What is it like to be a car salesperson?
March 14, 2013 9:42 AM   Subscribe

Facing constant threats of layoffs and boredom at my current job, I have been searching for a new job. I currently work in a "9-5" office job making 30 - 35k per year...

THe things I dislike about my job are sitting at a desk all day, no oportunity for advancement in pay, low pay, and lack of skill building to transfer to a better career. Things I have to consider when switching jobs are that I am single with a mortgage, and don't really have much savings so any time period of "ramping up to comission" would be rough. In searching for a new job I was thinking about applying to some car dealerships to be a salesperson. Does anyone know what this is like? Could I reliably make 40k annually (I have sales experience from some previous jobs)? How long is the start up period for someone new to car sales before you can rely on comissions? Are car salespeople generally respected in other legit sales organizations or are they frowned upon? Any insight into being a car salesperson is welcome!
posted by WeekendJen to Work & Money (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This story from Edmunds about an "undercover" car salesman might be of interest to you (if a bit old).
posted by The Notorious B.F.G. at 9:45 AM on March 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

You cannot reliably make 40k selling cars.

It's a straight commission job and it is cut-throat. You'll find yourself hanging out at the dealership all hours waiting for someone to come in.

I know someone who worked at it for 3 months and sold 2 cars. If he worked with someone for 3 hours, but they didn't have credit, no sale, no money.

If he showed them every car on the lot, but they didnt' buy, no money.

The guys who actually make money selling cars, have vast customer networks, and are aggressively shaking people down all the time.

My advice, see if you can get a part time job selling cars nights and weekends, see how it goes for you and then decide.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:54 AM on March 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

I've been working directly above a car dealership in Brooklyn for almost two years now and it's like Glengarry Glen Ross down there. Not two days go by that there isn't a screaming match down there. From what I can tell, all the other dealerships on the block (there's like six or seven) are as high-pressure as the one I'm above.
posted by griphus at 9:56 AM on March 14, 2013 [7 favorites]

I can't think of a worse job, really. Maybe washing dishes?
posted by KokuRyu at 10:05 AM on March 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

You will be faced with constant threats of layoffs and boredom but without the base salary. Instead determine what you enjoy doing and then figure out a way to make money doing it, you'll be enormously happier.
posted by Blue Meanie at 10:13 AM on March 14, 2013

There are much better sales jobs you can get and earn the same. Do you have a bachelor's? That is often all you need (and a decent personality and ability to talk -- which you would need for any sales job) to get an entry level sales position which would probably base at 30-35K plus commission.
posted by hrj at 10:25 AM on March 14, 2013

There is a reason that car salespeople are one of the go-to examples when you are trying to think of someone doing shady sales or giving the really hard sell. Because that is what you have to do to be successful.

Yes there are probably totally ethical people out there selling cars, I haven't met one yet but I'm sure they exist. I've been flat out lied to (mostly small, one very large) by every car salesman trying to sell me a car. I get it, I mean if eating for the next month depended on me selling this car because I haven't sold any others I'd probably come up with some white lies about the competition too.
posted by magnetsphere at 10:40 AM on March 14, 2013

My dad was a car salesman for three months. There was a lot of training on products and sales strategies. Obviously most car sales strategies include getting every little dime out of the person. My dad is not that kinda guy. Instead he made a number of sales because he was honest and the few people who bought from them appreciated that. But of course his boss and such didn't like that so he quit. He was making okay money but not worth the stress and anguish.
posted by xicana63 at 10:42 AM on March 14, 2013

I have no experience selling cars, but know people who have done it successfully, repeatedly and over a number of years. They are definitely not the shyster scam artist personalities - rather, they are hard working, consistent, and not intimidated. I think they make it work by getting those customers that can't stand the stereotypical car salesman. What I see that sucks = hardly any days off, long hours, no social life.

