The Tournament

It was a 3 hour drive from the house to the location of the golf tournament. Bill Marshall was in a decent mood this morning. Relatively speaking, he was at peace. Things had been quiet at home overall. The kids were doing well and the wife has been fairly calm. He knew that the next shitstorm was close by but he still welcomed the reprieve. He had decided months ago that his marriage was a lost cause and that he was there for the kids. He suspected that she would make access to his children difficult should he try to leave and he wasn’t having any of it. His kids meant everything to him and if that meant sacrificing his own happiness then so be it. Bill was raised by an old-fashioned man. He was taught that when you have family, your happiness is secondary to the welfare of those that depend on you. In that vein, it was a no-brainer. Thus, a few quiet, albeit tense evenings of silence at home was worth the quality time with the kids. As he ran those thoughts through his head, he recognized and accepted that he already knew that he was going to leave her. The only question was when. Alone in the car, with the radio volume down, he absorbed that revelation and let out an audible “holy shit”.

Traffic was heavy but moving. He turned the radio volume down and focused on the day ahead. He was excited about the tournament. It wasn’t lost on him what a luxury it was to play Golf on the company dime. He had played Golf many times under the umbrella of work, it was an excellent and effective sales tool. It was very difficult to conduct business when visiting clients at their place of work. They are constantly interrupted by coworkers, the phone or one of many crises that always come up. On the Golf course, your only real enemy to productive business talk is the cell phone. Most of his clients have the manners and common courtesy to put the phone away. If they didn’t? Well, Bill would just have to deal with it. A bad day of golf still beats a good day at work, he mused.

Bill pulled into the Country Club parking lot at 9 AM sharp. He had 30 minutes to gather up his clients/guests and check in. He walked into the clubhouse and through the doorway he could see two of his guests at the bar, Bloody Mary’s in front of them. Bill considered himself a respectable functional alcoholic but he wasn’t ready to go down that road this early. He needed to be sharp. He waved to them as he checked in and dialed his 3rd guest. He was in the parking lot. So far so good. He walked into the cleverly named lounge “The 19th hole” and greeted his clients. They were cheerful and eager to play. It felt right, he felt on top of his game. He paid for their drinks and went out to meet his other guest.
He glanced to the sky, the morning haze was burning off. It was going to be a great day all around. Little did he know how right he was.

In the blood

I went to visit my daughter at her new job today on my way down to visit my lady. As I suspected, she works for the new owners of a family-owned dealership that I used to do business with. This is the new face of the car business; big conglomerates buying out the family “mom and pop” stores. These dealerships are known for excessive expectations, high pressure, and high turnover. It can be a miserable environment.
But it pays well if you buy in and can learn the process. My daughter seems to be doing both. An additional tool in her belt is that her manager really likes her. I know this because he told me today when I visited. They all like her from what I can tell. They love her personality, her eagerness and ability to learn, and her toughness despite her small stature. It also wasn’t lost on them that her old man is a seasoned car guy. In her manager’s words, “it’s in the blood, obviously”. I didn’t even have to tell him my background, my daughter already did.

I enjoyed watching her at work. She seems comfortable in her new digs. She doesn’t have that “holy shit what do I do?” look found on many newbies. Her entire demeanor says “I’m here to help.” Her wonderful personality is finally working for her professionally.

I had reservations at first about her doing this. I thought she was too delicate and I feared that she didn’t heed my cautionary tales enough and would be in for a rude awakening when, hypothetically, she missed her quota one month and ended up being fired. Apparently, she recognizes that there are no guarantees and no safety nets and she is prepared for it to not work out. She told me as much today as I walked the lot with her.
“Dad”, she said, “It’s a stepping stone. I’ll give it a year and move on.”

With any other job, I would say that it was the wrong attitude. In this case, she is being realistic and logical. Two traits her mother will never give her credit for but I always knew were there under the surface. I am proud of her.

And given her mental health lately, I will support her in anything that excites her and gives her hope. She is my joy and her happiness means absolutely everything to me.

