Car Browsing Redux

2 Jun

A couple of weeks ago, I did a post about my experiences at three auto dealers when I went out car browsing – not shopping – browsing. I made it crystal clear to everyone and anyone I spoke with that I was not buying anything that day, and that I was sniffing around, kicking the tires, looking around at stuff. I was not, at that time, in the market to buy anything.

But I probably will be in a month or two. So I was narrowing down my choices.

I was very critical of Dave Smith Ford. The owner, Dave Smith, left a comment yesterday:

Mr. Bedenko,
As the owner of Dave Smith Ford, I have to say that I am extremely dismayed at your opinion of our Ford dealership. I feel compelled to defend myself, and my salesperson whom you refer to as “a bit pushy”.
I read what you wrote on your blog, and from what it sounds like my salesperson did exactly what any good salesperson should be expected to do. Assuming that is you didn’t come into the dealership looking for a new washing machine. To sum up your experience, if I may:

1. He introduced himself,
2. He tried to determine your wants/needs,
3. He demonstrated the product,
4. He asked you to buy the product.

I sincerely apologize for not being able to get together on an aggreeable price. Unfortunately, (to my dismay) it seems as if price negotiations and haggling will always be a part of my industry. But from the sounds of it, you never intended to purchase a Ford Flex from ANY Ford dealership.

As for the decor of our dealership, I have to thank you for your advice! We have been planning on updating our office furniture for quite some time. However, with the recent downturn in our industry, we thought it better to put such purchases on hold.

I can tell you that almost 80% of our business is repeat and referral. And our CSI scores are consistently above our peers. Obviously, we don’t have to have the biggest, and fanciest facility to have happy customers.
In closing, I would like to say that we, as well as the majority of dealers out there, have been a member of the Better Business Bureau for over 30 years, we give roughly $15,000 per year to our local charities, we pay close to $100,000 per year in school/property taxes, we pay over $100,000 per year in health insurance premiums, we pay over $50,000 per year in liability premiums (I thought I saw one of your readers say you are an attorney so I’m sure you know all about the pitfalls of our litigious society), and last but not least we are proud to employ 65 of the BEST people in the Western New York! Yours truly, Dave Smith.

Attaway to completely alienate a dissatisfied potential customer. Frankly, I’m shocked that anyone would defend the anachronistic and yes – pushy – experience I dealt with.

Mr. Smith, I told your salesman over and over again that I was just looking, that I was in the market for a vehicle and the Flex was on my radar screen, but I wanted to check it out. I told him several times that I wasn’t in the market to actually buy anything that day. He wasted my time. By the time you came back having driven my trade, I was ready to go. Instead, I’m so polite I let your salesguy start haggling with me over a car I had told him time and time again I wasn’t going to buy that day. What part of that don’t you understand?

As I mentioned to your salesperson, and in my earlier post, I’m preliminarily looking around, winnowing down the list of potential vehicles to buy. Want to know what I mean by pushy?

1. Protesting and continuing with the haggling after I had gotten off the phone with my wife, found out that the baby was up from her nap, and it was time for me to go home. Your salespeople should listen to the words coming out of my mouth.

2. After completing a test drive of the white Flex Limited that had been driven up from Florida, asking me if that was the car I wanted to buy. I responded (again) that I wasn’t buying anything that day. Then he asked, well if you were, is this the car you’d be getting? I responded (again) I wasn’t buying anything, but if I was hypothetically buying a Flex, then I’d be interested in that model. That’s when he whipped out a “sold” sign and had me place it under the wiper. Subtle like a brick – trying to get me into the “I just bought a car, and I’m definitely buying this car” mindset by giving me the feeling of ownership, despite the words coming out of my mouth.

3. As he did the financial breakdown of that white Flex Limited, he wrote down all of its wonderful features, wrote down my trade and went over all of its fantastic features, broke down the price, and then drew a line with an x. He asked me to sign it, and had no good answer as to what I was signing. I’m a lawyer, so I know it’s meaningless. I know the elements of a contract, and we had none. An average layperson off the street might think you’ve got a contract the moment you sign something. That’s not just dumb and uncomfortable. It’s sleazy and deceptive.

