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Below is one of my favorite tales of two dealerships. It is a favorite story because I believe both dealerships had the best of intentions, just one made a positive impact and the other a not so positive impact on how one woman in a vast world of consumers experienced buying her first brand new car.
The ink on the divorce decree was nearly dry and I was out to make some big changes in my life. First order of business, to get rid of the car my now ex-husband purchased “for me” and to actually own a car I wanted to drive. So, I handed over the keys to “his” dream car to a friend who was going to sell it on his lot for me. I then called one of my other friends, who happens to also be another male in the automotive industry. He came by to pick me up and off we went to buy a car that day, since I had already given over my only vehicle.
Being a first time new car buyer, I took advantage of the internet to engage in some extensive research which lead to a decision of which car I wanted to buy before I even took a test drive. So, our first stop was directly to the dealership in town that sold the desired new vehicle. I walked into this dealership’s showroom and as if it was destiny…..there was the sought after vehicle right there on display. I walked directly to the car, opened the door and sat down in the driver’s seat. I played with buttons, opened the trunk, investigated, popped the hood and snooped around a bit….and not a soul noticed.
I decided in a blink of an eye that I wanted to take this very car for a test drive, but it appeared I was going to need to go find someone with keys. So, I walked around the dealership for a bit looking for someone that worked there. It was not particularly busy. In fact, it was a ghost town for a Saturday afternoon. After some searching, I did find a sales manager who pointed out a gentleman on the lot who was talking on his cell phone. He said that man would love to help me. I smiled and thanked him before turning to walk out the showroom door to meet up with the man on the lot that “would love to help me”. I hovered nearby as I listened to him continue to talk to someone on the phone. I was in fact so close to him, that I could hear the conversation and make eye contact with him as he continued to talk to his wife about their plans for Sunday. I grew restless with waiting and found myself wandering around looking at cars I had no interest in buying.
I finally gave up and went back inside the dealership to find the sales manager. He was at his desk. When asked if I was here to see someone, I replied, “Yes, I am. I would like to see someone who can take me on a test drive of that car right there (pointing at the shinny black vehicle on the showroom floor) as I am here to buy a car today.” It was clear the sales manager did not remember me, when he once again pointed out the gentlemen outside on his cell phone as the salesperson who would love to take me on a test drive. I told the sales manager that I had already given that salesperson the opportunity, but he seemed to be uninterested and could I be recommended to someone else.
The sales manager got up from his chair and went out to the man on the phone. After a quick conversation, they were on their way back to the showroom and the man that had been on the phone was now the salesperson indeed happy to help me. So happy, that he asked me to follow him out to the lot. So, I grabbed my friend with excitement and off we went on an expedition to the other side of the dealership. The entire journey, the salesperson was talking to my male friend about what kind of car “we” were here to buy. My friend kept reminding the salesperson that he was just the “limo driver” on this adventure and that I was the one interested in buying the car.
When we finally came to the row of cars that the salesperson was yearning to show us, I could not see anything that looked like the model I desired. The salesperson finally asked me a question, “Do you see anything you like?” I replied, “No, but I would like to test drive the car that was in the showroom.” He responded, “WOW! That is a whole lot of car. Are you sure? There is very little room in the back for your children. You might want to consider that when looking for a new car.” My friend and I made eye contact and instantly started laughing out loud, because I don’t have any children. I assured the salesperson that I had taken that into consideration but since I am recently divorced and do not have any children, I think the sports car and I would be just fine with a limited back seat.
As I continued to explain that I was here to purchase a sports car with a standard transmission and as much as I could pack under a hood in horsepower, he continued to show me four door after four door of nicely appointed interiors. Finally, the manners that my mother has worked so hard to instill in me wore thin. I stopped following him to the next car and exclaimed, “I am here to buy a car today! I am here to buy a sports car today! I am here to buy a sports car with a standard transmission and some serious power TODAY! Could you please take me on a test drive of the nice shiny black car in the showroom, today?” Very calmly he explained that he was the top salesperson at this dealership. The reason he is the top salesperson is because he knows how to put people in just the right car for them. As I walked away, I heard him trailing off about something regarding that car being too much car for a young lady, especially one so newly divorced and how I should heed his advice on vehicle selection.
I got back in my friend’s car thinking my first time as a new car buyer was not going so well and regretting giving up the keys to my former vehicle. I felt so foolish at that moment with my friend trying to console me with, “Don’t worry. We are going to go to this other dealership and find something like the car on the showroom floor. Everything is going to be fine.” I did not want something "like" the car on the showroom, I wanted that car. I went along with his substitute car idea because I needed a vehicle. I hate to admit he was right.
Even though this dealership was not the brand of choice, just like Goldilocks I did find the car that was just right. When I got back from my test drive, even the salesperson helping me was amused. I had taught him how to heel toe shift while on our test drive and he could not help but introduce me to his peers, with what quickly became a giant fish story about a "Fast and Furious" test drive. I was having a blast, the sales team was laughing and the next thing you know, even the sales manager had to come join the spectacle. I went home that night with my first brand new car.
The next Monday morning, I called the dealer/owner of the first dealership. I first explained who I am; my obsession with cars that began with a childhood influenced by men who love cars and racing and how that obsession has developed into an adult career in the automotive industry. I shared with him what happened at his dealership just a few days prior and that I did indeed buy a car that day….from a competitor down the street. I offered to help him improve the posture of his dealership when it comes to customer satisfaction and the need to be able to sell something beyond a one size fits all program, especially when a female buyer is at stake. I think that shiny black car is still on his showroom floor waiting for someone to give it a home and I am still zooming around in my beloved silver bullet as happy as any one Goldilocks can be.
From salesperson to dealer principal, you have a say in your dealership’s reputation. It takes just one Goldilocks with a soap box, a desire to make a difference and an audience willing to listen to change the tide of impressions. Throw out the one size fits all approach and treat each person like the unique individual that they are. Forget the book and its cover when it comes to judgment. Dig into the pages of someone’s story and find out who they really are. You might be surprised. You might even learn something new. You might just become the salesperson, service advisor or dealership known for having the best reputation in town and with whom all the Goldilocks love to shop with.
***Great article in Forbes regarding the female buying power and the disconnect with female buying experience. Women And The Automotive Industry http://ning.it/krKffa
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