Matt Harwood

A window into the life of a car dealer

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A lot of people think all I do is play with cool cars and go to great events, while others think I'm the reason why they can't afford a Duesenberg. In truth, it's neither, but I had a conversation today that sums up what I deal with pretty much on a daily basis. I frequently have this phone call, although this guy really takes the cake in terms of "not getting it even a little bit." He called on a car I have for sale, a really nice one but not a perfect one:

 

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So the guy calls and he's very interested in the car. He asks a few questions about where it came from (Texas), how did I get it (from an estate), and is it original (a whole can of worms, but I interpret this to mean "Is it modified?"). Pretty typical opening questions. Here's the rest of the conversation, more or less, and it got so wonky that I waved Melanie in to listen. I may be paraphrasing, but this is most of it:

 

Him: Are there any mechanical or cosmetic flaws?

Me: Well, that's kind of a tough question. Yes, of course there are flaws. It was restored 10 years ago and it has been driven a bit.

Him: What''s wrong with it?

Me: Nothing obvious, but...

Him: What needs to be fixed for it to be perfect?

Me: Perfect? I'm not sure what you mean. Perfect is a bad word around here.

Him: What needs to be fixed to make it perfect?

Me: There's not just one or two flaws. I can't point to just one thing and say if you fixed that it would be perfect. That's not really how it works, but...

Him: Really? I would be willing to fix a few things to make it perfect. What would I need to do?

Me: [Pause] Well, I guess you'd need to do a full frame-off restoration to make it perfect.

Him: What? I thought it was a nice car? Now you're telling me it needs a full restoration.

Me: No, it IS a nice car, but...

Him: Are the pictures doctored? 

Me: No. It's a nice car but perfect is a very high bar. Even a good car will need a lot of work to be perfect. Perfect is expensive.

Him: So what needs to be fixed to make it perfect?

Me: Ugh. 

Me: There's no one thing I can point to and say, "Fix that and it will be perfect." There are a few little chips in the paint because it's 10 years old and has been driven. 

Him: So it needs a paint job.

Me: Ugh.

Me: No. It looks fantastic. But it isn't perfect. There are wrinkles on the driver's seat. It isn't ripped but there are a few wrinkles form someone sitting there. If you want perfect, that's not acceptable.

Him: Sounds like this car needs a lot of work. 

Me. No. It's nice. Leave it alone. Just have fun. It's gorgeous.

Him: If I paint it and replace that seat cover, will it be perfect?

Me: Ugh.

Me: No. Like I said, perfect is really hard to do. This car is a solid 8 out of 10, but to make it a 10 out of 10, you'll have to do it all over again. That's just how it works. Perfect is an impossible standard.

Him: So you're telling me this car needs to be totally restored if I want it perfect?

Me. I guess so, but I think it's a mistake. It's too nice to restore and if you restore it you'll never drive it.

Him: I wish you had said that in your description. I don't want a car that needs that much work. I want a car I can use right away.

Me. You can use this car right away. It's beautiful and it drives great.

Him: But it needs to be restored to be perfect. You just said...

Me: OK, I'm sorry this isn't the car for you.

<Hang up phone before I start swearing>

 

THAT is the way this business works. I'm glad there's not a function on my phone where I can reach through it and choke someone. People are very stupid. VERY. Are any of you surprised that car dealers get accused of lying to people? It would have been a lot easier to tell him, "Yes, it's perfect," and sell it to him and worry about the consequences later. Sooner or later, I'm sure every dealer comes to the point where the clientele just drives him to say, "Screw it." I hope it doesn't happen to me, but this stuff burns me down faster than anything else. It's very hard to maintain my integrity in the face of this kind of nonsense. Trying to be honest with a guy made him think I was a liar and lying to him probably would have made him happy. How do you work with that?

Edited by Matt Harwood (see edit history)
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The prospective buyer sounds very inexperienced

with antique cars.  He probably always wanted one

but never owned one, and doesn't really know what they're like.

 

It also sounds as if he is a bit lacking, sorry to say,

in common sense.

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Any body in sales,  especially of older items goes through it.  I had it selling parts,  moved to literature, (alot easier)  but i still get it once in a great while.  A guy pays 3.00 for a 70 Maverick brochure gets it and complains there is a mark on one page.  Almost like a cut but it's not a cut.  I photograph every page that I'm allowed and the whole thing was shown.  Like you it was probably a 8 to a 9 out of a 10.  Not a mark on it otherwise.  He just can't live with such a flaw.   I told him,  here is your money,  keep it as a souvenir.  He was afraid that all the times he is going to look at that brochure,  that at some point that mark is finally going to develop into a cut and the whole thing will fall apart. LOL. I'm not sure what he's doing with it,  but they weren't meant to be made love to.  

It's not the money I'm concerned with but all the dinking around for an item that is only worth 3.00 in the first place all to save that precious feedback.  

I've had it with cars I have sold as well.  Obviously more frustrating as you have said.  I've never sold anything that was perfect,  but every one that has seen a TV show thinks every car for sale better be perfect or so cheap it's almost free. 

