Sales Talk : one spiritual Saturday

As the old saying goes, there’s nowt so queer as folk. Spend any time in the motor trade or public sector, you soon find out… the names have been changed to protect the innocent!

Mike Humble

Happier times: selling MG Rover

I can remember the day well. Northampton Town FC was playing at home on a sunny Saturday afternoon, and the showroom on Abington Avenue was like a ghost town. Famed for its once massive boot and shoe industry, the Express lift testing tower, and the massive gloomy concrete bus station (that my missus claims was the location for Bladerunner), Northampton also owns a decent mid league football and top flight Rugby team.

When match days are on, the town quietens down, and even though our Phoenix-owned dealership was a tad off the beaten track, we were blessed with a decent level of footfall (walk-in customers). It was situated right next door to a busy petrol station and residential area.

The premises were a fifth of the size of the previous dealer – Henlys – and reflected the contraction of the size of the MG Rover Group. It wasn’t that bad, and we had an excellent team which stayed loyal. None of the usual churn and burn revolving door staffing problems many of the bigger dealer groups seem to be renowned for.

Once the Parts and Service guys had pulled the shutters down at 12.30 it was left to the two managers and five sales staff to grab the baton and shift some cars. Being a manufacturer-owned dealership, our targets, were realistic, but even though I have no desire whatsoever to work in a showroom again (owing to working most weekends and late evenings), I very much miss meeting the nice, the odd and downright weird general public.

No weirder example came in the form of ‘Miss Hill’, as I shall share with you. When I am asked the question, ‘what’s the strangest thing happen to you?. I recount this tale, and it never seems to fail to raise an eyebrow.

My colleague had taken a telephone enquiry from this lady a few weeks previously, requesting a test drive in a TF. When she arrived at the premises, they simply did not get on that well – she deemed the TF to be a bit small and declined a test drive. This happens sometimes to all of us in sales. What happens then is you turn the customer over – in other words, rather than let them walk away, you hand over to another sales person, and if they do the deal, you share the commission.

I ended speaking to Miss Hill three weeks prior, and even though we kind of got along, she wouldn’t click the top of her pen and commit to buy. During a spot of prospect calling (following up past leads), I called the lady to find out where she was at. This was owing to her mild interest in the ZR in our showroom.

Moving along, she came into the premises – once again – in her 114GTa, and a test drive was arranged in our demonstrator ZR 105+. On this visit, she was cheery and approachable, and I was certain a deal could be done. Her part-ex was going to a friend,  her purchase was self-financing, and funds in place. This was a perfect situation – no old metal lingering out back, no finance proposals.

In the showroom, she talked for a moment about her mother. This raised an eyebrow, owing the fact Miss Hill was not exactly in her first flush of youth so to speak. A buying criteria was that her mother had to able to travel in the car with her. Being the kind of person I am, I suggested it may be a cracking idea to run the car round to her place and get the lady to try it for size. I looked forward to this, as she had a post code good enough to auction!

Out on the test drive, she remarked about liking the car’s styling, ease of drive, and simple yet snazzy interior. It was all looking rosy, as she did most of the talking. I just knew she was in a mood to buy as we wound through the swooping B-Roads to the village where she lived. It was a hot sunny afternoon, and I thanked the gods for the ZR+ having air conditioning. Arriving outside her stunning bungalow, Miss Hill asked me if I would like a cold drink. I gladly accepted as she invited me inside, and it was a wonderful place, very tasteful and twee.

A few moments of small talk went by, after which I steered the conversation back to the thorny issue of the car. She said she loved it, and quizzed me about servicing, and so on. As she was chatting away, I realised something was not so much wrong, but very odd. There were no signs that anyone else lived with her. Yes there were pictures of what was certainly family and friends, but no signs of a (very) elderly person living with what could best be described as mature single lady.

As a salesperson, you are always aware of signs, expressions and mannerisms – all of which tell you the mood or buying likelihood of the punter. But this situation was strange. One armchair in the vast living room, no sign of a walking stick, the coats on the hook in the hall and general personal effects were very much for one person. There wasn’t even a granny flat or annexe connected to the property. Part of me was worried, and part of me was curious So I asked her if she would like to introduce her mother to the car – as I would need to get back soon.

She apologised for holding me up and went into another room to get her mother. And returned a moment later with a small chromed urn.

Well, after we mopped my lemonade from her kitchen walls (sprayed everywhere by me), she explained that she travelled long journeys with her mother placed in the glovebox. After I had overcome my initial alarm (and I’m not easily shocked by rights) I kind of understood her logic.

Returning back to the dealer, she signed an order after which she introduced me to her cousin a few weeks later who also bought a car – but this time, with no suprises or special glovebox requirements!

Mike Humble


  1. There’s nowt as queer as folk! I have a mate from Northampton, and he is shall we say ‘a bit odd’. Must be summat in the water!

  2. Fantastic – must admit for a while I thought that story was going along the lines of

    “There’s a lovely view from my room… Can you help me with this zip?” sort of thing!

  3. I used to work in the trade and I do miss it in a way like you. Someof the people that came in were just so weird and yet often these were the best customers and came back time and again.

    I recall once speaking to a customer about dogs and how I’d like a dog but I was allergic to them. before I knew it I was taking ownership of a poodle of theirs for the weekend in exchange for the customer purchasing a new Vauxhall Zafira! Lovely pooch but alas not my type of dog really. Still I got a good deal out of it.

  4. Until you do any job with the general public you just don’t realise how many wierdos there are out there.

    There are even people that call themselves Austin-Rover enthusiasts. 😀

  5. I hated my job with the general public, working in a petrol station. So many rude, arrogant sorts in base-spec German cars. Yet the most polite, down to earth sorts were those who turned up in old Volvos or Subarus and paid with gold Coutts cards with ‘Sir’ written on it!

    I’m glad my current job is behind a desk hidden from people!

  6. “I hated my job with the general public, working in a petrol station.”

    Been there done that. Night shifts are the worst, women with beards, kids with 3 eyes…

    Amazes me how many people walked their dogs at 2.30am!

  7. I used to sell toyotas, a golf driver test drove the then new corolla, liked it but when he had a good look around he recoiled when he came to the wheels
    He said he’d never buy a car with only 4 wheel studs, his golf had 5 and cars with only 4 studs were more likely to have a wheel fall off…

  8. I wonder what he made of the early Renault 18’s with only 3 stud hubs.

    At least this makes changing the right rear wheel easier when you’ve driven over an angle iron on a motorway one dark rainy evening in the rush hour.

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