Since you have sales experience, why not try higher end dealerships (lexus, acura, infinity, Mercedes, BMW, etc), a bit more civil and less riff raff.
posted by Kruger5 at 11:05 AM on March 14, 2013

I don't know if the working environment is really any different, but I've shopped at dozens of different dealerships for cars, and I've found the higher-end dealerships (Porsche, BMW, Audi, etc.) had sales people who did much less of the "sleazy" stuff, and didn't reek of desperation like the people at, say, a Honda or Ford dealership. Is that just because they hire people who hide their desperation better? Maybe. But if I were ever going to sell cars, those are the kinds of places I'd go looking. (Of course, they are also probably much harder to get a job at).
posted by primethyme at 11:33 AM on March 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

One place you could get a job at, if you have absolutely NO conscience, would be at a JD Byrider or DriveTime, or similar place where they tote the note and it's high interest, preditory lending to poor people.

The sales there would be easier because you already know you're dealing with terrible credit and an uninformed consumer. They're not going to be picky because they can't afford to be.

Frankly, the idea of it makes my skin crawl, but, the profit margin is much bigger than at a conventional dealership, therefore the money is better and the sale is easier.

If I were to ever sell cars, and I only wanted to maximize my own earnings, this would be the kind of place I would look at to do so.

Now go shower and never speak of it again.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:03 PM on March 14, 2013

Don't. You can't make money if you are at all ethical and the atmosphere is awful. Which is why my husband quit and went back to real estate. You would probably be taking a pay cut. If you want to sell real estate with rentals on the side is the way to go but you'd need schooling. But anything, anything but cars!!!!!!
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:47 PM on March 14, 2013

Oh, and the bosses ride your butt. Ralph did cars years ago before resl estate too and it was like that then too but the economy hasnt made it better.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:49 PM on March 14, 2013

I did it for about a year and a half. Solid, respectable dealership on a mid-to-high range model line. The sales force collectively determined they would not be cut-throat, which worked well (although it worked better for the long-term staff). I made a reasonable income, around 100 cars a year. Top sellers were closer to 140, and you'd probably be fired for going under 80 (well, at least given the "don't think this is right for you" speech). Some dealerships will have a guaranteed minimum salary for the first few months while you learn, but not all do and it's not a lot anyway.

The stories you'll hear are amazing. There truly are salespeople out there as bad as the stereotype. But once you meet the range of customers you see, you start to understand some of it a bit. Car shoppers can be as sleazy as the worst salesperson you'll meet, and some people can fall into an us-vs-them mentality. I got strung along for weeks by a guy who looked at just about every model on the lot, finally signed him only to learn he wasn't a full-time teacher like he said, but a part-time puppeteer with a string of defaulted credit cards.

But you also get the complete opposite, and those customers are amazing. Some customers even gave US gifts, like flowers and booze. Keep in touch with them, follow up just to see how they're doing. Literally, that would be half my day, just calling and chatting with my customers every couple weeks. They'd call me with questions on their cars or how to set up the Bluetooth again. You become their car friend, essentially, and without you even asking they'll start sending their friends to you when they're looking for a car.

You can make a good living doing it while maintaining your self-respect. It involves a lot of hard work and networking - talking to people outside the dealership, finding people who need cars or encouraging them to trade in their older cars while they still hold good value, or getting referrals from people who know and trust you. If you're the type to wait for people to come in the door, don't bother. You won't sell enough to be successful unless you're a shark.

Every dealership is different, of course, so if you don't have a good experience at one doesn't mean it's wrong for you. But you really, truly, have to give up the rest of your life for probably 5-6 years to make it work. If the dealership is open, you're probably there. Our dealership was closed on Sundays, for example, but some guys would stop in for an hour or so and just hang around the lot, handing out their cards to the tire kickers. There's enormous pressure even at good dealerships to produce results, every month. We had a five-person sales staff, and in the year and a half I was there I saw thirteen people come and go. Very high turnover.