4. I don’t need a babysitter. I need a salesperson. As I mentioned in my post, the Flex sells itself. I don’t need a hard sell from an eager salesperson. He was a nice enough kid, but wouldn’t leave me alone for a minute. The goal was to not let me leave the dealership without buying a car. Again – try listening to your potential customers once in a while.

Let me now address specifically some of your complaints:

I sincerely apologize for not being able to get together on an aggreeable price. Unfortunately, (to my dismay) it seems as if price negotiations and haggling will always be a part of my industry. But from the sounds of it, you never intended to purchase a Ford Flex from ANY Ford dealership.

That’s completely inaccurate. I told your salesman over and over again that I didn’t intend to buy any car that day from anyone. Thanks to your whiny and self-indulgent comment, when, in a couple of weeks, I am back in the market for a larger car, possibly with three rows, I may consider the Flex, but it won’t be from you.

That’s great that you’re generous with your salespeople and your charity. But that’s not what this is about. I’m not generally in the market for American cars because I perceive them to be poorly designed and unrefined. This is changing, and I’m opening my mind. I’m used to a certain level of service and non-pushiness from my car dealers – hell, Volkswagen of Orchard Park, where I’ve bought about 3 cars so far, also has a pretty crappy-ass dealership design, but they’re friendly and not at all pushy there. They let me look. They let me try. Then they back off when I make it clear I’d like them to back off.

So, kudos to you for your customer service scores and you have my condolences about the state of the auto industry today. Your customer retention rates are enviable.

But in a couple of weeks, when what I’m waiting to have happen happens, and I’ll be looking to plunk down money for a new, larger vehicle. I’ll be sure to look elsewhere, as you’ve basically told me to go screw myself.

20 Responses to “Car Browsing Redux”

  1. Terry June 2, 2009 at 7:04 am #

    BP–put your carrier on notice, lol.

  2. Chris Smith June 2, 2009 at 8:25 am #

    Looks like Dave Smith went to the Joe Cecconi school of customer service and salesmanship.

    http://buffalogeek.wnymedia.net/blogs/2008/01/04/joe-cecconis-chrysler-complex-of-arrogance-and-rudeness/

  3. Chris Smith June 2, 2009 at 8:31 am #

    I’d also like to note for the record the influence of blogs, especially widely read blogs with sterling Google PageRank numbers. When a potential customer performs a google search on “Joe Cecconi”, this is what they get: http://tinyurl.com/lqzwxb

    Within a week or so, a google search for “Dave Smith Ford” will generate similar results.

    Jus’ sayin’

  4. James June 2, 2009 at 9:13 am #

    One of your best posts ever.

  5. The Humanist June 2, 2009 at 10:48 am #

    In days past, this correspondence would have been limited to Pundit, Pundit’s family and friends he informed about it, Mr. Smith and the staff at the dealership having a good laugh about Pundit’s experience.

    Behold the power of blogging….where an entire community is now instantly aware of how unapologetic Mr. Smith is about poorly his dealership conducts itself.

  6. Jon Splett June 2, 2009 at 11:36 am #

    I think I’m going to use this post as a basis for a hypothetical for my Contract law study group.

  7. STEEL June 2, 2009 at 11:58 am #

    The response any smart business person would give:

    I am extremely dismayed that you have had a bad experience with my company. As owner of the company I apologize profusely. We ask that you give us a second chance to serve you. Our goal is to sell good cars at a fair price and provide the best service to our customers. If you should decide to give us a second chance please contact me personally so that I can assure your complete satisfaction.

  8. MarkLV June 2, 2009 at 3:08 pm #

    BP, you obviously met a green, inexperienced salesperson. They should have let you take that white Flex home with you overnight on an extended test-drive. Thats known as “The Puppy Dog” sales close!! If you let someone take home a puppy they are interested in owning, the idea is that they wont be able to overcome the emotions of handing it back to you…LOL!