The “hook”

Well, my daughter has officially embarked on her career in the car business. While I have no expectations that this will be a long-term thing, I am very happy that she was willing to make a change. On top of that major step, she is really diving right into this. I’m very encouraged about that, enough so that the choice of change isn’t as important to me as the commitment behind it. People who suffer from depression have difficulty finding motivation, never mind the drive to see it through.

By all accounts she kicked ass during her training. What I get from her is that the dealership is one of those high-pressure, high turnover places that fires people randomly and often. She doesn’t seem to be concerned about that. I’m impressed by that. She learned everything she was told to and impressed the trainer in the process. He has told her that he will be watching her, a luxury she didn’t observe him giving anyone else. On the last day of training, she was sent off with high expectations. And she has the attitude to meet them. And that is the source of my happiness, she’s busting out of her comfort zone and is willing to do what it takes.

She sold her first car on her first day on the floor. In her words, she “didn’t do anything”. I know those deals. Finalized by the sales manager over the phone and given to a lucky rep who either needs a sale or is a favorite of the managers. In her case it was probably to break the first barrier of selling that first deal. Either way, she got it and made the most of it. It’s called “a hook”, in which some lucky soul gets hooked up. She did something right, the customer sent her a nice card and some expensive gifts as a thank you today. I’m so happy for her.

I used to get a lot of hooks when I sold cars. I was always top dog so you would think that I wouldn’t have been favored but sometimes a hook is more than a guaranteed sale. First of all, those deals can always fall apart, nothing is ever guaranteed. There are sales associates who don’t give the customer the best treatment because they feel entitled (or lazy) by being given a slam dunk. I always gave it my best. My hooks were in the interest of taking a possible and making it a certainty. The managers counted on me to finish the deal.

Another capacity I filled was handling difficult customers. Whenever the Internet dept. had a difficult customer coming in it would invariably go to me. I could handle the worst of them. I was the anti-salesman. No gimmicks and no smoke and mirrors. I handled objections as hurdles to get over and always kept the customer focused and on track. It always amazed me how some salespeople couldn’t master that one thing; follow the process and don’t get off track.

My daughter vaguely remembers visiting me at the dealership when she was younger. She remembers my managers telling her what a good salesman her dad was. She saw my happy customers. Now she has an even deeper understanding of what it was that I did, and she wants to learn everything she can.

I look forward to showing her all of it. This is going to be a good thing for both of us. She gets to learn something new and make some money. I get to spend time with one of my absolute favorite people in the world and help her be the best. Win win.

The mentor

In my last post I mentioned that my daughter took a bold step and has taken a job in the much-maligned field of Automotive Sales. While it may not be great for everyone, it can be a good job both financially and in job satisfaction. And as previously stated, if nothing else it will teach her about what she doesn’t want to do and that is always a good start.

She is not guaranteed to succeed. She will have to be able to maintain punctuality, positive attitude and a strong work ethic to survive in such an industry. Those are entirely up to her. She also must be able to learn; the product, the competition, the rules of the particular franchise, and very high on the list, people. In particular, a knowledge of how to manage the process through understanding the customer. In that area, she has an advantage: Me. I sold automobiles for a long time and everywhere I worked, you would find my name at the top of the Leader Board. I would love to show her what I know.

When I was a younger man, I worked as a Sales Manager for an Auto Auction. I had a untenable situation with an employee that drove me to leave. I had other offers on the table but I also had a non-compete agreement that stated I could not work at another auction for 3 months post-employment. I made a deal with another, larger company and told them that I would start in 3 months. I decided that I would try selling cars for a while. I always wanted to see how good I would be at it. I reached out to one of my Lexus dealers and started the following Monday.
I was an immediate success. My first month I sold 22 cars and finished 3rd in the dealership. I outsold 9 seasoned associates. My commissions were 3700.00. I was asked if I had a secret. I laughed. There wasn’t a secret. The less I sold the easier it was to sell. I knew from previous sales positions that what the customer is buying is you, the product is just that. There is no need to be slick, smooth, aggressive and talkative. There is a need for genuine, knowledgeable, helpful and to be a good listener. It’s the very opposite of what people think. Now I understand that these things don’t come easily to everyone. But they’re obtainable through hard work. You can’t learn to be slick, but you can be yourself.
Unless of course you are an asshole.
But I digress.
I entered the business knowing a lot about cars. I worked in the auction industry, and I was also raised by an absolute car nut. That worked well for me. But the customer of today is knowledgeable and there is a lot of competition. I learned everything I could about every vehicle that compared in price point and vehicle type and features. I could speak with actual knowledge about any vehicle my customer may have looked at already. That combined with connecting with the customer (getting them comfortable), understanding their buying motivation (necessity, future purchase, impulse), and just plain getting them to like me I knew that with all being equal (the cars) they will buy from the person they like.
It’s no secret. And I can teach my daughter all of these things. She’s a lot like me so she may already have it inside her.

