Guide to Buying Used Car Part 1: Knowing the Process

My first round in the sales business was at the store everybody knows. I wore the blue shirt and khakis, I told people how I wasn't on commission, and while I was never paid extra I worked my butt off to sell those Extended Service Plans. Fun Fact: If you ever get into one of those high-pressure situations and the sales guy tells you he's not on commission, tell him: "Lucky for you then, huh?" and walk away without saying another thing.

One of the first things "Big Blue" taught me, as with any other large business, is how to actually sell something. The process is as old as the first caveman traded a spear for a woman, but the fundamentals never change:

Greeting: "Hi, welcome to G.T Autos. My name is Vito, and you are...?" Make a good first impression on the customer, make them feel welcome. Try to get them to smile, even laugh. Find common ground.

Gathering Information: Your customer is at your store for a specific reason. If they are looking for a computer, find out what kind? Desktop or notebook? Who's going to use it? What are you using it for? As you ask, you learn more about what the customer's needs are.

Recommend - Isolate: After listening to the needs and wants of your customer, show them the item that best fits their description. Should the customer object, reiterate their wants and needs and explain how this item is better than the others around.

Close: After showing the customer the item that best suits their needs, get a commitment to buy from the customer. Your product knowledge as well as your gathered information will help you overcome customer objections.

In any sport or competition, if you know what your opponent is doing, you'll have the edge. While we're not engaging in physical acts of strength and agility to buy a used car, there is a level of competition that can't be ignored. Because of our egos, we don't like to be tricked into buying something. We like to earn a deal, we don't like to be given one. We'd rather buy from someone we know, even if they're clueless about the product, then buy from an informed stranger.

Sales people know this, and these are tools that they use to "push" you in the direction they want you to go. The best can gently push you so far off your target, you end up buying something completely different than what you planned. There is a way to avoid this, and I'll get further in detail later. For now, let's agree that if it benefits the seller to know the buyer's actions, the same must be true in reverse.

Here's another example: Studies and market samples show that car buying habits are broken down into 4 major decisions. Depending on the buyer, those decisions can take as short as a day and as long as 8 months. Whether it be a widget, a service, or personal property, all purchases must go through this 4-step decision before a customer buys:

Exposure (Average time - Instantaneous): You see a commercial for the new BMW M5. You're buddy tells you about the new pair of Nike's he bought. You see your neighbor's new deck and think you might want one yourself. Something sparks your interest in a particular item. In most cases, a need for a new or second vehicle (gas prices, child leaving for college, growing family) is the initial exposure to buying a car.

Gather Information (Average time - 2 weeks to 6 months): You've accepted that you need a new vehicle, but which one should you get? Do you want to buy/lease a new vehicle, or just a used car? How much can you spend? Should I buy a domestic or an import? Since the decision to buy a vehicle involves so many choices and considerations, the gathering of information should take the longest part of the entire process.

Decision to Buy (Average time - 3 days to 2 weeks): After examining all the options, making a list of the pro's and con's, and maybe even settling on the specific make and model of vehicle you want, so begins the process of buying the car. You are still gathering information, but this process is more of a personal decision to spend the money and make the purchase. Will it cost more than you have? Where will you get the best bang for your buck? Do you truly need a car, or do you just want one?

Act of Buying/Delivery (Instantaneous - 30 minutes): This is the awkward climax that some of us love and others hate. This is the reason you bring friends along and why you feel nervous about the vehicle. This is why companies like CARFAX, Edmund's, and Consumer Reports make money hand over fist. This is why we tell friends we bought something and lie to make it sound like we got a better deal. This is the knowledge that you will buy this item, and you need only give them the funds to end the transaction.

The big question you probably want answered: "What do these things have to do with my car buying experience?"

These last four steps are key to any salesperson's approach. If you walk on the lot and I know you're still at step two, I tailor my approach to match. A guy walks onto the lot and tells me: "My buddy got a Honda last week, says it's great on gas. What can you tell me about that Civic over there?" Obviously he's just been exposed to the Honda brand; closing a deal on this guy would be considered offensive. My method of attack: become a walking Mexican of Knowledge, give him product knowledge, acclaims and benefits of the vehicle, show him the history of the car, and perhaps even let him test drive the vehicle. I may ask a few "closing questions," but I know that aggressive sales will backfire.

