Purchasing a first car was a rite of passage. It was a sign of adulthood, that you could survive on your own in the real world. But before the internet, buying a car required a little more work. The only source of information was blue books and the wisdom of prior generations. I sought help from my uncle, who was a luxury car dealer. He schooled me in what costs to expect and what could usually be negotiated. I also went to the library to research the Kelly Blue Book prices for the cars I was considering. Armed with knowledge, I was ready to go to battle.
Car salesman at the time were considered the pinnacle of negotiation with dealers who added and subtracted costs and fees at will. It was a make or break moment to either get a good deal or get taken for a ride.
The dealers in my area were conveniently lined up on the same street like a bread crumb trail for easy shopping. At the first dealer, an older man approached us. My husband had gone along for the ride, but was happy to let me handle everything.
I told him what kind of car I wanted and what I wanted to pay. With a big smile, he looked at me and ushered us to a completely different car and price range.
“See how pretty this color is,” he patronized, looking at me. Then he looked at my husband and told him all about the various mechanics and functions of the car.
“And it even has a new cassette tape deck, so you can listen to all that disco music you girls like,” he smiled.
This infuriating ping pong exchange went on for a few minutes. When I asked a question about price or features, he would respond to me with some offhand quip about what I would like about the car. Then he would turn to my husband and answer my questions about price and features.
I was getting steamed when my husband finally told the salesman to talk to me about price. He looked at me, smiled, and turned to my husband to continue to discuss price.
“Next time talk to me,” I angrily told salesman and defiantly walk out of the dealership.
The second dealer did talk to me. We discussed the exact car I wanted and all the features. And when it came down to the price, I told him exactly what I wanted to pay. He wrote it up and had me sit down with the owner to discuss the deal. I expected this as my uncle told me that the deals were always finalized with the manager or owner.
This owner was the head of several dealerships and well-known from his cheesy commercials about a great deal. He sat next to me at the table wearing an Armani tailored suit, expensive Italian leather shoes and a Rolex watch. He looked me straight in the face, smiled, put his hand on my hand and said “Honey, you probably don’t know this, but we don’t give this kind of deal,” he said in the tone of a parent reading a children’s bedtime story.
So, I proceeded to show him my research on the blue book value, invoice and mark up, etc.
He looked at me again, chuckled and said in a soft tone. “Honey, I won’t be able to feed my children if I gave you this deal. You wouldn’t want that, would you?”
Again, I walked out frustrated and exasperated[O1] . I felt like I was Goldilocks in my own tale of the sexist car dealers.
Hoping the third time was the charm, we went into the next dealership on the block. Again, I told the dealer what I wanted and what I wanted to pay. Again, we struck a deal and looked for the approval of the manager. I clenched my teeth and braced myself for another battle. Changing tactics, I went on the offensive this time and came out guns blazing with my information and research. But this time there was no issue. The manager looked at the deal, smiled and praised me for doing my research and signed the deal. By the way, the sales manager was a woman.
Fast forward 30 years and many car purchases later, I found myself alone at a car dealership. Internet research made easier this time, I went to the dealer knowing exactly what I wanted and ready to buy in cash. After more than 20 years in home sales, I always told other salespeople what I did for a living. It made it easier, no tricks, no nonsense. After all, you can’t “sell” a salesman.
The salesman was an older man, but with years of battles and scars in the war of the sexes, I was a veteran. He took me to the car I wanted and began to talk to me about the pretty color.
I wondered if this relic was the same guy from years ago, but no, that guy would be dead. Just a follower of his kind, lost in the past.
“I don’t care about the color, all I care about is the price,” I said smiling at him calmly. “What is your best price?”
“This is a pretty red car,” he said smiling. “You would look good in this color.”
I really couldn’t believe what I was hearing. But a little calmer with age, wisdom and a lot of practice dealing with sexism, I decided to smile back and fight fire with fire.
“You are right, I would look good in this car. But if you don’t give me your best price, I am going to talk to that lady about how good I look in this car,” I said pointing to the saleswomen at the other desk. “So, let’s talk about the price, OK?” I said in a soft motherly tone as I gently took his arm and lead him away from the car to the desk.
I bought the car and got the deal I wanted and secretly felt I won a battle in a war that I thought was over. Apparently, sometimes, we still need to fight some more.