My 3 Months in Car Sales

(Or as I prefer calling it, eternity)

I’m not sure why, but for a crazy moment in 1990 I decided to derail my career in TV advertising sales for the lucrative career in car sales. Knowing little about cars and the auto industry in general, I razzle-dazzled my way into a local car dealership that included LOTS of male salespeople and one lone woman. Back then, to be good at car sales, you didn’t really need to understand the mechanics of what hid beneath the hood of a Mercury Sable or how it differed from its cross-town sister, the Ford Taurus (Hint: there was virtually no difference other than window dressing). You simply needed to be good at selling. Or to hammer home the point, in the words of Blake in the iconic movie, “Glengarry Glen Ross,” “Learn your ABC’s. Always Be Closing. Always be closing! Always be closing!!”   

Trading in my knowledge of Nielsen ratings for Motortrend ratings, I quickly learned the salesperson’s ritual of the “walk-around,” best described as highlighting the basic features of each individual car. To female customers, I would point out the many cupholders and the little-known fact that the driver’s seat on the Sable was shorter in length to better accommodate female drivers, who were the target customer for this car—a fact I conveniently omitted when showing the car to men. Beyond that, people had few questions, and I never tired of saying, “Good question. I’m new here so let me get back to you with an answer.” Entering the majestic newly renovated two-story building sitting on the massive car lot, I immediately devoured the information available to me. Eager to learn, I attended our first sales seminar…   

“Remember to ALWAYS do the walk-around for the customer. It’s a step that CANNOT be missed.” The presenter was dressed in a bit-too-loud blue suit which I imagine he wore to every dealership for his seminars. He spoke in an excited pitch that left him no room for growth, even if he actually wanted to make a point about something. And every sentence he spoke was accented with an exclamation point. “And once you get them into the closing room and you’ve presented them with the numbers, turn the contract around so it’s facing them, and present the pen, letting it ‘slip’ from your fingers. That’s right, the pen will roll down the sheet, and the customer will instinctively reach for the rolling pen. And it is now in their hands! You’re about to make a sale!”

I believe an actual shudder traveled through my body as I glanced around the room, wondering if the other salespeople were as turned off as I was with this last bit of sales trickery, but all I saw were nodding heads. They were already practicing the “pen-roll” in their heads and counting their future commissions. I brushed it off and concentrated on the other tips I learned—tips that didn’t involve rolling pens.

But the “pen-roll” was just the beginning of a business that prides itself on upselling. While customers might think that once they agree upon the price, they are essentially done with the selling process, they are sadly mistaken. After we agreed on price, I kindly escorted the customers to the business manager, whose sole job was to cram as many options as he could on top of the already agreed upon price, and boy, was he good. So good, that he didn’t hesitate to simply add options after the sale was completed and the contract signed, leaving the salesperson the only option of having to “re-sign” the customer when they came back to pick up the car, having to explain why the monthly payment magically changed by an additional $50. “You really need the fabric protection. It will ensure your investment when it’s time to trade it in,” (It didn’t) or “Rust proofing is a must if you live in Michigan,” and so on. When I balked and questioned our business manager on his suspect practice of upselling, he simply replied, “I know you can resell it when they come back. You’re a great salesperson.” He was correct that I was able to sell the changes in the contract to the customers, but it most certainly did not make me a great salesperson. It did however make me a common car salesperson. I hated the business manager for his practices, and I hated myself for complying.

But I kept at it, surprisingly seeing very little in the way of sexist treatment from the dealership or pushback from customers. Soon after I arrived at the dealership, the only other female salesperson quit, leaving me as the sole survivor of the female species, a fact I used to my advantage. After all, I quickly learned that many male customers liked working with me, thinking they could outwit a woman in the car sales world.

They couldn’t.     

I recall only one time when a customer blocked my approach, asking to work with a man—a women, who said she would prefer to deal with a man because, “Men know more about cars.”

“No problem,” I said. “I’ll find someone who can help you.” And with that, I found the cockiest know-it-all in the bunch. “Good luck,” I said under my breath as he shook hands with his next victim.

We were trained to sell cars, period—working for the owner, who looked down upon us both figuratively and literally from his glassed-in office perched high over the showroom floor. Spiffs (added bonuses from the car manufacturers) and commissions drove us to steer customers away from one car to another, and customers with weak financial backing drove the business manager to offer inflated financing to those most in need of assistance. Looking for a comfortable monthly rate? This was music to our ears. No problem, we can just stretch out those payments a few more months.

And those hours… Most car dealerships are open six days a week, with hours that stretch into the late evening on two of those days. That’s 9am to 9pm. While we were granted a floating day off, as my manager explained to me on my first day, “Smart salespeople know to come in on their day off. You don’t want to miss out on a sale.” By the time Sunday rolled along, I was exhausted, knowing that the long workweek would be starting all over again.  

It took me three months to realize I had the philosophy of car sales backwards. I was approaching it as wanting to help people get into the car of their dreams. Instead, I only helped the owner of the dealership realize his dream of becoming king.

Heidi McCrary is a writer and author of the novel, Chasing North Star – available at Kazoo Books, This is a Bookstore, and online wherever books are sold. Follow Heidi at heidimccrary.net and facebook.com/HeidiMcCraryAuthor

HOMELAND – Best ending EVER

“Seriously, you have to watch this show,” my friend assured me. “You’re going to love it.” And immediately, two years later, my husband and I sat down to watch the first episode. It didn’t take long before we were hooked and devoured all eight seasons.

