Wednesday, November 25, 2009


I went in to the Toyota dealership a week ago to "look around."
I was interested in trading my Corolla in on a new one, and, given the interest rates they had been running, thought it might be a good time to see what they could do.
I found what I wanted, undisturbed by salespeople for a good ten minutes. Apparently, their surveillance cameras weren't on yet. Finally, I walked toward the salesroom to place my question.
I hadn't quite made it to the door when it swung open and disgorged a stocky, middle-aged blond salesman.
He wanted to know how he could help me. This was the first in a long line of disingenuous statements he made to me over the next couple of hours. His opening salvo would've been more accurately rendered in the reverse, i..e., how could I help him?
But I stood on convention and neglected to correct him.
I told him which car I was looking at, what I would be trading in, and what monthly payment limit I had.
Car salesmen never take your ballpark monthly payment figure at face value. They figure, he's here, he wants a new car. This may be what he would like to pay, but what is he willing to pay?
I told him what I owed on my current car, "negative equity", I believe he called it.
Its difficult, he parried, to promise a comparable monthly payment on a new car when you have negative equity. But, his optimistic tone suggested that "comparable" was a small measurement, and we could doubtless work something out.
He proceeded with a credit application and appraisal of my old car. And there is something a little raw about having a car dealership appraise your car. You immediately get defensive.
After some paperwork, he offers me a refreshment which I refuse.
Then, he wants me to drive it. I consider this mostly unnecessary. I know what I'm getting. And I'm not exactly buying a Corolla for it's cushioned ride or cornering ability.
It's about dependability and, to a lesser extent, fuel economy.
But, apparently the credit app and appraisal take some time, so unless I want to sit in his cubicle chatting for the next thirty minutes, we'll take the test drive. Not being big on chatting, I take the test drive. Couple of miles later I know. Yep. It's a Corolla.
But I get a little better understanding of what the test drive is about. It is the transitional period in which the salesman begins dropping references to not if you buy the car, but when, you will want to think about gap insurance, an upholstery warranty, etc. If he can work this ownership feeling upon you successfully, you will swallow the bad news easier.
Upon returning, I sit in his cubicle again while he goes to collect the appraisal amount and credit ap results.
He comes back all smiles, with a monthly payment figure roughly eighty or ninety dollars higher than will fit down my gullet.
Let me say, I hate haggling. I hate it with a passion. The only one who hates it worse than I do is Devan, who stayed home.
But, I know what I can pay. And there is no new car fever that can induce me to exceed that amount. Mostly because I already walk around under a guilt complex, and there is no way that I'm going to let some pushy salesman in a golf pullover add to the load.
I can't do that, I told him. Too much.
What figure are you thinking, he asked.
I told him.
He leaves to speak to the sales manager.
I look around his cubicle for some incriminating paperwork.
He returns all smiles again.
Good news, he says. We can get your payment fifteen dollars under your limit with this nice lease option here.
Don't want to lease, I told him.
Ah. Well, let me go talk to the sales manager again.
Honestly I forget the next figure he comes back with. It was still too high.
He pushes the lease again. You know, he explains, people say you don't own a car when you lease it, but that's really not true. You do own it for the term of the lease. And then you bring it back and- you get to own another one for the next term, I finish mentally.
I need to go to the restroom. Not so much a nature call as a mirror check. I didn't think I looked stupider than usual when I left the house, but-
This figure you want is not really a realistic monthly payment. Nobody pays that small a payment any more.
That may well be, and if it is, I'll have to wait. No lease, and I can't pay what you're asking, so-
This wasn't a ploy. I was really ready to leave. I saw no future in this conversation because the distance between where he was and where I needed him to be was about the same as the distance between east and west.
But salesman are a clingy lot.
He toddles off again to this for-all-I-know fictitious sales manager. He could just as easily be going back to his laptop to hack my Facebook account (if I had one).