I have always wanted to write about my career. This is a good place to start.

Pet peeves

Pet peeves, we all have them. Those things that people do and say that just make our skin crawl. We can’t help those things that go against our grain it’s how we’re wired. I probably have more than most, I’ll admit it. Spelling, grammar and punctuation always get a rise out of me when perusing social media. I hate to make it an indictment of intelligence but some people should really proofread their posts. It is very revealing, even more than the often stupid or controversial political nature of the post itself. I try to keep myself in check and worry about my own presence online. I’m spoiled by WordPress, my fellow bloggers actually know how to spell and structure a sentence.

My biggest pet peeve is one that bothers me more than most. I find myself calling people out when they say it. That saying is “to be honest”. When you answer an inquiry with “to be honest” what you’re really saying is, “I may not always tell the truth but this time I am”. It’s one of the most disingenuous things I’ve ever heard and it is everywhere! I hate it.

The very least that you can do for anyone is to be honest. That’s why they call it a virtue. It might as well be a virgin because nobody uses it anyway. Honesty is synonymous with the truth and we’d all be better if we told the truth. It’s less painful, it doesn’t require a good memory (see compulsive liars), and it takes a lot less time. Have you noticed that in the process of sugarcoating the shit out of something you take a statement that could be short and to the point and drag it out with filler words and lengthy diatribes just to soften what is the truth because we are so afraid to offend?

It’s painful to watch and as society gets more concerned with feelings and the line between right and wrong becomes blurry and grey this will only get worse.

People admire honesty. They admire the courage that it takes to tell the uncomfortable truth. I made a pretty decent living in sales just by being honest. Of course, my honesty has always been served with a side order of bluntness. I sold luxury cars and Honda for a long time. I was always top dog at every dealership I ever worked. And I was never slick and polished with customers. I just talked straight, knew my product and its competition and I told people the truth. More often than not I said things that could have gone either way but most people left me feeling that the car buying process was the best they ever had and it was just because I was honest. A lot of situations that often derail a sale were avoided by doing it my way, the biggest being when someone explained their budget and being able to keep them on a vehicle that they can afford. Many people don’t understand financing and may really believe that they can afford a vehicle when in actuality they are completely shocked at the numbers when presented and they leave. Time is wasted by both parties and a sale is usually lost. Totally avoidable. Especially when people often tell you in the beginning something that you recognize as not manageable. So when a customer asked. “Can I get this car for 200/month with no money down?” and you know that it will actually take $10,000 it is helpful to say no, not wait an hour to tell them that it isn’t possible. I had a customer thank me for saying no.

In short, don’t say “to be honest” because all it really infers is that you lied to them before. Nobody needs that. Just be honest all the time. It’s so much easier for everybody.

the more things change…

Ever talk to someone and immediately know that they are full of shit?

Having had an eclectic career, I have had the luxury of meeting a lot of people and as much as I hate to say it some people can be put in neat little boxes based on only a first impression.

Most of my career was spent in some incarnation or other in the car business. Between the wholesale auctions and retail sales I accumulated a lot of connections and a lot of knowledge. In addition, and perhaps most important, I acquired a lot of wisdom, particularly in the areas of first impressions and knowing when to speak and when not to. Bottom line, you don’t know what someone knows and someone out there always knows more than you.

Nowhere is this more prevalent than in the automotive industry.

I was at the top of my profession in every venue of the car business. At the auction I was industry recognized and respected for my remarketing skills. I was regularly recruited to opine about market trends, valuations and often called on to execute the arduous task of changing a powerhouse customer’s expectations about what they think their inventory is worth vs its actual value.