If you enjoyed “The Americans,” you owe it to yourself to check out “Homeland,” a fast paced, heart-pounding story-twisting spy thriller starring Claire Danes, Mandy Patinkin, and a constant churning cast of good guys and bad guys who flip sides without notice.

But make no mistake, this is Danes’ show, and as we get to know her character, Carrie Mathison, a top-notch CIA agent battling bipolar disorder, we’re taken on a rollercoaster ride as she takes us across the world and in and out of death-defying adventures.

Oh, and may I say, best ending EVER! Especially for a show that causes you to say, “This can’t end well.” And for those of you who have watched “The Americans,” actor, Costa Ronin (AKA Oleg) once again proves to be a worthy charismatic opponent. Catch all eight seasons of “Homeland” on Hulu. Yeah, I know… another streaming service. Make Hulu a 3-month buy and enjoy your winter binge. Fair warning – you will experience an eclectic whirlwind of feelings after the binge.

Heidi McCrary is a writer and author of the novel, Chasing North Star – available at Kazoo Books, This is a Bookstore, and online wherever books are sold. Follow Heidi at heidimccrary.netand facebook.com/HeidiMcCraryAuthor

The “Golden” Prize at the County Fair

As a child growing up in Alamo, harvest season signaled families throughout the area to pile into station wagons for the annual trek to the Allegan County Fair, where food, rides and attractions attacked our senses in delightful chaotic fashion. Over the course of the evening, our family would inevitably end up at The Mouse Game, a popular arcade game featuring a live mouse that would be dropped onto a horizontal spinning wheel outfitted with a multitude of numbered holes. As the (I’m sure, terrified) mouse ducked into hole #12, the winning player would then choose from a colorful collection of cheap stuffed animals hanging overhead. 

But these mice weren’t the only animals put to work for our amusement. Across the way was another game, this one featuring live goldfish packaged in plastic baggies and given away as “prizes,” likely to be flushed down the toilet by parents two days later after finding Timmy’s prize sitting at the bottom of the bowl serving as a makeshift aquarium. 

The Mouse Game has long passed, so as I sat on a bench this past weekend at the county fair with my niece, I was surprised to see a young boy walk by, clutching that familiar glowing orange baggie.

While the world today is recognizing the fact that animals don’t belong in traveling shows, it appears that we have overlooked the antiquated act of giving away live goldfish as prizes. It’s time for “Win a Goldfish” to join The Mouse Game as a childhood memory of yesteryear. 

By Heidi McCrary, author of “Chasing North Star,” available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

Should we Save the Mall?

As we passed the boarded-up entrance that once led a multitude of happy shoppers into one of the three department stores anchoring the mall back in the 80’s, my sister and I chatted as we walked the halls with a dozen or so other mall walkers taking advantage of the warmth on this winter morning. We reminisced about this well-worn shopping center that forty years ago, held the distinction of being the first two-level indoor mall built in Michigan outside of Metro Detroit. Today, this same mall has very little to shout about, where two anchor-store locations are currently empty and too many storefronts sit dark.

If you haven’t been to the mall in a while, you’re in good company. The Crossroads now houses a disproportionate amount of non-retail businesses meant for filling spaces waiting for the next Ann Taylor and GAP. A driving school, a massage business, and creatively placed vending machines currently take up spaces once occupied by popular apparel stores. Ironically (Or perhaps, not), Spenser’s still stands after 40+ years. The question begs, do they still sell blacklight posters?

In its heyday, The Crossroads boasted four department stores (Remember Marshall Field’s?), two floors jammed with upscale clothing stores and gift shops, and a food court offering everything from New York style pizza to monster cookies. That same food court now offers one single dining option while still providing enough seating to accommodate busloads of shoppers. Except there are no busses. If you happen to work at the mall and craving lunch, I hope you like Chinese.

We all know that the premise of the demise of the indoor shopping mall isn’t exaggerated, and perhaps it is a natural progression in the shopping experience. And one that might come full-circle, taking us back to the Downtown Shopping District. It wasn’t that long ago when Kalamazoo presented shoppers with the first outdoor pedestrian shopping mall in the United States. Downtown Kalamazoo still provides us with an eclectic array of shopping and dining experiences, locally owned and important to our economy.

Yet, it’s still sad to see our city’s only indoor mall on life support. I was encouraged the other day, when my sister and I changed up our morning routine and walked instead during the afternoon. Even with the limited mall hours due to the Pandemic, it was refreshing to see a healthy amount of young people hanging out and doing their civic duty of keeping our economy alive. It tells me that there is a market for ample retail. Hopefully, someone is listening.

As we continued walking, we noticed yet another store displaying minimal products. Talking to the owner, we learned that she is sad to be closing her shop and is bitter towards a company she perceives as being interested only in maximizing profits, with no regard to their tenants. Previously owned by Brookfield Properties Retail Group, the mall was just recently purchased by Kohan Retail Investment Group. Kohan is known for buying troubled shopping malls, and their Wikipedia page shows an excessive amount of controversial legal issues. Only time will tell whether the new owners will provide the city of Portage once again with a thriving indoor shopping mall.

In a state where temperatures often dip to freezing during the winter months, and where I have fond memories of my children visiting with Santa while I held their coats and sippy cups, I am hopeful that the next generation will be free to roam the halls of Crossroads. In the meantime, thanks for the memories.

Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Crossroads_(Portage,_Michigan)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kalamazoo_Mall

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kohan_Retail_Investment_Group

https://www.kohanretail.com/locations