I used to work for one of the biggest dealer chains in the country, and before it was taken over by another equally huge group, it was a pleasant outfit to work for – providing you pulled your weight. I transferred over to a nearby Vauxhall site eventually, but at first, my role involved selling new Renaults. I hated every minute of it, but the Business Manager, whose name I will omit, was a great man and a lunatic with a fuse shorter than a bonfire night rocket. He only got involved if you were really struggling to close a deal, and I am proud to say – we still keep in touch.
Customers come in all shapes and sizes – anyone who works with the public will slowly nod with heavy heart at this – but by far the punter dreaded the most by sales folk is the armchair know it all. They will, as a rule, waltz into the showroom with a rolled up copy of Which? Car or What Car? using everything they have read to gain what they think is the best deal. Our buying power quite often meant we could smash the published target prices by considerable margins, but – so long as this type of customer was happy in his or her own mind that the dealer had been beaten – both parties saved, and made a few bob.
My period with Renault will forever be remembered as the time when we had hardest customers to deal with. Fussy, pedantic, tight-fisted and forever complaining, it comes as no surprise to hear of the brand’s ever-shrinking market share with dealers throwing in their franchises. This is a real shame, as the range back then – and, indeed, today – drives really well. My demo at that time was a black Megane 105DCi Dynamique – possibly one of the nicest smokers to bop around in, and only spoiled by build quality even worse than a novelty found in your average Christmas cracker.
I shudder at the recollection of a customer who wandered in about 20 minutes before closing on my late turn. The trick was to give them a rock solid reason to come back at a more sociable hour, lock all the doors, set the alarms and bugger off home. This chap was in no rush so, after taking some details, I managed to boot him out just after 7.00pm. He did call back a few days later, and the process started again and he was every inch the customer from hell depicted above. Having just split with his partner (the lucky lady), he was looking to lick his wounds with a newer car.
Driving a stunning pre-tintop Megane Cabriolet trimmed in black leather, which he wanted to part-exchange, one of our special offer used MG ZRs caught his eye. Even though this was just after a year from the implosion of MGR, the cheeky ZR would still sell fairly strongly and we had two or three of them on offer. They were all with electrics, air conditioning, and in happy colours. A test drive followed but, when he drove the car, the chap moaned about the knobbly ride, the lack of bottom end punch of the 1.4-litre K-Series and the tired-looking dashboard. Imagine my delight and wonderment when he wanted to take things further.
The part-exchange was nothing we could retail, but owing to the fact it was quite immaculate, featured upgraded alloys, an impressive aftermarket stereo, all the stamps in the book and agreeable mileage my Business Manager tugged me aside and told me he was going to have this ragtop Renault for his wife. The customer chipped and haggled away wanting mats, fuel, a full service and fresh MoT (even though none was required) to the point where we almost threw him out of the door. He even made a remark about how undesirable MG Rover cars were – my retort being, ‘why do you want it then?’
Anyway, after a windy hour of hassle, haggle and negotiation, prices were agreed and my Business Manager had shrewdly created a document that stated the deal was purely on an ‘as is’ condition basis. A week passed by, and the MG went through the workshop where it was discovered it needed discs and a couple of other minor bits and bobs to make the grade. And then the hour came for the handover. It all kicked off again when he claimed we had promised a full tank of fuel (we had not) and then spat his dummy out, when I told him he could not come back to have some free mudflaps fitted.
What was more important was his part-exchange Megane Cabriolet. The aftermarket wheels and stereo had been changed and the road tax was missing – all of which went against the terms of our agreement. After some heated words and a consultation with my Business Manager, who was somewhat nonplussed, the deal went ahead anyway and it was good riddance to him. However, the horror returned roughly a week or two later on a busy Saturday afternoon, while I was attending to a nice elderly couple who, I think, were browsing over a Clio which was next to my desk.
With no regard to my current customers, he bounded over to my desk yelling and shouting various unprintable words that rhymed with words like front or cat. My customers quite rightly flew away like startled pigeons, and my Business Manager sprung from his office like a greyhound lure, and literally grabbed the screamer and manhandled him into his inner sanctum – with me in hot pursuit. Closing the door behind me, the customer was firmly told to quieten down and explain his angst – he then asked us why we had stolen the spare tyre from his MG.
We explained that the ZR did not come with a spare wheel but with a canister of tyre fix, and we were accused of trying to fob him off. It was all pointless as, once again, he went off in a rage demanding we supplied an alloy rim and tyre, which we firmly refused to do. He stormed out the side office and marched through the showroom telling everyone in sight how we were crooks and sharks with a liberal smattering of obscene language for good measure. The Business Manager peered round the door jamb and yelled back ‘And we want our road tax, wheels and stereo… so **** off!’
The rest of the afternoon was pretty quiet really!