Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The American Dream and MSgt Vandy

In early 1969, this was my American Dream come true. My 1966 Mustang Convertible. I was 23 when I bought it. I think I paid $1400 for it. It wasn't new but it was brand new to me!

I thought it was so cool to have a convertible. I fantasized that all the girls would would want to ride in it. That dream abruptly ended as I discovered that although all the girls admired the car, none of them really liked to ride in it when the top was down! Those were the days of the big hair just so.

When I bought the car, I was brand new Air Force Lieutenant stationed in Little Rock, Arkansas. As green as could be. Lucky for me, wise old Master Sergeant Vandy took me under his wing and went car shopping with me. Back in the day, wise veteran sergeants often took us wet-behind-the-ears under their wings. And so it was with Vandy and me. Long story shortened, Vandy saved me from the Arkansas car salesmen more than once, and I ended up with a fair deal on the Mustang I wanted. I hope he is well and resting peacefully somewhere.

So, when my 23-year-old daughter was shopping for her first car purchase, and in the spirit of Sgt Vandy, my wife and I went with her. Not really expecting any shenanigans in this day and age, we went as interested observers rather than guardian angels.

It turned out that our attendance didn’t stop the dealership from employing some pretty slimy sales maneuvers, resulting in somewhat of a scene at the end of a long evening. In a carefully constructed sales practice, they did not disclose the true cost of the car behind the monthly payments numbers they presented.

When we pressed for more detail at total price at any point, the salesman was evasive, kept going back to the "monthly payment." Even when negotiating the price down, they would simply come back with a lower monthly payment-- not a new bottom line. After a couple of hours, we all agreed on a price. But as it turned out, not the same price.

This only became obvious when we finally saw the written contract. And it was the last document shown to us, after many other documents were presented. The total was almost $4,000 more than what we thought we were paying!

In the spirit of the old Sarge, my wife and I stepped up to the plate. Before we were done that evening, we had raised quite a ruckus, attracting the attention of several members of the dealership team. The price was readjusted and they made concessions. At one point both Rita and I told them the deal was dead and we were leaving. It was then that Meredith interceded for "private family moment." She really liked the car and wanted it. She could more than afford the monthly payment. So we settled on it to close the deal.

There was one special moment during that evening. At one point, I thought the deal was solid and announced I was going to go on home while the girls finished the final paperwork. The salesman gave me a look that told me I ought to stay for the entire negotiation. I look back at that as a "Vandy" moment and the "tell" that maybe this deal wasn't done. Tired as we were, we stayed.

I sincerely thanked the salesman as we were leaving for that moment, although he played his part well in the sales process, including "mis-remembering" some of the things he told us.

Is there a point to this story? Maybe two points. Although things have changed so much in the past 40 years, the art of the sale has not. Let the buyer always be aware. Be Vandy for your young adult children when they make major life choices.

And secondly, there is a bit of the spirit of Sergeant Vandy in all of us, even in the well-practiced salesman who tipped us off to stay -- even though it almost cost him the deal.

1 comment:

  1. You did your job, Bob! That's what dads are for!