is this blog meant to be taken seriously or is it comedy? I realize I sometimes take things to extremes, but there is truth in the core of ever thing I write. When I started writing this, I didn’t want to turn this into a training session. Yes, I’ve survived all these years, but I’m not going to die rich. All I can say is that I’m a great observer of humanity, and I believe passionately in the things I say.

Am I full of shit or what?

Talk to you later,


A Hamburger Story

Jack Dunne was a very dapper looking man. When I first started at Hayward Ford he must have been in his 50’s. If you’ve been keeping track of this blog, Jack is the guy who graciously gave me his “cold call” list on my first day selling cars. His nickname was "The Silver Fox". With a full head of wavy white hair, white pencil-thin mustache and black horn-rim glasses, Jack looked like a real gentlemen. He spoke with a deep baritone voice gave off an air of quiet gentility. Jack also enjoyed drinking.

John Hurtado was a bear of a man about 30. He was the perfect guy if you needed a close because he gave customers the feeling they’d be better off not messing with him. In reality John was a great, even-tempered guy. In the time I knew him I don’t believe I ever saw him angry. Well, I did see him angry once, and that is what this story is about.

One summer day John was busy selling a car. It was around noon and he hadn’t had anything to eat so when he spotted Jack Dunne heading out for lunch he asked him if he’d bring him back a hamburger. Jack said sure. All John had on him that day was a $20 bill. Let me tell you $20 was a lot of money back then, I’d guess close to a $100 in today’s money. Jack took the bill assuring John that a burger and change would not be a problem.

Jack got into his Ford LTD demo and headed down Mission Boulevard to a restaurant called The Ranch. The Ranch was one of two Car Man bars located along Hayward’s auto row. It was a pretty classy place all things considered. Good food, great bar. They had a banquet room that we used for the occasional breakfast meeting. (I've got a great story about that I'll tell you some time.) Car Men felt quite at home at The Ranch, and The Ranch welcomed them with open arms.
Jack Dunne took a seat at the bar and ordered lunch. Along with lunch he ordered a drink. It was a relaxing place, and Jack was in no hurry to return to work, so he ordered another drink. And then another. Somewhere along the line Jack remembered the burger John Hurtado had requested, but not wanting to leave, this is what he did:

Jack ordered the burger and called for a taxi. When the taxi arrived, Jack told the driver to take the burger to Hayward Ford. He gave the driver the balance of the $20 (I guess it would have been around $18.50.) and told him,

“Keep the change.”

Ten minutes later the cab pulls up the driveway at the dealership. The driver got out, went into the showroom and asked, “Anyone here named John Hurtado?” When John appeared, the driver handed him the bag and said, “This is for you.”

At first John didn’t quite know what was happening, but when he opened the bag it became very clear. Jack had fulfilled his promise of a hamburger, but it had cost him a twenty. Word spread quickly. Laughter ensued.

Jack Dunne finally came back to work about 3:00 and in a very good mood. He was treated as a minor hero by all those up to having a good joke. John and Jack had words, but by that time the whole episode was rapidly becoming the stuff of Car Man legend, something far more valuable than a $20 bill... I don’t know if John ever got any of his money back, but I don’t believe he asked Jack Dunne to pick up a hamburger ever again.

For well over thirty-five years this story has survived. Repeated often over a drink and passed around as an example of the “good old days” when Car Men relished a good joke—and could enjoy a couple of drinks at lunch and not get fired.

Talk to you later,


The Up With A Cup

I believe the time has come to have a serious discussion about cups. Being a serious student of the car business and irrational customers, I have spent a good deal of time contemplating the meaning of a customer who has a cup or can in his or her hands. I know what you’re thinking, the guy truly is nuts. Well, perhaps I am, but there’s nothing I can do about it. It’s just the way I am. But nuts or not, I speak the truth—or at least my version of the truth.

Anyway, back to today’s topic. If your up emerges from his car with an aluminum can in his hand, everything should be okay. The can probably came from home and usually signifies nothing more than thirst or an addiction to Diet Coke. As an up you’re good to go. The exception to this rule is if the said can is a beer can, then all bets are off. Believe it or not, I have waited on people with beer cans in their hands, and it can be an ugly experience if you’re not careful. I won’t go into this any more than that other than to say a test drive is definitely a no-no.

