AROnline peeps behind the office door in the car showroom to see what skeletons lurk in the shadows:
Mike Humble pays respect to the many people who inspired and nurtured his young passion for the motor trade rather than kicking him out of the showroom, while reckoning some sales staff of today, could stop and think about what started their career. Money, the love of cars or maybe a little of both?
From little acorns
In a previous middle-aged ramble, I mentioned how kids can sometimes be the horror of a car showroom. To set the scene, you are going through the options with mum and dad, but often they are never quite fully listening to the conversation as they are too fixated on, and rightly so, whether Billy is trying to trap little Jennies hand in the boot of a new car. So often and just as you are getting somewhere, one of the little cherubs starts crying and in a flash, they are all up and gone and you’ve lost them. But older kids from say around 13 years or so in the showroom are much different and here, many sales execs make the assumption they are there to cause nuisance or steal.
It is easy to forget what drives our passion for cars and where it stems from, for me, I could not even begin to think as I have loved all modes of self propulsion ever since I can remember, with every long term girlfriend having to understand or at least tolerate my passion for engines. A little while back, my current `er indoors was looking to off load her Renault Megane Cabriolet, and during a visit to a used dealer with a view to purchasing a Discovery, I noticed two young lads doing no harm looking at some motor on the front. As the flustered chap was making a pig’s ear of his sales pitch, he noticed the two young lads and seemed more concerned about them, rather than us.
They were doing no harm at all, yet the bloke quipped “f*** off” to the two lads and we made our excuses and left soon after. This had nothing to do with the use of language even though I would have been fired should that have been me, but more owing to the lack of respect, simply because some years back in the early-’80s, those lads were me and my school chum Dylan. We would cycle for miles around looking in car showrooms, collecting brochures and other related paraphernalia and even now, we still have the odd brochure somewhere in a box which we thumbed through in our bedrooms back in the days when sweets were two a penny or when Buzby told us 10p lasted three minutes.
Some of the sales men back then (and they were all men) were terrific blokes who actually fuelled our fire inside rather than give us a clip round the ear or a boot up the jacksie. Mill Garages Honda in Darlington now long gone, employed one chap called Ian Sale who looked like a blonde Nigel Mansell, he loved his cars and Formula 1 and providing he was not busy, spent many an hour chatting to me and my mate. He even treated us to a high speed thrash in a new 16v CRX and 2.0i-16 Prelude often, and even the dealer principle – John Wilkinson had time for us. On the other side of town right near where I lived was Mill Garages Faverdale.
They were Audi – VW and local quattro agents with the premises being clinical and pristine, as you would expect from V.A.G. Malcolm Longstaff was their Audi salesman – imagine Mr Chisholm from Minder with tinted glasses and you have a mental picture. To say mental, would be the operative word owing to the fact he is a bit mad but really, a terriffic bloke. He was, and still is a very witty and informed man who is now in the used car game, but back then in his Quattro days would take me out for a spin if they were due to close for the evening. If anyone asks me how fast the old 200 Avant quattro was, let me tell you…. They were bloody quick… even going backwards!
Down in the town, 100 yards from Honda, was Croxdale Service Station the local Citroen dealer with their sole salesman John Armitage. I first grew fond of Citroen nearly fainting in admiration over 30 years ago watching a teachers brand new GS lift its suspension one day, it was akin to watching a slumbering cat awaken, stretch and then raise to its feet. John was yet again, another thoroughly decent chap who never gave any hassle to two young petrol heads. To this day, I still secretly admire the boldness of Citroen cars especially the older generation of BX, CX & GSA models – utterly bonkers and often regarded as idiosyncratic nonsense, but get behind the wheel of a nice CX for example, and it all falls into place – with perfect clarity.
Other dealers included Sherwood’s Vauxhall where I had my work experience during Secondary school, employing top guys like Peter Rowe and Andy Clark working their charms in the huge used car showroom, inviting me to their works Christmas party in 1987 and subsequently getting me drunk – all at the age of 15. The following year seemed a decade away, but just 12 months later; I would have moved almost 200 miles and be working as an apprentice vehicle fitter. But not all the dealers had the same attitudes and welcoming manner, even if all your wealth related to your pocket money, and some were downright vile.
The local Daihatsu dealer was a dark dirty hole, and my mate and I adored the Charade Turbo (and still do) so we ventured into the showroom which was not far from another place of personal interest – the bus station. Entering the showroom we told to keep off the cars, so when we used ESP to look at each other, grab a brochure and split in silence – we were advised the brochures would be £1 each. We both somehow decided our like of the Daihatsu Charade GTti Turbo was not worth that kind of money. Dylan placed his brochure gingerly back into the literature rack, where I threw mine onto the floor with a spinning effect – and off we went on our resplendent 12 speed racing cycles.
Where is this leading? Some may wonder aloud, well, kids grow up, learn to drive and become consumers all in the space of a very short time and some of us develop very good memories. Now I’m not saying that mine or Dylan’s reason for never owning a Charade or recent Daihatsu model like the Silly on or Sirloin or whatever those daft little buzz boxes are called, stems from the attitude of a scruffy rotund salesman, but impressions last. Building up customer relations starts right from the first point of contact, even if that means the potential customer still has his / her homework to do before admiring the glossy pictures of the Manta GTE or Volkswagen Santana.
Real infectious attitiudes or a passion which radiates a love of the trade seems ever missing in todays rob and run dealer style, which is such a damn shame. A much missed former work colleague Gary Halliday, is similar to me; he can also work 10 hours a day in his Land Rover showroom and still sit in Curry House in the evening and extol the advantages and disadvantages between the Montego EFi and the Sierra 2.0iS. Simply because we either share a deep down passion or are plain sad middle aged men who have long suffering partners – you decide.
Answers on a postcard to: Magpie – Thames Television PO Box 99…
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
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