Sales Talk : How the mighty fall!

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Mike Humble

The now bankrupt and shut dealer I'm so glad I never accepted a job with
The now bankrupt and shut dealer I’m so glad I never accepted a job with.
Photograph: Stacey Harris, www.geograph.org.uk

A few years back, when I was buying and selling buses and coaches, I got itchy feet and missed the frantic bustling environment of a proper car showroom. There used to be a sizeable PSA dealership not a million miles from me that regularly used to recruit for all areas of the business. It seemed an ideal site – right next to a busy roundabout, retail park and mega-busy petrol station.

Sending in my application by email, I was invited in for a chat which just happened to coincide with some holiday I had taken but a before hand look see needed to be done first. This practice involves turning up at the dealer on spec a day or two beforehand to soak up the vibes and take note of how the other execs go about their duties – think of it as getting to know your enemy if you like.

At the time, I had a two-year Audi Avant S-Line in silver that was year old as a company smoker. On face value I looked like prime punter material as I drifted into the customer parking area smack bang outside the gin palace windows. Sauntering in, I meandered over to whatever was dead centre of the floor and did the usual opening and closing of doors. Not even a head raised from the sales desks nearby, so I moved to another car within a foot of the bored looking service receptionist and did the same – a double blank. So I went back outside and looked around a used 407 that judging by the brake discs moved around the last time Elvis did.

After becoming a bit bored I was just about to scoot when a smart looking chap came rushing out of the doors clinging onto a pile of deal files heading for the adjacent separate showroom. A question was posed to him and he briefly stopped in his tracks and said he was a bit tied up and would come back and attend to me in five minutes. Some more perusing around the used stock took place, and after ten minutes I jumped into the car and cleared off.Β  Driving back home I thought there would be some potential to make some money there if they were all that lax on a weekday.

Fast forward 24 hours and who do you think I found myself sat in front of? Yes, that very same bloke who rebuffed me and left me to linger round the pitch, ignored like a ham bap at aΒ Bar Mitzvah – and he failed to even recognise me. He went through the usual waffle and baloney about potential money I could earn, and what could I bring to the party and so on. I quizzed him about his staff retention rate and other stuff that really throws even the most seasoned interviewer off track, I never really got a satisfactory answer just more management piffle.

We parted company and before I had returned home barely an hour later, there was an answer phone message requesting my presence for a second interview. This was agreed and the very next day I found myself in the office again, but this time his dealer principle (DP) joined us and chipped in here and there between taking huge mouthfuls of pasta from a tupperware box. It was all very surreal. The DP asked me what I thought of the site and gave a polite answer in return, he seemed to sense my holding back and probed me for a more honest reply.

I went into detail about how the sales desk waste paper bins were crammed full of empty coffee cups, the showroom was dusty with stray leaves everywhere from the nearby foliage. He retorted with a story about how their cleaner was off sick and how he had just joined the firm to ‘kick some arses’ into gear. Now I have dealt with people like him before, and let me tell you, they are a dead loss. So I had made a mental decision they could keep the job. I wasn’t interested in the slightest. A dealership run with fear and a bully is quite simply dead in the water.

The DP left us to finish our chat leaving a stale pong of tomato and tuna in his wake, the sales manager leaned back into his chair with his hands clasped together behind his head and verbally offered me the job but wanted to know where he had seen me before. I thus explained about my recent visit and about how I was blanked by all concerned including him and he went an odd shade of pale. He then seemed almost agitated by this so I explained my tact about how I wanted to see how it all ran and so on. My reason seemed to compute and the job offer still stood. We parted company with myself requesting to think about it for a short while.

Arriving home again I decided to give it a swerve and never made a phone call back. But after a couple of days, he called me on the mobile, so I officially gave the job the flick. And the reply was quite staggering. I won’t recount all of the language used, but let’s just say he was nonplussed, telling me – and I quote: ‘I just f****ng knew you wouldn’t take the job… so bo**ocks to yer!’ He then slammed down the phone.

With this, I was raging with anger, and I drove round there that afternoon, stormed into the DP’s office and relayed the conversation to him. He wanted me to sit down and talk. No chance, I was out of it.