One day I met a woman who was looking at our Honda's in the pouring rain. As we stood outside in the storm, she told me how during the closing at another dealership, the owner changed the price at the last moment, hoping she'd be fed up and pay anyway. She left angry, depressed, and with $6500 in her hip pocket. She was on Step 4 already and suffered from the same problem many of us face: we don't want to do the whole thing again. Within an hour she left with a 1995 Honda Accord with good mileage and warranty for under $5500. By knowing which part of the sales process she was at, I adjusted accordingly.

In much the same way, you can use the sales process to your advantage.

Answer to the Greeting: If you're absolutely sure you don't want information, there's ways out. Keep in mind, if you want questions asked about a car later, you may be labeled as a "tire kicker" and have to come back another time:

  • Start a fight with your boy/girl friend. Nothing's more awkward than trying to talk about cars with a couple who are obviously having a tiff. If you're with your significant other to browse for cars, plan to act mad at each other. If you don't drive off the sales guy, he'll definitely back off.
  • If you have your iPaq or Blackberry stand at the front of the cars and walk with it in one hand and your stylus in the other. If you're approached, just wave, smile non-nonchalantly and tell them: "I'm just grabbing VIN numbers." If you've ever worked in the car business, you'll know why this trick works.
  • Look like a salesman. Walk fast, talk fast, and have that "I want to sell you something" grin on your face. Dealerships are bombarded daily with people who are trying to sell them something. If they think you are a solicitor, or you're just stopping for your lunch hour, you'll be left alone.
Answer to Probing Questions: This part actually is beneficial to you. Information is what you are after, and if the person you're talking to is truly benefiting your shopping experience.

Vito's Guide To Buying A Used Car

Why would I, a seasoned salesman make a quick and easy guide to buy a car for everyone else? I have less than 3 weeks left in the business, and it's time I took my knowledge on cars, sales, and negotiation and passed it on for the masses to use. My gift to you, dear reader, is the unedited, realistic, and unbiased guide to buying a used car.

Over the next few weeks, I will impart my knowledge onto this blog for the benefit of prospective car buyers. However, there are a few things to keep in mind with this buyer's guide:

1. This is not a way to scam dealerships. In my experience, there are customer's who think it's ok to take advantage of a car dealer simply because of a bad previous experience. Keying a car and asking for a discount doesn't make you a good negotiator - it makes you a scam artist.

2. Be Ready To Be Nice. There's a reason salespeople are super nice when you talk to them: they have a better chance of closing a sale AND getting the price they want if they make a friend. At every step of the process you should do the same, and for exactly the same reason.

3. Always be willing to walk away. No matter how sweet the deal, no matter how much you love the car, the person who wins is the person who's willing to walk away from the deal. This works both ways-as a seller and as a buyer.

4. Know what you're buying.
If you're looking for a $2000 car, this is not the guide for you. If your credit is shot and you need someone to get you financed, this is not the guide for you. The first way people get off track is they forget what they are buying. Do you need a family vehicle? A gas saver? Something for your child to drive? Do you just need 4 wheels to get back and forth to work? Do you have the money and/or credit to buy a car, or do you have bruised credit. The biggest part of buying a car is being honest with yourself and knowing the difference between needs and what you wants. As a salesman, I'll use your wants to overcome any needs I can't address.

So stay tuned everyone. Perhaps I'll help you save some money or keep you from making the proverbial $6000 mistake.

Where'd I Go a.k.a. My Spending Spree

It's been a while since I updated my blog. I like to use the "I've been busy!" excuse, but that's just another cop-out. I apologize to all my active readers.

Seriously though, I have been amazingly busy. With the continuous rise in gas prices, I've sold more Honda Civics and Toyota Corollas in the past month than ever before. Last week I got a check for over $2000...another reminder of what I am giving up. I try to get into the dealership in the morning to handle emails, update inventory, secure financing, and eventually handle all the other small details before I can even get ready to sell cars. Elvis' future brother-in-law will soon be working with me to take over my position; I'll have more things to worry about.

In my free time, I've been playing a lot of soccer as well as walking. I'm unsure about the walk to Milwaukee for several reasons now, but I haven't stopped working out. In the past 2 weeks I've lost 10 pounds simply by eating a little less and being more active. I've yet to give up my "Beef Jerky and Gatorade Breakfast," but I think being active is doing a lot to help shed the pounds.

I've continued to save my money, but I'm a spender at heart and I've tried to find constructive ways to spend my money. I continue to give to whatever causes I can find, but things like golf outings and support walks cramp my work schedule. Even now, 72 days away from entering the Postulancy, I worry about work before anything else. Either I'll be a workaholic Capuchin or I'll run wild with my newly found freedom.

