On my weekly radio show, I introduce myself as “the recovering car dealer”. I say this because many years ago I employed many of the same unethical and deceptive advertising and sales practices as a lot of dealers do today. For a lot of reasons I won’t go into now, I finally “got it right” and in many ways, like a recovering addict, I’m preaching integrity like an addict preaches sobriety. At an AA meeting what lends credibility and authenticity to the message is that it’s coming from those who have “been there and done that”. Unless you've hit the bottom and struggled back to sobriety, you can’t really assure another addict that it can be done. An ex drunk or drug addict also knows all of the “tricks of the trade”. He knows how he deluded himself into believing he was not addicted. He knows how he rationalized his behavior as being acceptable and how he blamed his family and friends for not understanding him.
Years ago, I advertised a $500 lowest price guarantee. I did this for several years but I only paid the $500 out once. It wasn’t because nobody ever beat my price. It’s impossible for any retailer to always have the lowest price. I began to feel nervous because I never did pay out the guarantee. I was the first car dealer that I know of to come up with this idea. I wasn’t sure how the regulators would look upon a guarantee that was never paid out. The regulators know that car dealers are competitive and that no one dealer always sells his cars for less than his competition. If that were true, there would be only one car dealer of each make in a market. I instructed my sales managers to be sure and pay the $500 to anyone who bought a car from another car dealer because he beat our price. It was only after practically threatening my managers that we finally paid just one $500 guarantee.
What I learned from this experience is that it’s against “the nature of the beast” for a car salesman, manager, or dealer to admit that they lost a sale to a competitor. They will rationalize, ignore, or even lie to avoid confessing that they lost the sale. My lowest price guarantee was actually fair by today’s standards. We had a printed guarantee form that showed our price and left a blank for the other dealer’s price. We kept a copy and gave a copy to the prospective customer. Our conditions were that the customer return with a signed buyer’s order from the competitor and allow us the right of first refusal. This is what makes paying this guarantee virtually impossible. No competitor is going to give a prospective customer a final price knowing that the customer will take it back to the other dealer for a chance to beat his price.
Today, these dealers with the lowest price guarantees have raised the ante to as much as $3,000 or, if you can beat their price, will give you the car free! And they’ve added another condition which makes it totally impossible for you to ever earn their guarantee. In the fine print, this condition is “dealer reserves the right to purchase the exact vehicle the competitive dealer offers to sell for a lower price from that dealer”. What this means is that unless the dealer’s competitor agrees to help the customer “steal” the business from him by selling that same car to him, the dealer offering the guarantee is under no obligation to honor that guarantee. Take it from a guy who has been a car dealer for 44 year. If a competitor called me and said, “Earl, I’ve got Mr. and Mrs. Jones in my showroom. They’re the folks that you gave a price of $19,766 on this VIN number Camry. I can’t beat that price, so please sell me that same car for the same price so that I can sell it to Mr. and Mrs. Jones. If you don’t, they’ll buy the car from you and I’ll have to pay Mr. Jones my $3,000 lowest price guarantee. And I know you wouldn’t want that to happen to me, your competitor. What do you say, Earl?”
The real reason for the lowest price guarantee is to catch car shoppers off guard. They assume that the prices they are being quoted are the lowest in the market. Or else, how would that dealer dare to offer $3,000 if they beat his price or even pay for the car? By assuming that they are getting a good price they are less likely to shop and compare it. Repeat after me: “I SWEAR NEVER TO BUY A NEW CAR WITHOUT SHOPPING AND COMPARING THE PRICE WITH AT LEAST THREE CAR DEALERS”.
Do you agree with my premise that it’s impossible for any retailer to always have the lowest price? Then it would logically follow that dealers offering this guarantee will have paid out a few. I have a guarantee for those dealers. Mr. Dealer, prove that you’ve paid your cash guarantee to a customer who beat your price on a new car sale and bought the car from your competitor, and I’ll donate $500 to your favorite legitimate charity. To prove this, all of the paperwork will be submitted to an arbitration board of three CPA’s, one chosen by you, one by the customer, and one by me. To avoid you “setting me up” this offer is restricted to sales from the date of this column, 1-30-12, back one year.