So this brings me to today a good few years after this event, and a while since the same dealership went into administration and duly closed down. There… just across the road on that small retail park, selling breakdown cover underneath a grubby parasol from the back of a Peugeot Bipper outside a very well known chain of car parts and push bikes, was that same gobby sales manager. He never clocked me but I kind of felt sorry for him – clearly a broken man but I believe in Karma and the old saying…

You only reap what you sow!

Mike Humble

Upon leaving school, Mike was destined to work on the Railway but cars were his first love. An apprenticeship in a large family Ford dealer was his first forray into the dark and seedy world of the motor trade.

Moving on to Rover and then PSV / HGV, he has circumnavigated most departments of dealerships including parts, service and latterly - the showroom. Mike has owned all sorts of rubbish from Lada to Leyland and also holds both Heavy Goods & Public Service Vehicle licences, he buys & sells buses and coaches during the week. Mike runs his own automotive web site and writes for a number of motoring or commercial vehicle themed publications

39 Comments

  1. Superb story.Unfortunately there are still stupid sales managers in the trade who couldn’t sell a pork pie to Father Christmas that keep getting plum jobs at main dealers.

  2. The closure of the dealership was inevitable – when the place is not kept clean and the salesmen are not selling or even taking an interest in customers no-one will want to buy there – even if they like the car. Most people buy from people they like or where they are made to feel special or at least valued.

    As for the interview technique and ‘post-interview feedback’ – totally unprofessional. Even Kermit the Frog is less of a muppet than these guys!

  3. Sounds very different from the BMW dealer in Barnstaple who are bright, friendly and attentive. A joy to deal with!

    They were much more interested in serving me and selling me a car than their Exeter dealership who seemed only really interested in corporate sales.

  4. I’m sure it wasn’t intentional, but this article comes across as conceited and smug. It’s sad to see anyone losing their job/business. Their poor salesmanship was no doubt a contributing factor, but Peugeot’s MASSIVE loss of image and desirability since its peak in the mid 90s can’t have helped either.

    Even the best and most hard working salesman would struggle to make good money with the current bland and overpriced range.

    It’s Dealer Principal (not Principle) BTW.

  5. There are many sides to this coin so to speak.

    I agree with Mike that the messy showroom and bad attitude is never going to sell cars, but then Andy is also correct in saying that the Lion now goes from weakness to weakness.

    Pug was a great car from around 85 to around 95, but it has all went horribly wrong there hasn’t it.

    Also, If I go into a showroom and the sales person instantly heads over to me to ask if they can help, I instantly leave.

    I don’t need someone ramming a deal down my throat.

    I think a clean and tidy, friendly showroom with well presented stock and an approachable, NOT approaching sales person is the formula to go for.

    I know that works here in Northern Ireland.

    Personally though, I prefer to buy off private buyers. I hate dealers and their lies!

  6. Great story as always Mike.

    Doesn’t surprise me, recently poked around a used 508 at a Peugeot dealer and was ignored.

    And the ending to that story had a taste of irony, standing in front of a *Peugeot* Bipper…
    “Sweep the streets I used to own…”

    @Andy

    Give over.

    Peugeot were still selling even through the x07 range, still had some fleet sales, motability, private financing.
    Mike turned up as a punter, nosied around some of the fleet and was ignored. That’s just poor salesmanship.
    Some of the best salesmen I’ve encountered could sell snake oil.
    The attitude of the DP stank, even on the job rejection, rather than “We’re constantly striving to improve our standards and hope that we might see you in the future” instead of a tirade of swearing.

  7. @Alan Mitchell

    I’ve actually grown tired of private buyers in NI.
    It’s like they’re all hiding something.
    Difficult to get a half decent car here.
    As for dealers, the best ones are the ones that can gauge an interest.
    We are a strange bunch though, if an immediate approach is some sort of threat…. πŸ˜‰

  8. @Will M – I don’t disagree with you or Mike, this was poor salesmanship (as I said in my earlier post).

    But going for an interview (and a follow up interview) for a job he had no intention of taking, that’s no better behaviour than some of the “time waster” customers Mike has described in some of his previous stories.

    Stick to the stories about weird customers and the motor trade in the “old days”, not sniping about other dealers going out of business.

  9. True Will!

    Many’s a charlatan private seller in these parts! Especially the further into the countryside you go!

    I buy my motors on the mainland or off people I know well.
    You probably do the same

    But yes, we are all weirdo’s too!

