The following is a cautionary tale which probably ends up telling us as much about human nature as it does about car retailing but it contains a message that anyone in the business would do well to take notice of.
It’s a cut throat world, this car business and many people, when presented with an opportunity to make a good profit will, of course take it. But it isn’t always as simple as that and sometimes it pays to take a step back and look at the bigger picture.
The option to take this wider view recently presented itself to two very different car dealers know to us. Changing the names to protect the guilty as well as the innocent let us introduce you to “Dave” and “Ben”.
Both of these gentlemen are time served, professional car dealers who will no doubt tell you they have pretty much seen and done everything there is to see and do in the car retailing game. Both Dave and Ben have senior sale positions at big franchises and both have established a reputation at being very good at their jobs.
Recently, unbeknown to either Dave or Ben, their details were passed on to a third party by someone who recommended them as decent motor trade professionals who would be able to offer some good advice and, hopefully be able to do some business. This is a personal recommendation and is worth its weight in gold. This tale is really about what each of these people ended up doing with that personal recommendation.
The third party who was given the recommendation was, it’s sad to say, at rock bottom. Unfortunately this gentleman’s son had recently, and very suddenly, passed away and he had eventually summoned up the courage to tidy up a few of the loose ends his son’s death had created. One of these loose ends was his sons pride and joy, a 2 year old German SUV with all the bells and whistles and the time had now come to dispose of the vehicle, no matter how painful that might be.
The third party first made contact with Dave. He didn’t want to make up a story as to why he was disposing of the car so he was honest and explained his predicament. He said he wanted to get a fair price for the car but didn’t want the stress and strain of advertising it privately and having to deal with endless telephone calls and personal viewings. He said he understood that what he was seeking was a “trade” price and that Dave had come personally recommended as someone who represented the brand in question. There they were; all his cards on the table.
Dave was polite and courteous and asked the gentleman to bring the car to his showroom so he could take a look at it and give it a full appraisal.
Meanwhile the gentleman also called Ben, explained the situation again and received a polite, courteous and sympathetic response and an arrangement was made too for Ben to appraise the vehicle later that same day.
Dave, as promised carried out a full appraisal of the car whilst asking the gentleman to take a seat with the magazines. Dave knew an opportunity when he saw it and knew that in this particular scenario it was definitely a buyer’s market. Dave, putting all sentimentality aside, decided to, as we say in the trade, “nick it”. He offered around £1,000 less than the reasonable trade price for the car and was eagerly anticipating a bumper pay day on what was an excellent example of the model.
The gentleman tried hard to hide his disappointment at the price he had been offered but thanked Dave for his time, said he needed to discuss things with his wife and promised to be in touch later that day. Dave was equally disappointed he couldn’t do the deal there and then but was confident his man would be back, after all he’d been recommended, hadn’t he?
What Dave didn’t know was the gentleman had an appointment at another dealer and instead of driving home to talk to the wife, drove to see Ben at his dealership.
Ben seemed to take a lot more time with the bereaved gentleman. Instead of leaving him alone with his coffee he stayed and had a chat. The gentleman wanted to talk about what a wonderful man his son was so Ben let him talk and listed attentively. When it was time to carry out the appraisal he left the gentleman with a colleague of his so he wasn’t alone. Throughout it all the gentleman felt Ben was more human and considerate. He felt that it wasn’t just about the car with Ben.
Ben knew everything by now and, if he was honest, perhaps a bit too much. He felt emotionally involved. Maybe the thought crossed his mind that he might be able to make a big profit on the car but he couldn’t do it. He decided to offer the man a price for the car that was perhaps a little more than it was worth in the trade but Ben was confident he wouldn’t catch a cold and felt good being able to do the poor man a favour.
Of course if the story ended then and there more than a few people would probably think Ben was a mug and maybe someone who’s “in the wrong game” and that “there’s no room for sentimentality in business”.
But Ben was acutely aware of two things the whole time. Firstly the man was suffering and he wouldn’t feel right making a massive profit out of his misfortune and secondly, the recommendation. Although Ben didn’t know who recommended him to deal with the gentleman at such a sensitive time he felt he should respect that recommendation and felt proud to hopefully have lived up to it.
As a result Ben has so far received four direct referrals for new and used cars from the gentleman he brought the car from.
As far as we know Dave has not received any.