Usually I can feel the buyer out enough to say,  I don't think this is the car for you.   No sense in wasting my time either when I have work I could be doing.  

Admit it though even though idiots like this taint the punch,  It's still alot better job than many. 

By the way the only thing better looking than that black and red 64 Galaxie would be if it was a 63.  I like those year Galaxies.

Edited by auburnseeker (see edit history)

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20 minutes ago, Matt Harwood said:

A lot of people think all I do is play with cool cars and go to great events, while others think I'm the reason why they can't afford a Duesenberg. In truth, it's neither, but I had a conversation today that sums up what I deal with pretty much on a daily basis. I frequently have this phone call, although this guy really takes the cake in terms of "not getting it even a little bit." He called on a car I have for sale, a really nice one but not a perfect one:

 

Looks a very nice collectable driver car to me (from the other side of the world)

 

Cars of that era were far from what we now call "perfect" when they left the factory.

Edited by 1939_Buick (see edit history)

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2 minutes ago, 1939_Buick said:

Cars of that era were far from what we now call "perfect" when they left the factory.

I love having a car with original paint,  especially when you can see the grinder marks in the lead where they seamed the panels togehter at the factory.  People don't understand they were mass produced for the most part,  by guys that didn't really care.  The old shop manuals are humorous in how to get panels to align so the trunk won't leak.  Tape the finish and hammer and dolly the lip over.  Right out of my 48 Chevy shop manual. 

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Every business regardless of what you are selling has those “unique” customers that can’t be pleased or just don’t get it.  Sometimes I think it’s a game with them.  I’ve been selling off some excess stuff that I no longer need or can use and I’ve been using old fashion print in a local farming related weekly publication.  That has been a very positive experience.  Buyers are very honest and keep to their word when they say they want something.  Only one or two times have I had to deal with the ones who just drive you batty.

 

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But you never told us what it will take to make it perfect !  

 

I would have told told him to go buy another car somewhere else long before you hung up. 

Dave S 

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I owned a video store back in the 1980's, when business was booming.  I sold RCA and Sony products, and rented VHS tapes.  I was in a little shoe box of a store in a medium size town in central Louisiana, but our sales were phenomenal, mainly because, if requested, I'd personally install the equipment in the customer's home, and, I and my staff knew our stuff.  To put this in perspective, my store was in the top 10 RCA dealers in Northern Louisiana and Northern Texas for two years in a row.  Think about that, it included Dallas, Ft. Worth, Shreveport, all the big markets, yet my little store was the one having a truckload of merchandise delivered every other day.  The wholesaler called me one day and asked me what the hell I was doing with all that equipment, he had no one else making those large orders.  OK, enough bragging, just setting the background.

 

I found that there are different classes of customers. 

 

Round numbers:

-80% of customers are OK to work with, no big issues, do a deal and move on. 

-10% of customers, you sort of enjoy working with, because they sort of know what's what, and it's just fairly easy sailing. 

-5% of your customers are fantastic, they've done they're homework, they know what the deal is, they know as much as you do about the merchandise, and it's a pleasure doing business with them. 

- Oh, and then there's the last 5%, the pain in the arses.  Those are the ones who tell you that you're trying to rip them off, they can get a better deal at the other guy's store, and when you offer to give them directions to the other guy's store, they get pissed off.  THOSE are the ones that make life miserable.

 

You just ran into the last variety, and the best thing one can do in that case is say thanks  for your interest, but it doesn't look like I have what you need, goodbye.

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The car didn’t come from the factory perfect, so if that is the standard you want, do a full restoration and store the car in a climate controlled garage. The first time you drive it, it will need more restoration. Perfect isn’t a destination, it’s an ongoing journey. 

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Matt,

It isn't just car dealers that go through what you describe. As a non-dealer seller, I've experienced similar events & on the flip side as a buyer, I've had a lot of double talk thrown at me from non-dealers & dealers when I was interested in a certain car. I've seen cars for sale on the web that were beautiful, but questionable for one reason or another as to what they really were (say, an Impala SS instead of a plain Impala ). That car shows up on another site with the owner/seller asking verification questions as to whether it's a true SS. Even after getting the information verifying it's only an Impala, the seller's ad doesn't change. He/she just ignores the info because it's not what they wanted to hear & continues to sell the car as originally described. If a buyer has good knowledge of the particular car they are looking at, they can walk away, but pity the clueless buyer. A PT Barnum quote comes to mind here. As a seller, I've made a deal with down payment only to have the buyer ask about other issues with the car after making the down payment. One thing I'm grateful for is never having to cancel a deal done long distance & hope I never have to.

Every seller probably experiences what you did in varying degrees. You just get more of it because you are selling far more cars than most people.

Finally, I'm sure all the hype the a_ _ hats on BJ & other VC auction shows don't help the whole old car buying & selling scene either. From watching some of them until I can't take their babble anymore, they are mostly fountains of misinformation. That can't help the clueless buyer.

I'm fortunate enough to be on this site, so when I find something of interest I can ask here if I don't know a lot about the car I'm looking at. Thank you to all that give good advice on this site.

