Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Sending a boy to do a woman's work

Disclaimer: In this post, I make generalizations about the behavior of men and women based on my experience. I don't attempt to back up my observations with any data. My generalizations are subject to my own biases and are likely inaccurate; there are bound to be exceptions to them. In addition, I understand that there are many theories about the causes of differences in behavior between men and women, and even debate over whether there are differences at all. I am not attempting to resolve these issues.

I am attempting to describe why some car salesmen are such weasels.

Since last week, when someone saw fit to race through a red light and smash into Mama's car, we've been car shopping. After we got out of the hospital, that is. In our limited experience, we've found two kinds of car salesmen: boys and men. That begs the question: Where are the girls and women?

The two salesmen we're currently shuttling between demonstrate why women could give all these men a run for their money selling cars. There are some confounding factors in this comparison, like the fact that Mr. Honda is about 15 years old and Mr. Toyota is around 50 years old. His age makes it somewhat hard for me to take Mr. Honda seriously when he is trying to lay down the serious salesman schtick, like bringing over his "manager," who was perhaps just another teenage salesman, for all we know.

It's like the Lord of the Flies in the Honda dealership. They're all about 15. At times, I wanted to ask if their teacher would be back soon.

Partly by virtue of his age, we take Mr. Toyota more seriously. However, age isn't everything. Part of our attitude toward Mr. Toyota is due to his efforts to listen and hear what we are saying without that maddening echo chamber "What I hear you saying is. . ." technique.

We walked in and told Mr. Honda that we were looking online at models X and Y, to which he said, "OK, let's look at their engines and trunks and take them for a test drive." In response to the same request about similar models, Mr. Toyota said, "That's interesting. X and Y are such completely different cars. They each do totally different things. First, can you tell me what you want in a car? After you answer that, let's go take a look at them; then, you can drive them and see if they're really what you want."

Mr. Toyota also

  • told us when he thought an option package was not worth the money he would charge us for it
  • told us that he didn't see the need to pay extra for a larger engine
  • spun his computer monitor around so we could look at invoice prices and discounts with him
Mr. Honda, by comparison, wrote the sticker price on the back of his business card, introduced us to his "manager," and told us to come back when we were ready to hear his real price for the car.

Gee. Who do you think we liked better?

And we like Mr. Toyota better because he communicates and works more like a woman than a man. He asks. He listens. He contributes. He tries to help us succeed. It's not that we want to talk to a woman, but we want a salesperson who performs those functions, which women are generally better at in the U.S. On the other hand, when I called Mr. Honda to compare sales prices, rather than respond to competitive offers, he refused to give me anything other than the sticker price and insist that I come in to the dealership to bargain with him.

Now that's customer service.

I've heard from others who have had the same experience at a Honda dealer, which makes me think that Mr. Honda's techniques aren't the result of his youth and inexperience, but the result of Honda's salesman training. It appears that Honda believes that a high-pressure competition between the salesman and the customer is the best way to sell cars. I'm not sure that it is, especially from my perspective as the customer.

I'd much rather have a salesperson who understands what I want, which requires talking with and listening to me. I'd also prefer a salesperson who, even if he or she is faking it, makes me feel like they want me to succeed rather than a salesperson who makes me feel like the goal is to best me in a bargaining competition. That ideal salesperson sounds to me more like a woman than a man, although Mr. Toyota is proof that gender doesn't determine behavior.

If it is true that generally women have more traits that are desirable to car buyers, why aren't there more car saleswomen? It seems to me that car sales is a field well suited for women, if anyone could ever get around the ingrained bias against women as experts on and purveyors of mechanical and technological items.

Or am I the anomaly?

Do most people prefer playing wallet tug of war with a car dealer who is determined to prove himself by beating customers who are less informed and less experienced than they are?


  1. Anonymous4:59 AM

    In the last 4 years the king has bought 4 cars. All on the internet using either or ahh crap its late and I forgot the other one. You do all the work online the internet dept gives you the price you walk in they hand over the keys. No muss no fuss. It pisses the floor guys off because they do not make nearly in money off it. And the price is usually way lower than they could do.

