As most of you know, I’m a consumer advocate for those who own or lease automobiles. I write a blog, www.EarlStewartOnCars.com, a weekly newspaper column in Hometown News, host a weekly live talk show on Seaview Radio, and I just wrote a book, Confessions of a Recovering Car Dealer. I also speak regularly before groups at libraries, civic clubs, condo associations, and other organizations.
I’ve been doing this for many years and one of my greatest frustrations is that there is segment of society that I’m unable to reach. I was watching 60 Minutes on TV last night and there was segment on U.S. companies being unable to fill job openings for lack of qualified applicants. It wasn’t about not having enough scientists, engineers, or other college educated applicants with specialized skills; it was about not having applicants who could complete a grammatically correct sentence on a resume, show up for work on time, or comprehend basic instructions on how to perform an entry level job.
My frustration, as a person who advises others on how to buy or lease a car and service their cars without being taken advantage of, is that there is a segment of society that I’m unable to reach. I know this because people call me daily about how they were taken advantage of by car dealers. I just had a call from a man who wanted to know if I could match an offer from one of my competitors who said they would allow him the original MSRP on his four year old car as a trade-in on a new car. Fortunately I was able to explain that this “too good to be true” offer was, in fact, not true before the man was tricked into buying a car. I also know this because I know of many car dealers who blatantly deceive and take advantage of their customers and are financially successful.
Further fueling my frustration is that car buyers today have immensely more information at their fingertips to make an intelligent decision in buying, leasing, or servicing their cars. I consider Google to be an “annex to my brain”. Writing this column, I’ll use Google and other Internet sources many times. My wife, Nancy, and I don’t buy anything without first clicking on www.ConsumerReports.org. When we do buy, more often than not we buy from www.Amazon.com because we can determine the lowest price and choose the vendor with the best reviews. If was buying a car, I would go to www.TrueCar.com and I would also check out www.Edmunds.com and www.KBB.com. These are only a few of the sources of information available to us that was not 20 years ago.
I’m not telling you something you don’t know when I say the USA is falling behind the rest of the world in education. Many countries in Asia and Europe are educating their children and young adults better than we. I’m not going to go into a lot of depth and detail on this because you hear about it every day. The rest of the world’s children attend school 12 months out of the year, vs. only 9 for ours. Many of our teachers are inferior to those in other countries. The subjects taught in our classrooms are not those that best prepare students for life or the workforce. We graduate a large number who don’t have the fundamental skills of reading, writing, or speaking correctly. One of the biggest problems I see with our educational system is that we turn out a high percentage of students without work or moral ethics. Of course, the parents play a big role in all of this but often the parents were also the product of our inferior educational system.
My Toyota dealership is extremely successful and is one of the largest volume car dealerships for car and service sales in the USA. We are growing rapidly and dominate our market. Earl Stewart Toyota is located in Lake Park, FL, which is a very small town with a population under 9,000. In fact, because very few people have heard of Lake Park, we advertise that we are in North Palm Beach when we are actually on the border between the two towns. We sell and service so many more cars than all the other dealers in our market by selling and servicing customers that drive for many miles, south from Ft. Lauderdale and north to Ft. Pierce and beyond.
We are able sell and service so many cars to those who live so far away because we have established the Earl Stewart brand as being the car dealership that will give you a fair price and treat you with courtesy, respect and integrity. We don’t guarantee the lowest prices as so many car dealers claim because we can’t. We tell our prospective customers that we give them what we believe it’s the best price, but we encourage them to shop and compare it with the competition.
Now, the fascinating result of our success is that we have captured virtually all of the educated, intelligent, sophisticated car buyers in our market. People who buy and service their cars from us cannot be fooled by the “too good to be true” offers from our competition. In fact, their intelligence is insulted when dealers bait them into their stores with a low price and then add a “$999.95 dealer fee”; or when they mark up the MSRP price by $7,000 so that they can pretend to be giving a large discount on the advertised car. Smart people run, don’t walk, away when they are told that the discounted price is good only if you’re on “active duty in the military and graduated from college within the past six months”. We hear these horror stories daily from our sophisticated and educated customers who found sanctuary with us.
But, as successful as my dealership is, I can’t forget about those poor souls who fall prey to the deceptive advertising and sales practices designed to take advantage of the uneducated, unsophisticated, very young, very old, and English language impaired. I wrestle with this every day, thinking of how I can reach this group of consumer-victims. My blog, newspaper columns, radio shows and even my book will not be read by most of these people. You, who are reading this article, now, are enlightened consumers and in that sense I’m preaching to the choir.
I welcome any suggestions on how I can reach those who are being taken advantage of daily. I want to believe that, in the long run, the size of this group of car buying victims will shrink to the point where those car dealers that now successfully exploit these defenseless buyers have to stop their unfair and deceptive sales practices and advertising to attract buyers like you.