  10. A garage should never have started trading from this site. How on earth does one get planning permission to graft a concrete & corrugated metal extension onto the back of what looks like a Georgian Manor house?

    Makes the later conservatories look like sympathetic extensions in comparison!

  11. I think dealer make a great difference, buying my mother’s Fiat Panda, I avoided the newly opened big chain dealer just up the road from her, going instead to a small dealer in Warwick, friendly service by people who appreciated what they sell was what I found.

    What impressed me most was that they had been a Fiat dealer since 74 when they were one of the many British Leyland dealers dropped in the rationalisation. Still in business after nearly 40 years of selling Fiats in the UK must mean they look after their customers ;-).

  12. I think this is a fascinating article. There is no excuse for arrogance in any selling business and sometimes you have to go back to see if you’ve caught them on a bad day.

    This is not confined to car dealerships. I am a collector of what are quite valuable items which I buy both on-line and at specialist shops. Sometimes I look a bit scruffy and it’s amazing how some sales people talk down to you, show you the cheapest item (you can’t afford that one…). Sometimes I walk out and sometimes the challenge gets the better of me and I do buy “that one”. You can often see the shock on their faces and if the price is right, why not?

  13. I have no sympathy for Mike’s victim in this encounter. I might well have done the same myself. Having been poorly treated by dealers myself on a few occasions (ignored, lied to etc) they get what they deserve.

    I had one incident where I knew far more about the specification of a car than the [VW] salesman did. In fact, he tried to pass off the car as having a higher specification than it did. I let him dig himself a big hole and then pulled a specification sheet out of my pocket and passed it over to him. I then proceeded to demonstrate my knowledge of the Golf model line-up much to his embarrassment and anger. I suspect that he had been trying to sell me the cheaper model at the higher model price.

    Needless to say, no sale and I have never been back.

  14. I see the GM-PSA tie up is already bearing fruit, with Peugeot now selling Vectras.
    New 408?

    If only SAIC-GM could tie in too and sell the MG6 alongside…

  15. @18 What GM- PSA tie up? there isnt one,not as at 12 sept edition of Automotive News-which reports it as a stalking horse to make the french public accept massive redundancies from the PSA group,so why on earth would GM want to go near anything bankrupt like PSA having just got out of bankrupcy themselves?

  16. @18 & 19 – Apparently PSA is selling 30% of its business to DongFeng which GM are mightily annoyed about given PSA are supposed to be making their small MPV’s, etc. Value Β£1billion = 2% of the cost of HS2. I know which I would prefer as an investment….

  17. Good article Mike – thank you.
    Way back in the 69 I was ‘trained’ as a Vauxhall salesman and even then I was dissolutioned by the whole scene. My father had told me about his (admittedly short) time just after the war selling Opels in London. I longed for this enthusiasm and comaradarie he spoke of – and the rivalry (friendly most of the time) between their outlet and the local Ford and Austin garages. All I saw in 69 was salesman who had sold everything from milk products to typewriters and animal feeds to drugs – hence at a mere 20 years old I knew more about the product range and all our rivals than any of them. Only the commercial guy was a consummate, pipe smoking, quietly spoken professional who had started out selling X Army trucks years before.
    Much later (around 82) I was looking for a really economical car to replace the Volvo 144 for tanking 90 miles up the motorway and back every day. As far as I remember, the following is a fair summary:
    Fiat/Vauxhall Garage (the very same company I trained with) – walked in, spoke to receptionist – asked for some help – “I wanted to buy a Fiat Panda”
    Response. “You’ll have to take a seat – their all busy” Left.
    Peugeot – ignored for 10 minutes – staff having a meeting in an office with the door open. Left.
    VW – chap came over and started talking – never listened to a word I said – just talked about how I had made the right decision to by a Polo. Left.
    Ford – guy was more full of himself than Cowle and Clarkson put together. Left.
    Citroen. Left alone after brief “hello” and ” give me shout if I can help”. Quietly spoken, knowledgable 30 something who inspired confidence and listened more than he talked. I bought a Visa L and never regretted it. It let me down once in 40,000 miles when the clutch cable went. I limped it into the dealer at gone 1400hrs on a Saturday – no staff except sales people.
    The very same salesman donned a pair of overalls, put the car on the ramp and changed the cable. Solid Gold.