    TCB a big SUV!!!!

  2. Anonymous9:18 AM

    I agree with Anonymous. Internet shopping for cars is the only way to go. I vowed 10 years ago to never walk in a dealership again. Why are most car salesmen such slimy bastards?

  3. We've had good experiences going to auctions, and buying fleet owned vehicles. Police Cars, pickups from water or utility companies....

    Often well maintained, for around 15 to 20 percent of the original price. And you can generally get another 75 to 100 thousand miles out of them.

    Not flashy, and certainly does not have all the best amenities, but the cars work well.

  4. I avoid bargaining like the plague, because I am not good at it, and the husb is even worse. We bought a one year old car from Enterprise car sales- very good experience.

    But to answer your question- I don't know why there aren't many female car sales reps. It seems like it's still a boy's club, doesn't it?

  5. Anonymous1:07 PM

    I feel bad you had a crappy experience at Honda because I have had my Honda for 10 years and love it. But I was 17 when I got it and my mom did all the 'shopping' but it couldn't have been too bad an experience since she was a single woman, I would imagine. I do know she did work with an older salesman though.

    When it was time for my husband and I to buy a new car we got a Saturn where there is no haggling on the prices. Way easy. No pressure. Worked with a middle-aged man named Graham (I still remember 2 years later!) and didn't see a woman salesperson in sight. Huh.

    Don't know PB. Are they extinct? Or are women smart enough to not even bother in that field?

  6. Anonymous1:17 PM

    all good ideas. Fleet sles, auctions and Staurn. We had a sat as well, again we placed the order on the web then picked it up. Those Sat people are crazy though they take your picture with the car, send you a calender, oh and the whole picnic thing as well.

    TCB on cults!!!

  7. We bought a Scion last year and it was the same situation as with Saturn. So I didn't really give a shit what the salesman said to me; I knew what I wanted and what I didn't, and I just sort of drowned out the inane "rapport-building" the dude learned in a corporate seminar.

    I found this article when I was car shopping, and I found it particularly enlightening (and I think it's even about a Honda dealership, but I can't remember):

  8. Anonymous7:38 PM

    Although we did not have the traditional car shopping exspereince since we went the Scion route, I was happy with the Toyota sales team. They answered all our questions fairly, did not try to sell us more than we wanted, and were honest about trading in. Also they did not snub us even though we were buying one of the cheapest cars on the lot which is always the sign of good sales to me. I hate it when sales people treat you differently depending on what you are spending. Having worked in retail this is a pet peeve of mine.

  9. Neat article on what makes a car dealer tick.

    For most people, a car is the most expensive perishable object they'll buy. People buy homes, but homes appreciate in value over time. The day you drive a new car off the lot, it loses a hefty chunk of its resale value. The more you sink into it, the more you lose.

    I think that's the rationale behind getting a good used car. You spend less up front. You get most of the same use of the car--years and miles of driving--but you don't pay the 15%-25% premium for being the car's first owner.

    That's not so much the case for buying a 25-year-old banger that needs body work, but if you're buying a two- or three-year-old car in good shape, you can spend half as much and still get an excellent car. You also have the benefit of hindsight--you can avoid cars that have had lots of recalls or turned out to be unpopular models (i.e. expensive spare parts). For example, there are a whole lot of PT Cruisers that are hard to sell used, but plenty of people bought them new.

    For the same money, you should be able to buy a somewhat nicer used car than what you'd be able to buy new.

    Warranties on most cars these days are long enough that even if you buy a used car, you're likely to get warranty coverage for at least the first few years you own it. (I can say that Ford has honored warranty service on my used models.) And if you've done your research, you'll know you're buying a car that won't be in and out of the shop all the time for several more years.

    On the other hand, some people have money lying around that they don't have any other use for, so they decide to go out and get a brand-new car. For these people, I recommend boats. That's a much faster way to get rid of all the excess money your wallet keeps building up.