Life on the Other Side of the CounterS

Ahhh car salesmen. The bane of the motoring enthusiast's existence. We've all dealt with an obnoxious car salesman or two. Or ten. Okay, probably more. We've had conversations with idiots in polo shirts that clearly know nothing about cars, let alone the car they're trying to sell us. As a younger guy with, admittedly, a bit of a "baby face," (shutup) I know I've been completely ignored at dealerships before because I don't look like I'm old enough to buy anything.

A few months back, I wanted to test drive a Scion FRS so I drove an hour and a half to a dealership that had one, waited 20 minutes for the lady at the counter to find a salesman to help me, and another 10 minutes for him to find the key and walk out to the car with me to unlock it. And after all that, I get in the car, get my seat adjusted and look up to realize the salesman had vanished like a ghost or I guess the salesman decided I was just wasting his time, so I left and kept my money.

Don't get me wrong, I've had good experiences too. I bought my 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth from my Fiat dealer without a hitch. Nice folks from the beginning to the end. I was really impressed. So impressed, in fact, that when they offered me a job as a salesman almost a year later, I said, "Hell yeah!" (okay fine, I didn't say that to them, but I did take the job).

So what are my qualifications to work as a Fiat salesman, you ask? Well, I would say none but that would be too generous. I used to be a motorcycle mechanic and I co-owned a tiny industrial supply company. The lack of relevant experience worried me a little before I started but my theory was that, at least I know and actually LIKE the cars. That's better than half the salesman out there, right?

Well, I've been selling Fiats for almost 2 months now and I've gotta say it's NOTHING like I expected it to be. What I've figured out is that selling a car is easy, most people that come into a Fiat dealership are already interested or have no intention of buying a car and are just killing time. It's just a matter of helping the serious buyers pick out which one they want and then making them a good price on it and being helpful to the ones that are kicking tires so maybe they'll come back when they're ready. The real challenge is getting people in the door! We're not in the best location and people still aren't really that aware of our cars.

As far as being on the other side of the counter, it s definitely an interesting shift in perspective! I think all car people should try it for a while just to see what a salesman goes through from day to day. When it's slow, it's HORRIBLE. A crazy combination of boring, frustrating and stressful. When it's busy, it's a lot more fun and can be challenging but it's also very very stressful. We're not the kind of place to lie and screw people over so my tools to selling cars are my honest experiences and opinions of the cars. I personally think that's an advantage because I LOVE my Abarth. I keep it cleaned up and parked out front so I can show people that I'm not just a jerk salesman talking out of my ass...

On the upside, customers are always a fascinating bunch. I had VERY similar experiences as a mechanic. You have some people that are informed and knowledgable, or at least are open, curious, and friendly; those are great people to deal with. It's fun to sell a car to someone that is excited about it. Unfortunately, you also occasionally meet people that are just generally unpleasant and frustrating. Some people want $10,000 in trade for their trashed 1994 Miata because they just did an oil change and think that makes it worth more. There are people that want to buy a $30,000 car and are furious when you suggest it will cost them more than $100 a month! Then you have some people think if you're making any profit at all selling a car that they're getting ripped off. For too many people, it's not a matter of making a fair deal on a quality product, they just want to see you bleed. Either way, it's always an interesting experience and people will always surprise you one way or another. To me, it all balances out and the key is just being nice and helpful to everyone.

It's a weird deal sometimes because even though I'm very sincere about my opinions of the cars and Fiat as a company (love them both), I still feel "fake" at times. I'll ask for contact information or give someone my card and wonder if I'm coming off as some generic, trying-to-be-smooth-talking car salesman. It's a weird struggle because I don't want to be a pushy, typical salesman type and I want people to buy Fiats because I really think they're great, but at the same time, I need commissions to pay my rent so I still have to try pretty hard. The car business is incredibly unstable, one month we'll blow it out and be crazy busy and the next month our lot will have tumbleweeds blowing between cars. I'll go from pricing out a new Maserati to not being sure if I'll be able to pay my rent. Okay, so I lied about pricing out a Maserati, there isn't even close to that much money to be made where I work but you get my point! The point is it's a bipolar industry.

As a Fiat nut, myself, I'm big on making it a family atmosphere. I make sure we all go above and beyond to help our customers with whatever we can. We're never going to have any ridiculous volume to make this the kind of dealer that just cranks out cars like crazy so we might as well spend our time making our customers as happy as possible. As long as we stay in business, have satisfied customers, and I can make rent, I'm a pretty happy guy!