But a paper or plastic cup is a very different story.

If you're up emerges from his car with a paper or plastic cup, warning lights and sirens should go off in your brain. Most times a paper cups signify that the person has probably just come from a fast food place or coffee shop and has nothing else better to do. These ups should be approached with caution and in full jack off prevention mode.

The most vulnerable time to become a cup victim is mid-day. If it’s around noon and the up has a McDonald’s cup in his hand, he’s probably just killing a little time before he has to get back to work. The danger in this situation is not only is he killing his time, he’s killing your time too! Don’t get me wrong, you might have a perfectly legitimate prospect there, but make sure you ask the right questions or you might just miss someone else who really wants to buy a car.

Saturday and Sunday mornings bring out the Starbucks cup. The men are usually wearing baggy shorts and flowered shirts, and the women have on ball caps with a ponytail sticking out from the gap above the adjusting strap. Before they head out to Home Depot, the Starbuck up will come in just after you open to do a little warm-up stroking before they go and buy that new shovel they spent most of the last week researching. The problem is they have all day to do this little chore, and they don’t mind spending a good chunk of it with you. Make sure they’re buyers!

Overall I would estimate that about 70% of the cup buyers are not worth talking to. The problem is that you won’t know that until you give them a shot. After all, it’s your job! But with that in mind I don’t recommend you ask pointed questions like, “Unless you’ve got a cup of coffee for me, I’m not talking to you!” or “What’s up with the fucking cup?” These type of questions are not good conversation starters even tough in would be a lot of fun to watch the reaction.

I’m not sure if this little discussion is sound advice or further proof of my rapidly deteriorating mental state. Maybe it’s a little of both. All I can tell you is that I have found all this to be distressingly true, and I hope you will still try to sell the up a car, but—


Talk to you later,


A SUV Proposition

Back in the early 70s during the first gas crisis the market for larger V8 cars went in the dumpster. If you had a Cadillac on your lot, good luck selling it. People were dumping these cars left and right for small cars with little heed to the amount of money they were losing. I mean you could buy a lot of gas for the three thousand dollars you were losing on that LTD you were driving.

Sound familiar?

There was a wholesaler back then that had a wonderful idea. Knowing that The Others have the memory of a gold fish, he gambled that when the gas prices went away and the prices came down, John Q, Public would soon go back to driving the big sleds they had so carelessly dumped only months before.

The guy rented a large fenced-in lot. He took all of his available cash and went around to the dealerships buying very big car he could get his hands on for way back of book. When the lot was full (or perhaps when his money ran out) he sat back and waited. Six months later he made a killing as big cars were suddenly worth big money.

It has crossed my mind that someone with some money and a great deal of testicular fortitude might do the same thing today. It seems to me that sometime in the future, perhaps as early as after the presidential elections, the price of gas will go down, and Americans will once again resume their love affairs with trucks and SUVs.

I’m not going to say that it will be anything like the boom years between 1996 and 2002. I don’t think we’ll ever be able to base our paychecks on Suburban sales again, but I predict there might be a resurgence of sales for these beloved behemoths. Americans still love their boats and trailers, and they need something to tow them. We will still have the soccer moms who wouldn’t be caught dead in a mini-van. If gasoline goes down fifty or seventy-five cents the memory of why they blew all that money on a Prius will go with it.

And someone will make a killing.

Now I will freely admit that I don’t have the money or the testicular fortitude to do what I am suggesting, nor do I think you should fill an empty lot with Yukons or Expeditions. But I am suggesting that if you’re one of the few dealers who hasn’t blown most of your cash just keeping the doors open, you might think of picking up a few SUVs and sitting on them.

I’ve been telling my customers that it’s a great time to buy and SUV, but it’s not a good time to trade one in. I might as well tell them the truth because they’re buried up to their eyebrows anyway. Gas prices may be high, but I still see them looking lovingly at the two Denali’s I have on my lot. All they need to do something stupid and buy one is for something to happen, and if the value of the dollar goes up in the coming months, which might be just the excuse they're looking for.

Am I crazy or what? As the months roll on, it will be interesting to find out if I am wrong or right.

Talk to you later,