Based on your description, car sales hits a few points. You're not chained to a desk (but you might have one), and if you like driving cars you'll get lots of experience there. The pay is exactly what you make of it because it's all commission, but the days of big easy money is gone (I think my biggest single sale was $945). It's good money, but if you figure it out per hour you're probably taking a pay cut. There's no real room to advance (except to a desk job like finance manager where you're selling extended warranties and crap). You won't get a big range of skills to transfer, but the sales experience is solid and respected.

I had fun, but there's no way in hell I'd go back if I could avoid it. But I met plenty of good people there who wouldn't want to do anything else.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 2:14 PM on March 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

(uh, wow, sorry. Guess I'm a little bit wordy today.)
posted by GhostintheMachine at 2:15 PM on March 14, 2013

I worked as a consultant of sorts inside a number of car dealership at one point. I saw both the high-end (classy, clean suburban) and low-end (urban, cut-throat, factory-level volume, utter desperation), and knew it wasn't for me in any way. Both types of dealerships ended up doing things I considered unethical: in the nice, upscale one there were all sorts of deals being cut with full knowledge that someone would likely fail to keep making payments, and then the dealer would "get to sell the car again" (how much of a figure of speech that was I never determined). It was definitely a seeing-sausuage-get-made experience. As part of my job involved the technology, I was privy to the restrictions on salespeople so they wouldn't, so to speak, get lazy and use e-mail spam as a means to bring in traffic.

Single with a mortgage? If you have no choice, sure, but I don't think I'd do it unless I knew I could sell and I had real experience with the industry. I think going in blind is a good way to trip on your shoelaces.
posted by dhartung at 3:05 PM on March 14, 2013

You may want to take a look at this article by a journalist who went undercover as a car salesman for Edmunds.com.
posted by Lieber Frau at 3:26 PM on March 14, 2013

My roommate was one of the nicest, most sincere people I have ever known. He worked for his family Chrysler dealership, nice operation and made a lot of money. Some of the stories he told me, and with pride were absolutely horrifying. This generally honorable, loyal friend would laugh as he told us horrible stories about "giving it to" a customer who they pressured to buy. Totally out of character for him. He was a sales manager and would regale us with stories of denigrating poor performing salespeople or customers. Cold shit man. And I just now I realized I used to be the same selling stereos and home theaters. It hurts my heart to think about it. Don't do it. This type of sales, it will make a good man bad.

Also, the last car I bought, I was so offended by every single used car salesman I met that I bought something I didn't expect to buy from a more expensive, higher end Cadillac dealership just because they treated me with a minimum of respect.
posted by Che boludo! at 7:50 PM on March 14, 2013

I haven't done it, but a family member has and based on his experience I wouldn't recommend it. He sold for a high end brand and even there the entire workplace mentality was consumed with a sense of scarcity. Your co-workers are your enemy because they might talk with your client while you are on lunch and make a claim for part of the commission and all sorts of other nonesense.

Unless you achieve a very distinguishable sales number most people will regard car sales as unprofessional and not endearing to your next career.
posted by dgran at 7:48 AM on March 15, 2013

I have no experience selling cars, but know people who have done it successfully, repeatedly and over a number of years. They are definitely not the shyster scam artist personalities - rather, they are hard working, consistent, and not intimidated. I think they make it work by getting those customers that can't stand the stereotypical car salesman. What I see that sucks = hardly any days off, long hours, no social life.

posted by doowod at 12:12 AM on March 16, 2013

My father in law was a car salesman working his way up to running the Sales department in a Jeep dealership in a small town. Now I suppose his situation was different in the sense that if you wanted a Jeep you had to go to him since the nearest dealership was 2+ hours away. That may have cut down on the cut throat nature of things between dealerships.

With that said, my FIL is an excessively kind and generous man and the kind of person that is civic and religiously minded. He seemingly knows everyone and is easy to talk to and is quite approachable. He is super reliable and was always ready to work hard and go the extra mile for anyone (and this isn't just for business). If it matters to you because of his position he was always impeccably dressed (which I guess is a good or bad thing depending on your perspective).
posted by mmascolino at 9:17 AM on March 18, 2013

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