Looking back at 2016, it was impressive to see that vehicle sales within the U.S. returned another banner year. With a jump of 17.5 million vehicles from 2015 sales, a total of 17.55 million new vehicles hit U.S. roads last year. While those are certainly impressive numbers, it’s been widely stated that such a steady incline will soon level off.
While this prompts many of us to look at the big picture, it doesn’t mean that we’re all looking at it from the same perspective or that our lives will be impacted in the same way. Some will examine the macro and microeconomics associated with a reversal of recent buying trends. Others might shift their attention to how such changes would influence auto loans and financing. And it’s fairly safe to predict that many Americans will only be interested in the effect it has on their own lives, or turn a blind eye to it if they don’t have any immediate plans (or need) to purchase a vehicle.
But what about…?
Car Dealers and Salespeople
Regardless of the stigma attached to those employed by car dealerships, let’s remind ourselves that these are our fellow human beings. Hath not a salesman hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as you are. If you prick them, do they not bleed?
Okay, fine…maybe good old William Shakespeare wasn’t thinking of (what would have then-been) wagon salesman when he wrote the Merchant of Venice, but the sentiment is genuine. Why do we vilify these people, rating them only above members of Congress, lawyers, bankers and advertising executives in terms of credibility? Is that really fair?
A Philosophical Debate
If you take a good person, rife with integrity, and transplant them into an industry burdened with moral ambiguity and the stigma of distrust, are they still a good person if they find success? Oh, it’s a slippery slope, I’m sure. But regardless of the field, it can’t be fair to lump the most honorable member of a profession among the most deplorable of their ilk. Can it?
The Worst of the Worst
I know. I know. In fact, I can hear you from here. “Car Dealers are the worst!” From blatant sexism (“Maybe I should talk to your husband”) to weakly-veiled dickering tactics (“I’ll need to talk to my manager”), there is a negative bias applied to those in automotive sales.
Then you factor in some of the horror stories, whether based around the car-buying experience or the cases that circle around the Lemon Law. If you don’t have one of your own, it is certain that someone close to you does. No, seriously…turn to the person to your left and ask them, then do it the person on your right. Inevitably, someone will have one (or more) anecdotes to share; and if they don’t, take a minute to visit your old friend Google. With no shortage of ‘car-buying horror stories,’ you can entertain yourself with everything from leaking windshields to combustible RVs.
To be clear, I’m not trying to make light of horrible situations that people have found themselves in – quite the opposite, actually. The point is that, if there is a stigma attached to this profession, as a result of questionable ethics so infused over time, it becomes hard to discern any good from the bad.
Culture and Turnover
And that’s part of the reason why there is statistically high turnover within the field. Sure, the incentive to enter the profession is valid; after all, a TR-illion dollar industry moving over 17 million vehicles leaves plenty of pie for everyone right?
But the downsides of employment can be attributed to culture. While it’s hardly the case for all dealerships, the high-pressure environment that is tangible to customers exists even more so among the employees by themselves. Encouraged by management to ‘sell, Sell, SELL,’ the dealership floor becomes a cut-throat game of me-first, gimme, gimme!
Competing for customers, undermining fellow salespeople in their absence, these are the results of the culture established within many dealerships. And with a constant battle to be the top dog, and the last man standing, the honorable are often among the casualties. Realizing such expectations conflict with their personal ethics, many vacate – leaving room for the more resilient among salespeople.
But get off your high horse, because your condemnation of this high-stakes profession might be comically hypocritical depending on your television viewing habits. After all, you might think it’s horrible for anyone to work in conditions where they have to outwit, outlast, and outplay each other…but do you still watch ‘Survivor?’ Food for thought …
Considering that they work within an industry worth trillions (yes, with ‘TR’) you might be surprised to learn how modest the average salary really is. Sure, employees of higher-end dealerships are bound to boast far heavier income streams, but the average salary in automotive sales is a modest $40,000 – $45,000, annually.
This number is based on those who receive a moderate base salary, plus commission, but keep in mind that this is not the standard within the industry. Many car dealers employ salespeople on commission alone, earning them an average of 25% on the profit of each car sold. That’s right, the profit. This means that, when selling a new car, they might not earn more than a couple hundred dollars at best. And while this might not sound that bad to you, consider what happens if they only sell one car a week…or none. Remember, they’re competing with more scrupulous co-workers for that dollar. And if their employment is contractually-based on selling a set amount they could end up owing the dealership in order to pay their bills.
While you may not be weeping for car salesman, the point is that they may not be deserving of your condemnation. Employed within an inherently-flawed industry, many become the product of their environment. And for them, there could be darker days ahead.
If the normal ebbs and flows of the economy are the hole that’s been dug in order to to bury traditional car sales, it’s fair to say that the internet might prove to be the nail in the coffin. Providing an alternative to high-pressure sales, the eCommerce of car buying continues to evolve to the point where buying your next vehicle could very well be an extension of your Amazon Prime membership. Just click and add to shopping cart. If you’re thinking how nice that sounds, I have to be honest, I’m with you. But take all of this into consideration the next time you find yourself eye-to-eye with a car salesperson. If you think you’re feeling pressured, imagine how they might feel.