In retail sales I was always at the top of the board in sales and customer satisfaction. I made it my business, while my colleagues were pacing the parking lot looking for victims or smoking cigarettes, to study the competition; learn what my product had/didn’t offer vs similar models; and know my own product inside and out. The guys who didn’t do so remained at the bottom of the board. In addition, I was the guy who was given the toughest of customers. The unruly and hostile or just the aggressive and unreasonable ones were immediately sent my way. One colleague called me “Magic Man”, after he saw me spin around a real hostile customer. I was also called the “anti-salesman” because I never lied, never pushed with cheesy lines and I always stayed calm and focused. The things I always did was learn who I was dealing with, never show my hand and, here is the big one, I never ever talked out of my ass ( for lack of a better term). Even as a senior manager of a auto finance company I never violated that policy. Again, there is always someone smarter. Once you’ve revealed yourself a fool there is absolutely no turning back.

Sadly, few people in the industry learned what I did. In the few times since I was forcibly retired, I have had the displeasure of buying a few cars. In the process of helping my mother buy her Escape, buying my motorcycle and my most recent car I have had only one good experience.

It was a good experience because I told the salesperson up front, as I did with the others, that I’m experienced in the business. ANY salesperson worth his salt who hears this will immediately treat you differently. By differently I mean that they will be more generous in appraising your trade (I know within 100 dollars what any trade is worth), in the first offer of price and in product knowledge. This salesperson simply asked me what I wanted, how much I wanted for my trade and how much I wanted to pay for the trade. Each of my numbers were readily accepted without the dreaded haggling process and it was smooth. Other than that it was mostly terrible in my other experiences.

I recently traded my truck in (I got a fair offer on my trade and the new vehicle) at a local dealership. It is a used vehicle and as shit happens it has an issue with the drive train that needed to be addressed. I told the service manager exactly what the problem was and I was correct. As I waited for my car to be evaluated I struck up a conversation with a bored salesman. He was an older gent, clearly at the end of his career, and I could tell by his desk that he wasn’t very organized. A messy desk tells customers a lot about their salesperson btw.

We got to talking. I asked him how sales were, what was hot and what wasn’t in the product line, etc. It wasn’t long before he recognized that I was an industry insider but instead of bringing his A game and not embarrassing himself he went the other direction and began talking directly out of his ass. I contained myself, not the first person to do this in front of me and I don’t point it out to them, I just pop some popcorn and dig in for the ride. Some of the things he said about the auctions immediately told me that his auction experience consisted of watching Barrett-Jackson on his sofa in his underwear.

Just as it was getting good and I was almost unable to contain my snicker he was called into the Sales Manager’s office where his manager proceeded to dress him down. Completely unrelated to our conversation, the best I can guess is that he had had a conversation with a customer that was laden with multiple errors, errors that the Sales Manager was forced to correct at great embarrassment to himself and the dealership. He gave it to the guy pretty good. I felt bad for the guy but I was hopeful that it may cause him to evaluate his habits and improve so that it never happened again but I suspect that at his age it won’t lead to change. I watched him leave the Sales Manager’s office with his tail between his legs. I felt bad for him and I didn’t. The manager wasn’t wrong in what he said. It was how he did it that bothered me.

The Sales Manager shouldn’t have dressed him down with the door open. I don’t care how small and claustrophobic his shitty little office was, the showroom was even smaller relatively speaking and he should have shut his door. Everyone heard this poor bastard get it. THAT is a major no-no for all involved.

In my many years in the biz, I spent most of them in a management capacity. Employee morale is everything and all positive morale stems from proper communication. Yelling is the biggest offense, tearing someone a new one in front of his colleagues is almost as bad. Every conversation with an employee has to have balance. For every thing you tell them they’re doing wrong you should try to tell them what they are doing right. And always behind closed doors.

This Sales Manager, who I enjoyed working with when I did my paperwork, showed a lot of others how not to do things and the lesson he “taught” his employee is forever overshadowed by the way he carried it out.

