A couple of tales of the regarding the motor trades most loathed customer – the messer!
The 75 and the Black Rat:
Just as turf accountants have their own language and tick-tack gesticulations, the motor trade has its own list of slang phrases or nick names. Out of all the well known trade phrases, there is one that is both explanatory and enough to make a grown man weep – and that phrase is ‘messer’.
This is the type of customer who will either womble into the showroom five minutes before closing on a Sunday or smack bang in the middle of a busy Saturday afternoon – just when you don’t need them. Messers can often be well skilled in time wasting, and they can and will catch even the most seasoned Sales Executive.
To those who have only ever been customers, a salesman will ask you at first point of contact, a series of tell me or paint me a picture questions, this is to gauge whether you are in the market or in some cases, in a position to afford to buy a car. This is known in the trade as ‘qualification’ and as a salesperson, his/her next plan to extrude your hard earned bunce from your pocket, will be based on the intelligence gleaned from their answers.
Saturday is usually the busiest day, so quite often, if a sales exec thinks you are there just to keep warm or chat, don’t take offence if he cuts short your discussion about the strength of the Euro and slides away. We love to chat, but we are there to sell cars and make money!
Like I stated in the opening gambit, ‘messers” will catch every Sales Exec at least once a month. Some people simply love to spend up to 3hrs in a showroom, going through colours, availability, options, finance plans and even go so far as finance proposal with no intention of ever buying.
This will never cease to amaze me as to why anyone would even consider entering what some people would describe as a high pressure and intimidating environment, just to waste time, but hey, that’s life. Some customers are truly plain stupid enough to waltz into your premises armed with a sack of bad debt and an atrocious credit rating and expect to get a new car.
These are known in the trade as ‘black rats” and whereby some simply inherit a bad credit rating by having a partner/spouse who is neck high in financial ruin or by plain bad luck, some also are well aware of their situation but have no concept whatsoever of how credit works, and it is these people who are partly responsible for the current debt crisis we are in – there is no such thing as free money.
I know it sounds slightly harsh, but car dealers tend to have an idea on who is good for money or credit by using the postcode factor, namely, if their address is somewhere that represents a bad night in Bosnia, chances are they might just struggle for finance – regardless of how much deposit they may have, so as mentioned before, qualificational questions are vital.
One customer I remember as if it was yesterday, came bumbling into the showroom mid week to view a Rover 75 1.8 Turbo. Having eyes and ears like a sewer rat, I noticed the family park their aging gaffer tape adorned Mondeo and pour out of the car resembling the Clampetts – all they needed was Granny in a rocking chair on the roof and you had the full picture.
They burst into the premises like a whirlwind complete with three kids and a tattoo clad mum, and after opening one eye, noticed my colleagues had all legged it for a smoke. I looked on in horror as the whole tribe crawled all over the 20 grand showroom centrepiece, drawing my strength, I sauntered over.
The head of the family, who resembled a cross between Rab C Nesbit & Demis Roussos, told me they had come into a ‘few bob’ and were looking to treat themselves. An old trick I had for sifting the wheat from the chaff as t`wer, was to request to see the driving licence before taking a spin.
If I was in any doubt as to the viability of the customer, I would request this blaming company policy as the reason, back then people rarely carried it with them, though today, its standard trade practice at all times. He asked for a drive out anyway, and I used this as my joker card of which he fully appreciated, rounded up his troops, took my card and a brochure and was gone – leaving me feel like I had gone deaf!
Calm was once again restored and as if by magic, my two fellow colleagues drifted back to their desk – yeah cheers lads. On the Friday, the same chap but alone, came in to the showroom holding his licence and asked for a test drive in a Rover 75.
Bearing in mind he claimed to be sitting on some cash, we took the car out for a drive and asking him for his thoughts, he stated the car was everything he expected it to be. Sitting back at my desk, the Kenco poured like spring water and he made it quite clear he wanted the same car he had driven, and after being told we would have to order a car or find one in the network owing to the showroom model being not for sale, a deal was struck.
