Saturday, July 18, 2009

The art of the sale

Having little firsthand experience with car dealers until this week's automobile shopping, I was amused (and frustrated) by the performance aspect of the negotiation and potential transaction. The way these men and women behave is extremely theatrical. The process is one big show with the express purpose of persuading the consumer to purchase a vehicle at the highest price possible.

Wednesday night I got The Two-Faced Professional. He started all chummy and casual, but then he got to asking what I thought my car would fetch as a trade-in. I threw out a figure that I'd seen in the Kelly Blue Book and a higher amount that was floated by a saleswoman. He practically called me a liar or a thief for daring to think that I should receive such a price for my heap.

He pressed on and came up with a final figure that was easily beyond what I was willing to spend. Then he walked away to talk over any potential discount with the manager. He returned much later with a price that was a jaw-dropping $3500 lower, although this was a "late night special" that expired the moment I walked out the door. (Yeah right.) He worked it and kept putting the screws to me and my dad, but I hadn't intended to buy that evening and wasn't prepared to pull the trigger even with such a tempting offer.

Outside the heat of the moment it was pretty clear how ridiculously jacked up their price was, so the dramatic impact of the cost cutting--with tax and title he was offering it at nearly half of an older, higher tag on the car--was arranged to shock and awe. Based on the research I've done, it turned out to be a competitive price, if on the high side for the make and model. Of course, he was hoping to jolt me into thinking I'd just been delivered an unbelievable deal.

I suppose that was good practice for the place where I purchased a car. Unlike any of the other dealerships, this time the salesman rode along in the back seat and chatted up my dad and me during the test drive. I wasn't thrilled about that--it definitely affected how much attention I could give to everything--but this was probably the only pressured aspect of the process.

Once we arrived back at the dealership we were whisked into the office. One of a steady stream of salesmen took the key to my car to evaluate its "trade-in worth". (Let's face it, even if I weren't trading in a car they surely have no intention of reselling other than to the junk yard, those are dollars they would be willing to knock off.) I must have been greeted by four or five people, and part of the reason for this receiving line seemed geared toward getting me to say yes, whether the question was if I wanted them to take a look at my car or would like a bottle of water.

My salesman had the voice and swagger that you'd expect of someone who sells cars for a living, yet he wasn't pushy. He began with the price I'd seen online--interestingly, there was no price on the actual car--and subtracted an expected amount to account for my trade-in. The dance had begun.

That price was too high--and of course you never take the first offer in these instances--and so he went back to talk to the manager. I was sort of expecting to see the big reveal of a significant price drop, but this one was more modest in the form of additional value given for my car. (There must be a reason, tax write-off or otherwise, for this.) It was still more than I really wanted to pay and what we thought they'd be willing to take.

Then we played our chip. I knew the price offered on a comparable car that was a model year newer but had mileage more in line with its age. So we tossed that lowball figure into the sales arena. The dealership also sells that company's car, so it wasn't like they could brush it off as a worthless comparison. My salesman didn't think he could do any more. I said that I understood. While I liked the car, the price was higher than I could accept. If they would get the key to my car, which they still had, I was ready to go.

The salesman went in search of the key, but of course he came back and said that the owner was going to get involved as he was the only one who could approve anything approaching the price I wanted. He asked if we'd have a deal if the owner cut it there. I said we would. He didn't think it would go that low--honestly, I didn't either-- but it was out of his hands now.

After another long waiting period, the star of the show appeared. He was an older guy whose name is on the sign for several dealerships in this smaller town. If he didn't found this dealership fifty or sixty years earlier, surely his father did. He was exceptionally soft spoken and mumbly, not unlike Boomhauer on King of the Hill, and he pretty much cut right to the chase. He saw how much we were apart and offered to split the difference plus a little more to get a nice even number.

I asked for a couple minutes to talk it over with my dad. Neither of us expected they would go any lower or could. (We agreed that they had probably listed the car at a less inflated price than the other dealer we dealt with.) The number was slightly more than I'd been hoping to get out of there with, but it was a fair price according to my research and within the range I was willing to spend. The deal was complete.

Granted, maybe working them down by a thousand dollars wasn't so much our doing, but I displayed preparation and knowledge about the car's worth and claimed (truthfully) to have a fallback option. Even if they might have gone lower, the theater of the sale accomplished what a proper car dealership should do in these situations: it convinced me that I had driven a hard bargain and was happy with the experience.

I can't say that all this was exactly pleasurable. It was hard work, but the place where I bought the car didn't talk down to me or act as if I was asking for the moon. It was just the nuts and bolts way of doing business. Everyone ended up a winner, and we got a free show included with the vehicle.

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At 8:18 AM, Anonymous LittleWit said...

Hooray for a new car! That dealer does sound more pleasurable to work with as far as those things go.


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