    For the record, the Dave Smith who responded to you is the son of the former dealer, Dave Smith Senior, who passed away last year. While I wont defend/criticise his reply to you, I will say that anyone who boasts of membership with the BBB has not yet earned their stripes with regards to understanding the complete lack of relevance such membership represents in todays society. Have you ever contacted the BBB ‘prior’ to making any major purchase? Of course not, nobody does. They only exist as a form of profit making from advertising revenues and member fees.

  9. RaChaCha June 2, 2009 at 6:33 pm #

    Sales organizations can be absolutely shameless — I’ve had friends who’ve worked sales jobs, and have heard some awesome stories from an inside perspective.

    Most significantly: the character of sales organizations — the way they treat their sales reps, other employees, and customers — is set from the top and passes down through the management chain. Much more so than in other kinds of businesses, because the incentive program reinforces to every level (which all get a piece of sales) in the management chain how things get done and what gets rewarded (and what behaviors get winked at). So if this sales rep is pulling stuff like this to get a sale no matter what, it’s safe to say that he is getting either trained, or incented — or both — to do so.

    So, Dave Smith, blow whatever smoke you wish. The way your sales rep conducted himself is a direct reflection on you — your character as a person and businessman.

  10. DJC June 2, 2009 at 8:07 pm #

    Great post.

  11. Joe Blow June 2, 2009 at 8:29 pm #

    One of the reasons people don’t buy new cars more often is because it is so unpleasant to go to a dealership.

    One of the ways that U.S. automakers can win the trust, admiration, and ultimately the business of more American car buyers is to scrap the ridiculous haggle business model that has made the car buying experience about as appealing as a prostate exam. (Or a mammogram, for the ladies.)

  12. Buffalo Hodgepodge June 2, 2009 at 9:28 pm #

    Are mammograms really that unpleasant?

  13. The Humanist June 3, 2009 at 6:54 am #

    @ Buffalo Hodgepodge – put your tits in a vise for about a half hour and you’ll have some idea.