There would be no part exchange, the worthless Mondeo was going to his brother for use a banger racer and he agreed to leave £2000 as a deposit with the remainder to be settled before delivery via bankers draught or Electronic money transfer. We could get a 75 delivered in 5 weeks but the following weekend he came back claiming he had found a car for less money.
After some negotiation and seeing the proof of the better offer, we undercut a nearby rival by a few quid. Then he came back again with another offer from a dealer in… wait for it… Dundee, but he would have to collect the car in person as they would not deliver to the Midlands.
Bear in mind, a 6 hour journey single rail fare from Northants to Tayside would have cost at least £150, there was only £200 differing our prices. I stood by my guns, but so did he, and after coming within a cats whisker of the deal cocking (trade speak for failing) my guv`nor agreed to knock another £150 off, but that was his lot, we weren’t making a huge amount of money on the deal by now.
So after explaining in no uncertain terms that was his whack as far as money was going, it all went quiet again. Well it did do until our financial controller told me his payment date had come and gone, after contacting the man he came back into the showroom, only this time he was not so cocky.
Well, after buying a wide screen TV, new bikes for the kids and a holiday abroad, he had blown most of the money he had inherited and was now looking at finance for his new car. Needless to say, he bumped on his credit searches and after re negotiating the price and using a sub prime lending outlet, it quickly became apparent that even the Greek Government was in a less parlous financial state than my punter.
Owing to the length of time and the messing around we had gone through, he only got £1500 of his money back. I asked my DP what was going to happen with the ordered 75, only to be told that it was in fact never ordered, it would have been simply swapped with a car through the nearby dealer who initially beat my first offer.
Test Drive Tommy – Julember Delivery:
The title above is trade slang for customers who drive every car on the market and dither. They will start looking in July… and then buy in December. No matter what they are offered, they sometimes just won’t buy!
Working by the rule of thumb, selling a car to an OAP tends to be a painless and straightforward affair, they are patient, generally nice people, seldom haggle the shirt off your back, and tend to recommend you to others if you look after them. I know many sales folk who will run a mile from them, simply because they will not be rushed into any decision – and in my honest opinion, rightly so.
Personally, I love ’em and my main reason for this was a genuine desire to do the job right and make people happy. Some old folk had fascinating stories to tell and I loved to listen to what made them tick, people who know me think I loath the general public – but that’s far away from the truth really.
The main fact for why I no longer retail in new cars, is quite simply because the fun has gone from the job for reasons which have been partly explained in previous Sales Talk items. I take great pride in my work and always have done, and the current new car sales culture is solely to rip people off and make as much profit per unit as possible – to hell with customer service.
When I was a bit younger, I knew some terrific sales guys who often earned more than the managers, simply because they were good blokes who knew how to make a customer feel special, but today, it’s a horrible high pressure environment where building a bond for life with a customer has no time or place in the big dealer group culture.
That said, some customers can drive you mad enough to want to wrap a fire extinguisher round their head and then, set fire to them. I had the misfortune to sell Renault cars in the North East back a few years back, I learnt my lesson soon after and transferred to a different franchise within the group. An elderly but sprightly couple came by one day and drifted into the showroom focussing their attention to a red Scenic 1.5D which was on display. Introducing myself, they explained that they looked after 3 grandchildren regularly and often took a ferry abroad for touring holidays, hence the reason for a retired couple looking for a people carrier type car. Self financing and no part exchange, they were your ideal type of customer.
Now even back then, Renault would throw sacks of money at a customer in the form of a generous discount, and during the test drive, the wife of the couple made various clucking and cooing noises signalling she loved the car. This is normally a good sign, get `er indoors on your side and the deal is done as a rule, but as I was to find out, this was far, much farther, from the truth.
Whatever your opinion of Renaults may be, the 2007 model Scenic for all its foibles, drove really well as did most models from this brand. Sitting at the desk going through the highlights of the drive, the husband turned to the wife and said ‘but how does it compare to the Touran”. To compare these two are like comparing Skegness to the Sorrento Coast.
In terms of aspiration and brand perception, the Volkswagen Touran is rock solid, but to get one with any form of credible standard equipment, you certainly pay for the pleasure of owning a Volkswagen. The Scenic on the other hand, was French, had poorer residuals but ultimately far cheaper to buy and run, also having a vastly superior level of trim. Armed with a massive discount, the Scenic was impossible to beat for value – even against something Korean.
