I have a job that’s perfect for me now. Actually, I feel like it was designed for me. But there was a point in my life not too long ago, where my career was skidding out of control. It was then, that I turned to selling Volkswagens to get myself back on track. My friend Nate was in the biz, and had been encouraging me to do it for years. I drove a Volkswagen and was quite fond of them; so why the hell not?
The dealership I worked at was one of the good ones. For the most part, salespeople and management tried to do the right thing by customers. About halfway through my tenure there, the owner hired a consulting firm that wanted to change us from a good intentioned store into one of those bad ones. It was awful. There was almost a mutiny. Even the guys I thought were questionable were saying things like, “I don’t know if I want to work for a place that does these things.”
One new tactic, was to always park in a bogus “sold section” when you returned from a test-drive. Once parked, you would rip a sold tag out of this stupid little Columbo-style notebook and put it on the dashboard in front of the customer. There was no forgetting the face you see on the customer after pulling this move. If you've ever gone in to plant a kiss on someone, when you’ve completely misread the signs -- that's the face I'm talking about. These tactics were short lived, thankfully.
Most people view buying a car as a huge pain in the ass. But really, selling a car is a much bigger pain in the ass. There were some days where I just couldn’t take one more lecture from someone on what Edmonds or Trucar told them they should pay for a particular car. On the really bad days I would plop my head down on the desk in front of the customer in total defeat, after they revealed the classified intel from the interweb. I knew they weren’t going to believe anything I had to say, like “It actually costs $800 for us to get the car from the factory. Truecar doesn’t tell you that. If you could buy the car directly from the factory -- which you can’t -- then you wouldn't have to pay the $800.” I knew I’d already lost. They were going to be on their way to Toyota, to get started on their boring, emotionless relationship with a Camry.
As winter turned to spring on the car lot, I started to get ancy. My career -- before selling cars -- was all about growing stuff. I worked on farms, and in the landscape and nursery industry. People like me have an internal clock. When the growing season nears, we’re drawn to the garden, which was always part of my job before -- but not now. Automobile-covered blacktop was my world now. I was so disgusted with the lack of plant life around me that I went to the owner and asked if I could plant flowers in an empty raised bed in the front of the store. He gave me the money to go buy the plants, and I came in on my day off and got to work. I think everyone that worked there thought I was losing my mind. One after another, my coworkers would walk by and ask me why I was doing this. Some would accuse me of sucking up to the owner. My response over and over: “I have to do this.” I probably was losing my mind.
One of the advantages of being “the guy that planted the flowers”, was getting customers dropped in my lap that management perceived as being more appropriate for a guy like me. One of those customers was a yoga teacher from Boston named Sarah. Sarah had finally decided it was time to own her own car. I wasn’t surprised to learn that whenever she needed a car in the past, one of her students would lend her their Audi. She just seemed so damn happy with her life. People like being part of something like that -- and there just was not any defense for her eyes. We spent almost the whole afternoon driving around in different cars, and talking. People usually tell you things about their life while trapped on a test drive, but I don’t think I’ve ever experienced the level of vulnerability with a customer like I did with Sarah. She told me about this much younger guy from her yoga class that she was getting involved with, and wanted to know if I thought it could work. I was thinking “No way! It can’t work! You’ll get hurt! Cut him loose!” But all I remember saying was, “that can be tricky.” Before our long test drives were over, I made sure that Sarah knew my career plans were much different than selling cars. “I just want to grow tomatoes” I told her. I guess my test-drive pitch (about myself) needed a little work.
Doing the evening shift at the car lot was the worst torture. As Gary, one of the most sedentary salesman at the dealership put it, “It’s like doin’ time.” During those shifts, when I wasn’t burning through the Song of Ice and Fire novels on my phone, I was thinking about how I ended up there. I thought a lot about my girlfriend, of several years, and how she must have felt telling her friends and family what I was doing with my life when they asked. There is nothing wrong with selling cars for a living. It’s just that I had talked a really good game about what my business plan was when I quit my last job, and how certain I was that the idea was going to be huge. The truth was that I hated that job and that’s why I quit. It was a situation where I took a job I didn’t want, so I could move back to Cape Cod for a life I didn’t want. Then I decided I’d make it all better by starting my own business -- a business that never even got off the ground; now I was a car salesman. I was left on those evenings pondering every impulsive decision I had made to get me to that showroom.
I wanted to love my life the way people like, Sarah the yoga-goddess, loved theirs. That wasn’t going to happen for me selling cars. About a year after I became a car salesman, I walked out the showroom door for the last time, to start a new job running a local farm. John, the youngest salesman on the floor, came running out after me. “Can I call you about the flowers if I have questions?” he asked. I gave him a hug and said, “Yeah man, call me about the flowers”.