Every business in the world relies on branding, sales, marketing to different degrees. And not many that need all three as much as the car business. Yet after a couple days desperately trying to buy a couple of cars, I’m simply shocked at how many obstacles car dealerships put between you and the car you want to buy.
Take a look at these examples, and the lessons they provide to all businesses:
I went into a Volvo dealership and asked them to see the model that Jeremy Lin drives in their commercial. The salesman had no idea what model it was, even though Volvo is spending millions on the endorsement campaign.
A Hyundai dealership saves money on the electric bill by keeping most of the lot lights turned off at night, so 70 percent of the cars are in darkness.
One dealership quoted me $6,000 less than Blue Book for my trade-in. Don't they know there's this thing called "the Internet" customers can look this stuff up on these days?
I was willing to buy a car at one dealer, but I wanted aftermarket rims and to have them installed before I picked up the car. Even though I was willing to pay for them ahead of time, they didn’t want the paperwork, so they said no. (Can you imagine me driving a car around South Beach that wasn’t pimped out? People might think I was Pit Bull’s landscaper or something!)
There was a beautiful matte gray Range Rover Evoque in the showroom that instantly grabbed my attention. I asked the salesman what it was. His response was, “I don’t know. That just came in and it’s $40,000 more than the other models, so I don’t think it’s worth it.” I asked what else was different besides the paint and he had no idea. I went home I did a Google search: Turns out it’s the result of a special partnership Range Rover did with Victoria Beckham. It’s a special edition with only 200 made in the world. Once again, the manufacturer is spending millions to add some cache to their brand and the dealership invested in stocking a $96,000 car and placed it in the center of the showroom. Yet no one told the salesman a thing about it. (And to be fair, any salesperson worth a damn would have taken it upon themselves to learn.)
At four different dealerships I walked around the lot anywhere from five to 15 minutes. Not one of them had someone come out and greet me; I had to go inside and ask for a salesperson.
I went to the Volvo and Range Rover dealers on Saturday. In each case they didn’t have the color and option package I wanted. Both told me they couldn’t search availability until Monday. What kind of database doesn’t work weekends?
Meanwhile Monday has come and gone, and the Volvo guy never followed up with me. (Update: he just called me this morning, to say he didn't call yesterday because the Volvo system was down all day.)
But here’s my favorite…
That Posh Beckham-designed Evoque haunted my dreams. Truth is, it’s mostly marketing swag: It comes with a hand-stitched owners manual personally signed by Victoria, a bespoke four-piece luggage set, etc. Frankly I couldn’t care less about that stuff. But the car just pops because of that flat gray paint, mohair carpet and the dope black rims. Is it really worth 40K more for that? Not really, but I want what I want. So I made an offer and said I could be there in an hour to close. The salesman told me the GM was off that day, and he was the only one who could review it.
Jim Ziegler, call your office…
P.S. In case you're wondering, the GM did come in the next day, and of course I bought it.