Further conversation also revealed they had looked at nearly every people carrier on the market, so I at least, now knew this was not going to be a flash in the pan sale. Well after giving them a figure for a cash buy, they would not commit there and then so off they went.
Well after a couple of follow up phone calls, they were still no further backwards in coming forwards, so it was left to be, you win some, you loose some. A couple of weeks later, the same customer phoned to ask if they could come back and view the car again, so things seemed positive once more. After a good look round the Scenic, they once again left even after being tempted with some added value such as mats, flaps and paintwork protection for free. Even my sales manager had a go with them and once again I called back couple of times shortly after to see where they were at, they wouldn’t say yes or no, so in the end, I let them loose putting them down to buying elsewhere or just messing.
After having a go with selling badly built and unreliable French cars, I transferred to a Vauxhall dealership where things were much better from a salesman’s point of view. We were riding high on new Corsa mania thanks to those memorable adverts with the soft toys running around (I still own a set of them too I confess).
Everything was selling well and Corsa, Astras and Vectras were heading out of the showroom almost as fast as GM could build them. One day during the week, I was reversing my demo into a parking bay, when in my mirror I spotted a familiar looking couple looking round a Zafira diesel we had parked on the ramps outside. It was Mr & Mrs Undecided from my times at Renault – my heart sank.
I strode over with my hand outstretched and greeted them and we all remembered each other, they explained they had come to view a Zafira diesel and would like to drive one. Now here is the crux reader… this was some eight months after they had first entered the Renault showroom, amazingly, they had still not decided what car they were buying, but as the saying goes ‘every suspect is a prospect” so I started afresh with the couple and the re-match was game on – only this time, they were going to buy a car. The motor they were stood next to was a dark blue metallic 120bhp Zafira Exclusive Diesel which was a long stock car (previous model year) only some minor detail differed this model from a current one and visually, they were identical.
What made this one special, was the fact there was a ridiculous sum of money slashed off the price – I can’t remember the exact figure, but it was seriously cheap. It had just gone outside for display right in the view of the passing traffic and it was brand new with only delivery mileage on the clock too. Before I committed to getting the car from display, I explained in no uncertain terms that this was an exceptionally cheap car and a one off, if they didn’t buy it or at least leave a deposit should they like it, someone else certainly would. The test drive went fine, and they both mentioned about how spacious it felt compared to the Renault. I explained how the car had better service intervals and would retain a better residual price over the Scenic too.
Just like all those months before, some drinks were made and we sat at my desk for battle to commence. I had no more time to waste on this couple, so I simply smiled and said ‘have we got a deal”, a minor pause and then the wife said ‘well… I’m not sure really”.
Mentally, I wanted to jump over the desk and thump them, but I retained my calm and asked then what the objection was. Mrs Messer went on to say that although she loved the Vauxhall, another car they had viewed had silver roof rails fitted and the Zafira rails were black. I was stunned, here was a motor with all the kit they needed, which was cheaper than a fish supper, and all they could whine on about was silver bloody roof rails.
I explained this to my manager who was also floored by the couple, a quick dash to the parts department resulted in a price for the silver effect bars, for the purpose of this article, lets say they cost £400 plus fitting. My manager said we would stomach the cost of the fitting only if it gained a signed deal today, and only for today – no messing, no mincing, today.
Sitting back in front of the dithering pair, I revised the offer accordingly only for them to ask me if they could go away and ponder on it for a few days. By this time, I snapped and it was the only occasion I have ever done so, I was by no means rude, but that was it – I had had enough. Jumping to my feet, I shook their hands and simply said ‘well thank you for your interest, but I feel there is nowhere for us to go at this time… best of luck with whatever car you decide to own” – and they bumbled off and out my life forever.
The couple in question lived not far from ourselves and one day sometime after, I took a drive past in the evening to see a new Mazda 5 parked outside their pretty bungalow property – the perfect choice for them I remember thinking… that poor Mazda salesman!