Business as Usual: Does Your Dealership Compare?

When it comes to work environments, car dealerships are known to fall on the wild side of average.

Case in point: We recently revisited an episode of the popular news podcast This American Life that focused on life at a Long Island dealership a few years back. In making the podcast, the crew spent a full month observing the day-in, day-out activities of the staff, and the cutthroat working environment.

What they found likely came as a shock to the average listener, but to metal movers, probably not so much.

The episode follows the sales staff at Town and Country Jeep Chrysler Dodge Ram as they scramble to meet their quota of 129 new cars and trucks sold that month. If they can do it, the OEM will pay the dealership a huge “bonus,” effectively putting them in the black. If they sell 128 cars, Town and Country gets nothing. Sounds a little stressful.

One by one, the members of the impressive staff are introduced. We wonder: Do you see yourself, or any of your team, at all in these key players at the dealership? Is your experience anything like the experience at Town and Country?

Freddie, the general manager. He has the gift of gab, and finishes the majority of his sentences—even when they contain bad news—with a laugh: “I’m strictly commission, so I make nothing [laughs],” Freddie says in reference to a month when the dealership didn’t make its sales goal. When he’s not laughing, everyone knows things must be really bad. He tells the staff he watches them on the security cams and expects the team to work harder. “Balloon the whole freakin’ place, so it looks like a circus. Make it seem like we’re havin’ a monster sale and it’s a party.”

Sal, one of two sales managers. He tells the staff that nothing’s changed in more than 100 years of selling cars: The customer wants to spend the least amount of money, and the dealer wants to charge the most. He encourages aggressiveness and “ABC” (Always Be Closing).

Bob, the sales person with the fewest sales. “Bobby T” is in last place this month. Everyone knows because Freddie tells everyone at the weekly meeting: “You’re at three. Thanks for stopping by. I want 15, Bob.” Lack of leads is to blame, Bob says. He’s also one of the least experienced of the group and says he gets pushed around. “This job isn’t for everybody. You gotta be thick-skinned.”

Jason, Town and Country’s top-seller. At 28, he’s also the dealership’s youngest sales person. And of the 29,000 or so Chrysler sales people in the nation, he ranks number 108. The reporters conclude that Jason reached his current 23-car-a-month success for three reasons:

  1. His “constructive delusion.” Jason knows that a lot of people will walk away from him without buying a car, but he goes into negotiations thinking they’ll all buy. The glass is not half empty, or half full—it’s 100% full.
  2. He doesn’t just want to sell cars; he needs to sell cars. When Jason goes into selling mode, it’s like someone has “clamped a set of jumper cables to his ankles.” He’ll talk to someone for an hour about putting down a deposit. He jabbers like a speed freak. He gets high on the sales, and then crashes until the next one.
  3. “ABC” (Always Be Calling your girlfriend to say, “Baby, I just have a couple more things to take care of, and then I’ll be home.”) Long hours, coming in on your day off, talking about work constantly … many salespeople who are divorced say the job was a huge factor in the failure of their relationship. Jason cancels a lot of dinner plans and often breaks the “no work talk at dinner” rule.

Manny, the sales guy who keeps to himself. He’s the very model of calm. No pictures of his family on his desk, no swag, no distractions. Manny uses a lot of metaphors: The sales guys are the tigers, and the customers are the deer. The tiger has to eat. What does he recommend as the best book about selling cars? The Art of War, an ancient Chinese military treatise dating from the 5th century BC. He doesn’t have a lot of product knowledge, relying instead on the psychology of the sale.

With two days left in the month, Town and Country needs to sell nine more cars. We won’t give away the ending … give the episode a listen to find out what happens.

Can you relate to this story?

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