  14. Katharine Plaisted June 3, 2009 at 9:30 am #

    I very rarely comment, but on the matter of selling/buying cars, I’m an expert and in some cases it’s useful to look at the experience from the salesperson’s side of the transaction (salespeople are nearly as vilified as attorneys).
    One of the comments was about how the top of the organization sets the tone for the entire organization – that’s absolute truth – but each salesperson is an individual and no one has complete control over what they do on the ‘floor’. That said, a lot of car salespeople are treated badly by their dealerships. I’ve heard stories where they were made to stand outside in freezing weather until they secured an ‘up’ (aka possible buyer). Some dealers made it a game of ‘musical chairs’ – low producer lost his job. Some dealers routinely ‘flood the floor’: put on too many salespeople so that no one can reasonably expect to make a good living.
    Domestic and import dealerships can be night and day. And domestic and import buyers are night and day. The Ford and GM dealers in the Buffalo area have a built-in market from the plant employees and their families. The import dealers do not and they seem to adopt a different approach to their customer. Customer Satisfaction Scores (CSI) affect part of the dealer’s compensation, so there is a strong motivation to manipulate them if possible.
    You got a young/inexperienced male salesperson. In most cases, it’s the luck of the draw. The car business chews people up and spits them out. If you can, ask someone who is knowledgeable to refer you to a good salesperson. I think you’ll find the experience is night/day. Right now, my friends who are still in the business (because they’re either primarily or completely on commission) have seen their incomes drop 20-40%. They’re worried about their mortgage, their rent, their credit scores. If you’re wondering why he was so persistent, it’s because he is pretty sure you may be the only opportunity he has to sell a car that day. One of the BIG rules is “Don’t let him leave.” And, some people buy a car in fifteen minutes. Some people take seven hours and some take months. Maybe 1 in 15 people who walk into a dealership and buy a car that day will tell you that they never intended to buy a car that day. A salesperson never knows what might happen until they ask the question and asking you to put a SOLD sign on the car was the question. From your post, I gather you went along with this. Your mouth was saying one thing and your fingers were doing another, so you need to be mindful of what you were doing here.
    One thing that took a while to learn was that women make 80+% of the major financial decisions (including buying automobiles). Your salesperson’s first clue should have been that your wife was not with you. It’s tricky to ask a customer if the decision-maker is present. Another thing that takes a while to learn. I agree with you that he should have listened to what you were saying about not buying, but you were giving him very mixed messages – the first being the SOLD sign and I understand you probably did not want to be rude about this. The second was that you let them look at your trade. The best resources for car shoppers are the online car websites such as Kelly Blue Book or Edmunds. In most cases, it’s a ballpark idea only and should be treated as such. But if you’re just looking, you should not have a dealer look at your trade for two reasons: 1) you’ve committed yourself and the dealership to at least an 30-45 minutes and 2) you’re digging yourself a hole from a negotiating standpoint. You can get a reasonable idea of what your trade is worth online without involving another human being. You’re giving the dealership a built-in advantage in the negotiation in that they can now just show you the “trade difference”.
    The way to do this is: negotiate a price on the new car and then, negotiate a price on the trade and separate the transactions. You, as a customer, will do much better this way and feel easier in your mind about the whole process. Buying a car evolved from horse-trading. Negotiating and the dreaded haggling is part of the process and dealers don’t necessarily like it anymore than you do. You may be surprised to learn that some people love to haggle. It is possible to just put a price for everyone on a new car, because a new car is a commodity. Scion has done this with notable success. As soon as a trade-in is involved, however, the haggling is inevitable and you should accept this with some grace and/or learn to negotiate. Every trade is different (mileage, model, features, condition). Much of the time, the customer is the driving force/initiator of the negotiating. Many people have wildly unrealistic notions of what their car is worth and this just leads to heartbreak. The worst were the ones who smoked in their cars and wouldn’t accept that this effectively knocked hundreds of dollars off the value of the car.
    You mentioned that you didn’t care for the steering on the Flex. If you’ve been driving Volkswagens, you will NEVER like the the steering on the Flex and you should eliminate it from your list because it will make you miserable. There are other 3-row possibilities (although I don’t think Volkswagen has one). When test-driving vehicles, it’s really helpful to make an appointment and let them know in advance what you’re looking to try and something about your general parameters. This will save you a lot of time and aggravation in that they’re likely to have the vehicle cleaned-up, gassed-up and ready-to-go. It also helps you establish the ground rules for the salesperson. Also, if you can, have all the deciding parties present and try to test-drive on weekdays or Saturday MORNING. You will have the salesperson’s full attention and you will avoid the fracas of Saturday afternoons when everyone else will be trying to test-drive a car (it’s high stress). Inform the salesperson that you will be taking the car for at least 20-30 minutes and they should happily agree to this and if they wish to join you, you may be surprised at how this may benefit you. Oddly enough, it sometimes pays to get the salesperson on your side. A five-minute around the block test-drive tells you practically nothing about the car. Tell them you would like to take a highway (wind-noise is the #1 source of owner unhappiness) portion, and try to have some curvy/bumpy roads on your route. You also learn about blindspots, turning radii and a general feeling of comfort/spaciousness/usefulness. If the dealer or the salesperson will not agree to this over the phone when you’re making the appointment, go somewhere else.
    After you’ve narrowed your choices to two or three very strong candidates, leave the kids at home and start negotiating a price on your first choice. Know in advance what you’re interested in paying. Know your credit scores and know what a loan on your desired purchase price will cost per month. Bankrate.com is a site which lets you figure out payments six ways to Sunday. The worst thing you can do is let the negotiation get to dollars per month.
    Yes, buying a car can be an ordeal, but there are lots of ways to make it more pleasant. The primary source of agita for the buyer is they just don’t know, and they know the salesperson does this all the time. You can eliminate a lot of your blindspots and set the rules pretty much the way you want them. Buying a car SHOULD be a lot of fun. Cars are fun!

  15. hank June 3, 2009 at 9:54 am #

    The car sales biz is tough. I trained for it, and did it, but didn’t like it and didn’t do it long–back in the mid-80’s.

    But I learned how NOT to be like the guy that BP ran into.
    Many commissioned auto salespeople get hyper when they’ve not made any money—don’t sell—no money. That’s why they get aggressive. One Va Beach Chevy dealer wouldn’t give me my keys back so I could leave. and he wasn’t trying to “De-Horse” me, what was referred to earlier as a “puppy dog” something or other.

