Household-6 and I had walked in cold, and taken our chances as to what kind of Sales Guy might be walking the dealership floor. My buddy, as we were to later learn throughout an excruciating afternoon, seemed to have made multiple mistakes: He called ahead, he let a salesperson know what the make and model in which he was interested, and asked "his" Sales Guy (let's call him "Sales Guy II") to prepare some facts and figures prior to his arrival.
Sales Guy II didn't do his homework.
Like most citizen-soldiers, my buddy is a straight-shooter. He was disappointed that Sales Guy II hadn't prepared for their discussion. He ended up walking out. Later on that afternoon, he called Sales Guy II to discuss the matter further. He ended up talking to Sales Guy II's manager. Call him "Sales Boss Guy."
I know this, because my spouse and I were still at the dealership when he called.
Note to Sales Guys and Managers everywhere: Your cubes do not have doors. Other customers can hear you. We can hear you making fun of soldiers and veterans, puffing up like it was a post-game locker room mating dance, after you get off the phone. "Sure you're a soldier--I've got the bullet holes to prove it!" We can hear you tell your potential customers: "The customer is not always right. That's what I tell my sales people."
These conversations went on for more than an hour.
The only thing that kept us in our seats was that "our" Sales Guy was helpful, courteous, and observant. I've worked in sales a little myself, and I know it's a tough gig. I wasn't going to take bread off one guy's table just because his boss and co-workers are louts.
I got to meet that boss when I inquired as to the dealer's advertised $500 discount for military personnel. Sales Boss Guy wanted to put his grubby mitts on my military ID, to "make sure it was real."
He was the same guy who told my buddy that the customer isn't always right.
I called my buddy and told him what we'd overheard, and that he should probably take his business elsewhere. He ended up going to a different dealership just down the road. In retrospect, maybe I should've done the same.
During a previous purchase of a new American-made car, Household-6 and I thought the whole experience was somewhat hokey. We'd purchased a Saturn, back when that company was still in business. When we went to pick it up, our new car was ready and waiting for us, positioned in a room labelled as a "launch pad." The staff stood by to deliver applause, if we so desired. It was cheesy and a little goofy, but it worked. From the start, we felt great about our purchase.
This time, we find the whole car-purchase process devoid of joy. We're still buying American, but we're given little reason to celebrate it. Because we had to special-order our new vehicle, we wait six weeks for delivery of our new vehicle. We get pushed off to a rainy Friday afternoon. Household-6 and I each take a half-day off work to complete the transaction.
After we arrive at the dealership, we are herded into a "customer lounge," one so crowded and hot that we could do nothing but stand and wait. We are waiting on Finance Guy.
While we wait, Household-6 points to the shadow box display hanging on the wall next to where we're standing. It's a folded American flag, with a "Red Bull" certificate stating that it had been flown by Task Force 168 during its 2004-05 deployment to Afghanistan. It's a thank-you to the dealership for their patriotic support.
Sure they're patriots. They've got the bullet holes to prove it, don't they?
After we're finally stuffed into Finance Guy's little office, he suddenly balks at taking a loan check from USAA. (I mention USAA by name here, because it's an insurance and finance company with origins in the U.S. armed forces.) He says it's the dealership's policy "not to release a vehicle until a loan-check clears the next business day."
It is Friday afternoon. I have taken a half-day of work off, and so has my wife. Now, he wants me to come back tomorrow. I could write a personal check, and Finance Guy would apparently take it with no question--but he's got problems with a USAA check?!
I calmly tell him to talk to his boss, to ask for a waiver to the alleged policy. He tells me that demanding things is no way to get things done. I begin to take offense. He takes offense. Among other things, he complains that I have requested the dealership's logo not be affixed in any way to our new car. I tell him that, given his dealership's earlier attitude toward citizen-soldiers, his organization is on probation with me. I imply that I might be doing him a favor in not having his business logo on my car.
From zero to 60 seconds, he weaves and speeds from "there are a few bad apples in every organization" to "I'll personally stomp anyone here who says bad things about soldiers" to "See this tie-tack? It's a National Rifle Association emblem. I'm a patriot." He ends up leaving his office for a few minutes, allegedly to talk to a boss. After he returns, my wife and I buy a new car.
Right before we sign the papers, Household-6 asks about that $500 military discount we were promised by Sales Boss Guy. Finance Guy calls and checks. "I saw the photocopy of your military ID in your folder, but I didn't know what it was there for." The discount had never been applied to the purchase price.
What my wife and I don't tell Finance Guy? That Mr. "The Customer is Not Always Right" Sales Boss was also the same person who, after our first visit, appeared on our television doing a car commercial. According to the commercial, "Sales Boss Guy" is actually the dealership's General Manager.
A few bad apples, indeed.
In a military unit, the Head Apple is responsible for everything his or her organization does and fails to do. That goes for maneuvering, supporting, and provisioning troops in combat, and that goes for training them to be effective and professional in their jobs.
The latter includes unsexy tasks such as eliminating discriminatory practices and attitudes within the ranks.
I'm quite pleased with our new car, and not at all pleased with the attitudes we encountered during its purchase. This particular dealership has reportedly spent thousands of dollars to provide teddy bears to the children of deployed Iowa National Guard soldiers. I'd be happier if, in the future, they spent a little money and attention on customer service and diversity training for their management, sales, and support staffs.
In other words, when 3,000 Red Bull troops come home to Iowa later this summer, armed with a year's worth of tax-free income and combat pay, looking for a square deal on a new American-built car or truck, I'd recommend this simple sales strategy:
Put your mouth where your money is.