Don't Scare the Locals Away



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Several weeks ago, a member of my duck club called me for advice on purchasing his first four-wheeler. He is a college graduate, is married, has no kids, and is 54 years old. He has been a powersports enthusiast since he was 10 years old, has owned numerous dirtbikes and streetbikes, and is still an avid rider, particularly with his streetbikes.

I culled my responses to him from the experience I gained while working at a dealership: Buy from a local dealer, one that is close to home. His reply was that he went to his hometown dealer but didn't find what he was looking for. In fact, he visited four different dealerships within a 45-mile radius, and each one provided a different customer service experience.

His visits were all at franchised dealerships. When he arrived at Dealership No. 1, he found that it had opened 35 minutes later than its posted time after being closed the day before. You'd think that after coming back from a day off staff would be refreshed and eager to help customers make a purchase. But instead, my friend found that most of the staff was behind the parts counter, leisurely discussing what they rode during their day off. Not one of them even offered a single "Hello" or "Good morning" to my friend, so after 15 minutes of walking around and waiting for some recognition, he left.

He headed over to Dealership No. 2. It was open, and he was greeted immediately by a sales associate with "Good morning, what brings you to our store?" (He really liked that.) My friend told him what model he was looking for, to which the sales person replied, "Oh yes, we have that model at our off-site setup center, which is located about two miles away from here." My friend asked if they could go look at it, to which the sales associate replied, "No. However, if you give me a deposit, I can have it here in two days." Two days (not to mention a monetary deposit) to just look at a vehicle that was within walking distance? Incredible. And with that, my friend, the potential customer, left the store.


At Dealership No. 3, he was again greeted, not with a "Good afternoon" or "How are you today?," but with a simple, "Can I help you?" This, although not the greatest opening line for a sales associate, was adequate. He explained what he was looking for, and luckily, they already had a unit set up in the back of the store. The sales associate said they would bring it out to him right away. More than 25 minutes later, it finally appeared. While my friend was looking at the model, the sales associate decided that it was a good time to leave the sales floor to go outside for a smoke.

When he came back, they sat down to complete a buyer's order. Upon reviewing the fine print, my friend noticed that the freight was quoted at $1,000. My friend is self-employed and has no problem with a business making a profit, but he had already agreed to the MSRP price and the setup fee of $400. The sales manager soon got involved. He stated that the freight was a nonnegotiable number. After a few more minutes of discussion, my friend finally said, "Enough is enough!" The deal fell through, and my friend left the store.

I had my friend call a dealership about 135 miles away to see if it had any availability. We conferenced the call so that I could hear the exact conversation, and what I heard was a breath of fresh air.

A real person (not a recording) answered the phone and promptly connected us to the sales department. My friend explained the model and color that he was looking for. The salesperson asked where he was calling from. My friend told him and also briefly explained his three failed dealership visits. The salesperson replied, "We do not quote prices over the phone. However, we want to earn your business." What a great line! The salesperson then asked when my friend would like to purchase his four-wheeler (another great line), and my friend answered that he would like to drive to the dealership the following morning. The salesperson replied, "I'll have it ready for you. Would you also fax me a copy of your driver's license so I can have your paperwork started upon your arrival?" Brilliant.

The next day my friend drove to the dealership to find that every promise the salesperson made was fulfilled. The unit was ready, and they negotiated a price, which was $150 off MSRP. The salesperson decided the discount would be sort of a compensation for the gas it took to drive there, and also included a full tank and a trickle charger on the unit to boot. He stated that this is the dealership's policy on all new and pre-owned units. The dealership's F&I department generated the documents and sold him a three-year extended warranty from the OEM.

He was then introduced to the parts department staff, from whom he purchased $1,100 worth of parts and apparel. This is a good deal in my book, and a great loss for the three previous dealerships if you do the math: The MSRP of the unit was $7,995, minus a $150 discount, plus an additional $1,100 worth of P&A. Dealership No. 4 made a grand total of $8,945.

To boost sales this holiday season and to end this year with a bang, take a cue from dealership No. 4. The other three dealerships lost out on $8,945 because of poor business practices and greed. And if you want to test your salespeople, it might be a good idea to deploy a secret shopper. You'll know exactly what your customers experience in your dealership.

Steve Zarwell is a dealer consultant and a member of the Dealernews editorial advisory board. Contact him via