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When you work with the public be prepared for anything. The longer you do it the more crazy stories you will collect. When you think you have seen it all something else will happen. Most people are great. But that fraction of a percent is amazing. I have had hate mail, hate e-mail, death threats and once a very large man tried to fight me because I wouldn't accept his lowball offer. Still a bad day playing with cars is better than a good day doing anything else.

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Back when I was younger I used to paint cars for people and for a while a used car dealer(quick, cheap paint jobs on cars to move them quick). I found out very soon that the more you look the more you find wrong and that at some point you had to close your eyes and paint.  Buying anything is the same thing. At some point you need to either buy it or not.

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Selling old cars has become a very frustrating occupation/hobby for me. I have to listen to the same blather that Matt describes on a weekly basis.

It takes all the fun out of old cars lately. I generally want to hang up on them or call them morons, but usually just cut it short. There's a huge amount of people who have loads of time and zero intention of buying an old car that contact me. I now ask if they have the funds available now and are willing to buy, most aren't.

 The ridiculous offers that seem to come from watching the moronic "reality car shows" on tv are what really makes me want to quit altogether

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1 hour ago, Brass is Best said:

once a very large man tried to fight me because I wouldn't accept his lowball offer.

 

That happened to me more than once when I was selling boats.

On the accessory side I got a lot of flack because I couldn't compete with the big box stores.

I usually offered to install for free to make up for that. Depth finders come to mind, do a few and they become pretty easy but it still takes all the profit away.

The problem with depth finders and most other marine electronics is they are obsolete as soon as they are installed. (as with any electronics these days)

I was always impressed that most first time boat buyers knew way more about boats than I did.

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It's not perfect, but no car is perfect.  Come check it out and you decide what it needs.  I think its a very nice usable vehicle just the way it is.

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>>Me. You can use this car right away. It's beautiful and it drives great.

>>Him: But it needs to be restored to be perfect. You just said...

 

In the immortal words of Struther Martin, "What we have here is a failure to communicate."

 

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For the life of me, I don’t know how y’all can sell cars willingly. As you know, I had no choice. I avoided direct selling as much as possible, preferring to hire a friend to run an eBay listing. When I did have to communicate with buyers directly, I almost always wanted to smack them upside the head. I never, ever, felt that way selling homes. 

 

Maybe it was partially because they were my fathers, but mostly because of the unreasonable expectations and insulting “negotiations’ of some of the prospects. It felt like they mostly just wanted a tour of what he had or thought pointing out every little flaw was a good way to justify offering 10-50% of what I eventually sold them for. If we are not even close in price, don’t waste my time! 

 

I thought it was just because of my situation and the vultures were hoping to take advantage of me. I’m sorry that it seems jerks like that bother others in the hobby also. 

 

On a a positive note, there were many great people I met along the way who were very helpful. Many more then the jerks. 

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22 minutes ago, victorialynn2 said:

For the life of me, I don’t know how y’all can sell cars willingly.

We like the Abuse. ;) 

It helps season us into becoming one of those batty old recluses you read about with the great hoard of cars that everyone wants to get into but know one knows how to break through all those layers of insults and bad deals that created the shell to get to the nice guy inside that just wanted a nice old car. :) 

 

Wait a minute this sounds like the story of my life.  

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7 minutes ago, victorialynn2 said:

On a a positive note, there were many great people I met along the way who were very helpful. Many more then the jerks. 

 

Taking payment in the lowest denomination bills really helps. Stacks of hundreds across the hood compensates for a lot of personality defects in the buyer.

 

When I saw the post this morning there was a bit of empathy. But I smiled a lot more. Sometimes I say that I have given away more cars than many people have owned in their life. I have also sold a lot.

 

As I read I thought of how many people have paid a premium because I perceived them as a potential problem during or after the sale. Or even raised the price up front because of certain buyers a make of car attracts. And there have been times when the first words I heard on the phone made me say the car was not available. I wasn't born like that. Experts taught me.

 

It is Sunday. Take a break and watch a mid 1990's movie called Suckers. It is a favorite and I love the car dealing insight. Pay close attention to the scene where the desk is rolled into the sales lot. I love that movie. And you should see my Wife laughing at me when I watch it.

 

I don't think I could be a "Boy Scout" car salesman ALL the time. I just don't have what it takes.

 

God! Writing that makes me want to go out and sell something!

Bernie

 

 

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My Dad had a story about a neighbor who always wanted things perfect. The instructions were the same every time "Not a little to the left, or a little to the right, but right in the groove was perfect."

That was the punch line as well. I still remember him telling that and laughing. I think there is something about my Wife's side of the family that caused the kids not to see the humor I did.

 

You don't notice that unless you sell cars or are a student of genetics.

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Great topic and I am glad you walked away from the deal. I could see this guy causing more trouble had he bought it. Sometimes the best deals are the ones you don't make.

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4 hours ago, victorialynn2 said:

Maybe it was partially because they were my fathers, but mostly because of the unreasonable expectations and insulting “negotiations’ of some of the prospects. It felt like they mostly just wanted a tour of what he had or thought pointing out every little flaw was a good way to justify offering 10-50% of what I eventually sold them for.

They get that idea from A_s Monkey Garage.

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