It’s not a new thing, the industry hasn’t changed much since I left it and I fear it never will.

lofty standards

I am a quirky guy, that’s as nice as I can put it. I have certain expectations out of life. In addition to the sun rising each day, I expect electronics to work. I expect passwords to be accepted 2 times in a row. And I expect people to have an acceptable level of intellect and courtesy. I have lofty standards in some categories, others I have come to accept that we’re now grading on a curve.

The areas that I have learned to look the other way in are how people dress in public, personal hygiene, manners, tolerance, acceptance, lack of respect for personal space, attention spans, lack of respect for elders and an abhorrent lack of knowledge in civics and history.

The areas that I continue to have lofty standards in are respectful discourse, eye contact, professionalism in the workplace and doing your job well. As a manager of large staffs in several fields, I know when a person is good at their job. When I encounter someone, ranging from a clerk at a 7-11, a food server to a bank teller, if they have an attitude problem I am severely tempted to tell them to just quit already and make room for someone who gives a fuck. See, that’s my minimum requirement in life…give a fuck.

As a former sales professional, I am highly critical of those in sales. Particularly automotive sales. I did it and was damn good at it. Thorough, courteous and knowledgeable, I knew how to take care of my customer. Consequently I expect the same type of experience every 5 years or so when I buy a car.

This week my Mom got the itch to get a new SUV. She has had hers 5 years and she never keeps one longer than 5 years. A local dealership sent a notice about a recall, she reviewed it and asked me if I would go with her when she dropped hers off, in case she saw something she likes.

We saw a very nice one in a funky blue exterior, black gut and loaded. We asked for a salesperson to show it to us. Quite the opposite of the usual experience of being hounded when you first walk in, they had to find someone to help us. We were introduced to a nice guy, about my age. As he attempted to start the car he found it to be dead. Considering that is was 11 degrees with 30 mph winds it wasn’t alarming. He escorted us inside, jumped it and joined us inside as it warmed up. In conversation, as we made small talk as the car warmed up, I tossed it out there that I have been in “the biz” for over 2 decades. This serves to put a guy on notice that there will be no shenanigans today. He was pickin’ up what I was throwin’ down.

We went out to the now warm car and he asked us to get in. My mom got in the driver seat and he began to attempt to wow her with the center console. The one that wasn’t working. He was a little flustered but we got past it. The Nav screen, audio display and bluetooth set up was down but I assured my mother that I knew what it looked like and it’s very impressive. The salesperson was grateful for my save, and we drove it. Long story short, she loved it.

We went inside and asked to see some numbers. As he made small talk and drew up a proposal I played with my phone. He may have thought I was on Facebook but I was going to be his worst nightmare. I was running market reports on her trade and regional cost analyses on the new vehicle to see what others are paying. I knew there was 12% markup in domestics and quietly showed my mother what I came up with. Surprisingly they only came up 1000 more total than I wanted to pay. We got what I wanted. Easy, great deal, nice people and a good experience overall. We agreed to pick it up Monday night.

Last night was as cold as Friday was. But the car was ready, had a new battery, clean and warm. With a still-broken center console screen. Oooops. SMH. My mother was annoyed, the salesperson was flustered. He screwed up and he knew it. I asked what they were going to do and he asked if we could bring it in the next day (today). I told my mom that I would drop her off at work, bring it for her and wait for the work to be completed.

I did this as planned, waited 3 hours for them to tell me that it needed a part that they didn’t have that needed to be ordered. I told the salesperson that my mother wasn’t happy. He didn’t say anything. Here’s where I got annoyed. I said, “Really, that’s your answer? Do I have to spell it out for you?” He didn’t know what I meant. “What are you going to do for her because we’re going to be getting a little survey soon asking how you did. Do you feel me?” Crickets.

Finally, I spelled it out for him. I want you to do something for her! By the time I was done we had a promise of the first service free, a loaner when I drop it off on Friday, a full recon and a full tank of gas. Of course I had to spell it out for him with crayons and colored construction paper.

It’s difficult holding people to your own standards. It’s even ok to not be that adept at catching the sarcasm. It’s another altogether to not recognize that someone needs something and you need to give it. As a consumer I deserve it and as a person I expect it. Unfortunately, common sense is a plant that doesn’t grow in everyone’s garden.

Since when is knowing your shit a liability?