    If a customer Likes the car, and you appraise his trade, you tell him “I’m gonna try and see if I can get one of my wholesalers to give me more for your trade-in”, and gives you the keys to the new car overnight. He’s not looking for more money, he’s keeping you from getting your trade appraised at any other dealers—in effect, keep you from shopping further. Anything you do at a lot without your trade is what’s called a “Mind Deal”—in the mind of the salesman.

    Bottom line is, when the customer wants to depart, leave him with a “thanks for coming out today, I enjoyed meeting you”. Hand them their keys with a smile, and if he doesn’t buy from you, he might send a friend to you because you handled him well.

    I used to send EVERY contact a form letter thanking them for coming in, and “I’m at your service”.

    Bottom line–the salesman has to be helpful and friendly, but also keep his on mind the attitude of “I don’t give a fuck if you buy this car or not”. That’s what keeps the pressure off the customer.

  16. RaChaCha June 3, 2009 at 4:13 pm #

    Katherine, too bad you don’t comment more — I really enjoyed your comment — and I did read it all! I especially love how you mentioned the “up” — I haven’t heard that in ages, and have really only heard it in the context of buying suits. Older relatives have told me that when they would go into the suit section of a men’s store, they would hear the chief salesperson in the suit section say “up” as a signal to a designated salesperson that a potential “sale” was walking in to look at the merchandise.

    I actually experienced that once myself, right here in Buffalo, in the waning days of Kleinhans’ downtown store. It must have worked, because I bought a suit that day, which has worn like iron and outlasted many others.

    More directly to your comment, you describe a number of scenarios along the lines of what I’ve also heard from friends — sales organizations which seem to use “Glengarry Glenross” as their sales training manual. That’s a horrible environment to put a desperate person in — and that environment is always a direct reflection on the person at the top.

  17. pirate's code June 3, 2009 at 4:42 pm #

    As much as I love the smell of a new car, and the excitment of new models and gadgets, I’d rather stick hot needles in my eye than go through the process of buying one. I’ve been through too many Saturdays like the one BP described.

    Even the best experiences have left me slightly dismayed, if for no other reason than I know someone who buys the exact same car, with the exact same dealer/manufacturer incentives, will pay a different price because their negotiating skills are better or worse than mine.

    Maybe some day cars will come with bar codes and the only question from the sales person will be, “Do you have a coupon for this?” The closest I’ve come to that is with my last two purchases — Saturn (a Vue and an Aura) from the dealership on Transit.

    In the meantime, I’m almost willing to pay someone to buy cars for me. Katharine — you interested?

  18. Jen14221 June 3, 2009 at 8:02 pm #

    Oh my God, I am dying here in my hotel room in Philly.
    Remind me to tell you a funny story when I see you next.

  19. Jeremy @ BuffaloChow June 3, 2009 at 11:30 pm #

    Brutal. Funny. And so accurate.

    I have a simple policy when it comes to making purchases: I try to buy local unless given a strong positive or negative incentive to look elsewhere. We called three or four car dealerships when attempting to purchase a Toyota, including a nearby one we most hoped to purchase from. Every other dealer heard what we said – “we are ready to buy and want your bottom line price for this specific car” – but this one had a salesperson who could not get off his script.

    “When do you want to come in for a test drive?”

    “I said, we’re ready to buy this car, with this VIN, right now. What’s your bottom line price?”

    “You really need to come in and test drive it first.”

    “We have already done a test drive. We want the car. What’s your price?”

    Needless to say, the guy lost a sale, and we bought our car from an aggressive, smarter dealer in Syracuse instead. It’s survival of the fittest, though it’ll be a shame if local places go under because they or their employees are too stupid to grab the cash that’s being waved in their faces.

    We also sold another car in part because we kept having awful experiences with morons at Auto Place Porsche, the only authorized local shop. One would think that either desperation or something better might motivate the owners of these places to really satisfy their (potential) customers in a tough economy, but they seem hell bent on sticking to practices that haven’t been working.

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