He comes back resigned. I win. There's the desired figure on this handwritten sheet of paper with a line next to it for my signature so we can get the ball rolling.
I take the pen.
Wait, what's this figure "eighty-four" next to the monthly payment? I ask aloud, so he'll know why I'm not signing the paper. That's the term, right?
Yes, that's the term, that's the only way we could get that monthly payment down where you wanted it.
I thought briefly about telling him I wanted to pay it off five dollars a month for the next 250 years.
But, instead, I say, I can't do that.
Somewhere in here, he tries again with the refreshments. You sure you don't want a drink?
Sure. It gave me a few minutes to think.
Reading a fascinating article written by a reporter for who went undercover and hired on as a salesman for a new car dealership, I discovered that the drink thing is another control measure. Having sprung for a drink, the salesman tries to convert this nicety into a small debt. After reading that, I wished I had refused again. Besides, it was Pepsi.
I thought we had a deal, he says.
Of course, I can't help what he thought, but I reply that I understand, but that is too long a term.
I've already given you everything I can give you here, he says.
That's okay, I say. I'll just pay my old car off before I trade in.
Well, I can't let you leave, he says.
All manner of retorts run through my mind.Well, he says again in agony, let me go talk to my sales manager again. But if we can get this payment at that figure at the term you want, can we deal?
One more condition. I want an extended warranty for that figure.
He quits the cubicle in much the same way as a condemned man leaves his cell for the electric chair.
He comes back a beaten man, sales manager in tow in bodily form. He's real after all.
There's the handshake. That's a study in itself. I have read that they teach salespeople how to shake hands. For example, sometimes they suggest pulling the victim toward you slightly with the handshake, as a measure of establishing control.
We're trying to get more money for your trade-in, and if they give us what we ask, we'll have a deal.
What is this "we" and "they" stuff? Classic good cop, bad cop.
The sales manager leaves and I'm left alone again with my friend the salesman.
Yeah, we'll make this happen, man. We want to keep you as a customer. Of course, I'm not making any money on this, but-
Oh, you don't work on commission?
Well, yeah, but I won't make anything on this deal. But that's alright. We kept you as a customer, and . . . I'll get the next guy that comes in here.
Carefully, I reply, Well, that's good. Telling Devan about it later, we both feel sure that he couldn't detect the sarcasm in my voice. I'm pretty good at hiding it.
He leaves for some other errand.
I call Devan. Looks like we've got it.
She sounds hesitant, not exactly skeptical, but . . .eventually supportive.
Be sure you get everything out of the car.
This was an interesting experience for me. I've always been fascinated by the psychological aspects of how all manner of people seek to establish the upper hand in a personal exchange or a business deal.
Ted Kennedy related an experience in which he dropped by the Oval Office to discuss a contentious matter with Lyndon Johnson.
First thing, LBJ earnestly asks Kennedy and his aide if they would like something to drink.
Both Kennedy and his aide decline.
You sure? prompts LBJ.
No, thank you.
LBJ summons the butler. I want a Fresca, he says. These guys don't want anything to drink but I want a Fresca.
Then LBJ looks sternly at them again and says, Are you sure you don't want a drink?
I'm sure you've all had the experience with a boss or some sort of superior who places his or her hand on your shoulder when attempting to snow you.
For me, the control factor even comes into play when I hear an advertisement for business X that tells me that business X is so concerned for my welfare that they are going to go the extra mile and give me this great deal.
Would it be so off-putting if they just said. "We want to make money. We know you like to save money. So, in order to get your business we are lowering our prices so that you will do business with us instead of someone else."?


wncjr said...

Sounds like your Grandpa Carpenter,I think you "done good".Enjoyed your blog.

Bill & Marsha said...

If you had told me a few years ago that you would do what you just wrote about, I would not have believed you. You didn't get it from me - that's for sure. I'm proud of you, though, and I thoroughly enjoyed the "telling."