  18. Been in the local MINI showroom today – the staff there showed how it was done – polite, courteous, knowledgeable and giving us plenty of time even though we made it clear we weren’t buying for a few months. The showroom was also immaculate.

  19. @21, WarrenL

    Bongo Brawny calls to mind a Japanese marketing department coming down from LSD.

    Bipper, I think, comes from a rather less happy place and almost certainly involved a politely-received powerpoint presentation. Whatever bipping is supposed to represent, it doesn’t sound like the sort of activity anyone would do out of choice.

  20. Bipper is a great name you miserys!

    We never got the Citroen Jumpy (dispatch) here – now that’s a great name.

  21. Wow, just looked up where that garage is located on Google Maps – customer service must have been diabolical!!! How you could fail to bring customers in and sell cars but the bucket load from a site in that location I don’t know!!

  22. @ francis brett

    The fact that GM own 7% of PSA?

    The fact that the next generation MPVs (Zafira / C8 etc.) and crossovers (Antler / C-Crosser etc.) are to use shared platform?

    They didn’t get more, but were apparently keen but wanted to close some French factories.

  23. I do the odd trip to local dealers to see how they work.
    Benfield Dacia- salesman extremely helpful and enthusiastic, not bothered at all about selling what could be seen as budget cars. Far better than some of the incompetents Arnold Clark seem to employ.
    Bristol Street Motors- sales staff sat in showroom drinking tea impervious to the customers outside, terrible reputation locally.
    Border Cars( Skoda and Mitsubishi)- only interested if you’re buying new, also have the dodgy habit of covering up the number plates to hide the age of their used cars.
    Walkingshaw Kia- very professional sales staff, really keen to help, not forceful at all and very knowledgable.
    Edgar and Son( Fiat, Hyundai,Nissan, used Ford, Suzuki)- bought three cars from them and completely honest and with good after sales.
    B and H Motors( SEAT)- one of a dying breed, the owner acts as the salesman and is widely respected locally. Has won numerous awards.
    Lloyd Motors( Mini, BMW, Volvo, Fiat, Honda, Alfa)- can be pushy, but have good after sales care.

  24. Reading through Which today and Peugeots seem to be bottom in most of the car ownership surveys. Hopeless customer care probably doesn’t help what is a miserable ownership experience with breakdowns and faults common on all models. It’s a sad thing for me to say as in the eighties the Peugeot 205 and 305 were very good cars and up to German standards of build. Now even Fiat are beating them and I’d much rather be in a funky 500 than a phone box 107.

  25. The Man at the Top is key – and men change positions – come and go within most organisations. Whether a dealer or manufacturer, the overall drive, efficiency, ethos, presentation and end product is down to the top man.
    From my study of company history – mostly auto related – I have found nothing over the last 50 years that could dissuade me from this view. The complication is that the Top Men (just like top women – example Mrs T) can be fundamentally flawed for periods of their tenure.
    Company histories often reflect this personalisation with glaringly obvious results over the years. Most car companies have had truly bad times – sometimes these bad times have been before the current crop if buyers were born. Even in the last 30 years (a tiny period of many car companies history) we have seen Vauxhall get it all wrong and struggle with cars like FE Victor. We have seen the present Peugeot situation affect almost every car manufacturer at some point. The interesting things is whether the decline is halted in time – or whether somebody pulls the plug before this.
    In my own home town I have seen two families rise from nothing to be main dealers for everything from Fiat to Ferrari (and Maserati) and from Mini to BMW. Meanwhile, dealers for Audi, VW, Citroen, Volvo, Ford and Mercedes move in and out more often than the ‘travellers’ on the Common. They have had to change ownership or branding many, many times and some have disappeared completely for a while.
    The demise of an organisation (given that it is not a total basket case when he/she arrives) is entirely that of the CEO. The demise following the appalling behaviour of some of it’s staff, of the Peugeot dealer that initiated this Blog – is that of the CEO. Looking at it another way (and I’m always willing to learn), does any one have any examples of a really fantastic company turning out a fantastic product – the whole thing being a huge success – but with a complete numpty at the head (I mean actually running the thing not just a figurehead for the Board).
    Knowing the propensity on this site for a good argument I bet one of you does!

  26. I passed this site today. On the showroom window read “Lifestyle Mazda -Coming Soon”, reflecting a contrast in company fortunes.