The funny part is that I don't worry about work for the money...perhaps that's also the best part. By the first of July I should be done working full-time at the dealership. People ask why I work as hard as the owner to make sure everything is working properly. I know I wouldn't like to continue this line of work, but since I'm here, I feel a sense of responsibility to ensure that the dealership continues to grow and remain profitable. In the grand sense of things, my big paychecks mean that the business is growing; if I am making money than so is everyone else.

I've already saved more money than ever in my life. I've bought some pretty outlandish things along the way, but I've tried to keep my expenditures limited to things 1. I can take with me to Postulancy, 2. things I intend to share with the others in the Order, or 3. things that will help me grow. Let's take a look at what I've bought so far.

1. NikeiD shoes. Looking back, I probably should have skipped these and just bought a pair of Birkenstocks, but I thought it would be cool to get an extra pair of shoes for soccer (and there will be lots of soccer when I leave.) For those of you that don't know, NikeiD's are the shoes where you customize them over the internet. Not the most practical of purchases, but not the most expensive. Cost: $160 (included was a blue/maize soccer ball with Ronaldinho's signature on it.) Check them out here.

2. New Glasses. The old glasses I have constantly fall off my face, and my eyes feel like they're on fire each time I try to put in my contacts. I know that the Order will pay for any new eyeglasses, but I figured I might as well buy some myself and save the Order some money. I actually did pretty good on these; Lenscrafters tried to charge me over $500 for a set of glasses when Pearlevision was able to get me rolling for $375 with everything included. I think my frames, while a little retro, will fit on my face and last a little longer than the old ones.

2. Instruments. A while back I wrote about the thrill of finally getting a Les Paul. However the attaining of the item wasn't as much of an experience as I'd hoped. The Les Paul was a thing (a beautiful thing, be that as it may), but that didn't mean I wasn't interested in music. Last Friday I stopped into Guitar Center to see a beautiful Ibanez eCoustic (acoustic guitar with built-in pick-up, EQ, and outputs). It was used but was in excellent condition. I played it and fell in love. I walked out the door with it that day. $250

I don't know if I thought about what I'd do with both guitars or whether divine inspiration took a hold of me once again, but I realized that I needed to buy a bass guitar as well. It was as if I'd ordered fries and not gotten the ketchup. This Monday I called up Firehouse Guitars, asked them to get a bass guitar for me and I walked in to get it.

The bass is something I started playing a LONG time ago; I set it aside soon after I got my first electric Lyon guitar. But soon after I got the bass, I remembered what I had missed: that feeling of notes as well as rhythm. Instruments like the flute, the violin, and the trumpet require notes to be in tune and follow within the parameters of the chords. Percussion instruments require no notes, but only the proper time in which the sound is created. But the bass is the perfect fusion of both types of instruments...setting the backbone for the songs melody as well as establishing a rhythm for the song.

Instead of getting a regular bass guitar, I decided to go with a fretless bass. The sound is slightly different from a regular bass, sounding more like an upright bass. The sound is more warm for jazz, but I already knew that I'd use it mostly for Liturgical music.

Since I didn't have a bass guitar and I wanted something that was going to give me the option of 1. having nice amps for my guitars/bass, 2. something that would be reasonably priced, 3. something that wouldn't take up much room, and 4. something I could play my bass along to "I Will Survive" by Cake and other favorites. Along with the bass I bought Guitar Rig 3...a software program that allows everything I just listed as well as providing an abundance of sounds for almost any instrument I wish to plug in. Also included is the CUBASE software for software recording. It seems that things have changed so much from the days of sitting in a recording studio and spending a ridiculous amount of money. Total cost of bass, software, and other goodies: $600

I don't have much left to time is running out at the job and my work may be done after June. I have plenty of money in the bank so I'm not worried. It's just the realization that all this buying is the result of hard work at a job that has provided everything for me. Would my life be about buying more small things, or would I be looking at a house, a large investment portfolio, or maybe reinvesting my money into the dealership? Perhaps I'd repeat my life and decide it was time to find a woman to "complete my life." Or maybe without the constant chase of money, I will realize my true calling from God. Maybe this money I've spent is the building blocks on which my ministry will begin. Perhaps in Milwaukee I become part of the local parish musicians. Perhaps there sprouts an idea about using music to reach out to people, to encourage under-privileged kids to experience what it's like to learn an instrument instead of learning how to sell drugs. I'm just rambling, but maybe, just maybe, I'm not spending...rather I'm investing.

The mood was perfect so I added a new track to my playlist. "Ramble On" by Led Zeppelin...a great song with an awesome guitar and bass line.