  27. @6 Have to agree I was very surprised by BMW in Barnstaple, I was on holiday there back in 2007 and my BMW had a fault whilst I was visiting Clovelly. On the way back to Woolacombe where we were staying I nipped into the dealer not expecting much help but the Service Manager quickly took my keys, ushered me to a Customer Area in the showroom and told me to drink all the tea and coffee i could and watch tv whilst he sorted my car – 45 minutes later car was fixed – excellent dealer who knew he wouldnt get any repeat business from me but still looked after me!

  28. Of the city-based dealers I’ve visited over the last while:
    Hurst Renault / Dacia – was noseying at a nice Laguna coupe, salesman approached, was knowledgable, talked about the car for a while, got business card
    Hurst Peugeot – no-one cared that I was eyeing up a used 508
    Bavarian MINI – this one was a bit strange, was like waiting for a doctors appointment in a nightclub. Queue of people to talk to sales people. Salesman knowledgable but a little pushy on the extras.

    In the sticks, small town dealers get a good or bad rep.
    Martin Citroen seems to do well.
    Central Mazda also has a good rep.
    However Bells Peugeot/Renault/Dacia has a bad reputation.

  29. Just bought an MG6 from Dave of “Hello Dave” fame from the Longbridge sales centre.

    He was the perfect salesman. Knowledgable, not pushy, polite, makes a great cup of tea (non of this vending machine tat here). Showroom is immaculate and welcoming. All in all, the best experience I have had buying a car.

    As for the worst experiences, one was this year whilst browsing at the Dacia showroom whilst I had taken my Mums Micra in for recall work at the adjoining showroom. Young chap came over asking if I want help, I told him I was just curious. He then starts going on about how the Duster is based on the Nissan Qashqai and was the same car for half the price. So I play his game and ask what the Sandero is based on, “latest Clio” is his answer. I inform him that it was wise not to mislead people and that I knew exactly what they were based on which was the previous generation Clio and then walk away! The other was back in 2006 when we were looking for a small cheap runaround for my girlfriend at the time after she had passed her test. We’re looking round this random used car site and nothing is catching our eye. An Arthur Daley type character comes over and asks if we want help. We reply that we were looking for a small, reliable hatchback with some street cred but nothing here was suitable. So he points out this Perodua Kelisa, we say no thanks. He then starts on about how it was based on a Nissan Micra. I stp him mid flow and tell him that it was based on a Daihatsu which was owned by Nissans main rival Toyota. So he says “well, it has the same footprint as a Micra”. We walk away. Priceless!

  30. Dealerships vary due to what the manufacturers expect of them. Ford and Vauxhall dealers seem mostly interested in big fleet sales as this is where these two companies make the most money, but companies like Honda have a better standard of customer care as most of their cars are sold privately and Japanese manufacturers demand very high standards from their dealers.
    Also Fiat dealers seem to be getting their act together as the 500 has become the first really desirable Fiat since the X 1/9 and the Uno Turbo and the company are desperate to hang on to their new fans. Actually seeing how popular Fiat are becoming and how their used prices still remain low, I am becoming tempted.

  31. Short story: Today I went to my brand new Fiat Alfa Chrysler main dealer to buy a small part for my Fiat Motorhome and look at buying a Mito to replace the MINI
    Whereas my local MINI dealer greets me like a long lost friend, ensures someone deals with me promptly and plies me with coffee and Danish if I have to wait more than a few minutes – what did I get from TH White today? Dam all!
    The smiley receptionist pointed me to Parts who appeared to have only one man working – although there were lots of suits around studiously ignoring us. One chap informed me that the only man who could help me was xxxx and he was busy.
    I left Mrs Wolseley at the Parts counter and went and looked all over a Mito wearing I hasten to add a full Alfa Romeo body warmer. Dozens of suits walked past me whilst I was lying down beside it, peering in to the boot, opening all the doors and generally looking like a man who wanted to buy a 14k car!
    After exactly half an hour we gave up – both with trying to buy the part and the car! They were not busy – there was only customer in the place and he was the man in front of me at the Parts Desk.
    The MINI stays. TH White you have a lot to learn. Go to MINI, watch and learn!

  32. @14 and @33 – typical sort of architecture used around Edwardian and early 1920s. It looks elegant, but the building is unlikely to be as much as 100 years old.

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