Monday, October 19, 2020


Back in the day when I was an evil car dealer, I had a monthly “Slam Dunk Club” for my salespeople. To join the club, you had to make at least a $4,000 profit on a customer. This is about three times the normal profit. The salesman got a $500 bonus on top of his 25% commission of $1,000. He also got a gift certificate to Ruth’s Chris steakhouse with his significant other for a free dinner. Some of my salesmen would “score” slam dunks every month and some several. Others rarely did.

You should know that no two customers pay the same price for the same car in the same car dealership in the same time frame. Each customer pays the highest price his or her salesperson can “extract”. When a Toyota dealer looks at his financial statement at the end of the month and sees his profit per new Camry was $1,500, it doesn’t tell the full story. That $1,500 is the average of all the Camrys he sold with profits per car sold ranging from as much as $10,000 to as little as $100.

You’d think that a car dealer would want all his salespeople to sell all his cars for very high profits like $4,000 or higher. You’d be wrong. The reason is that all people aren’t equal when it comes to education, intelligence, experience in car buying, and negotiating skills. A smart, highly skilled negotiator would never pay a car dealer a $4,000 profit; if the salesman wouldn’t budge on the price, the car dealer would lose a sale. He would rather have a lesser profit than no sale at all…” a half a loaf is better than none”. Dealers study each salesman’s profits on all the cars he sells each month to be sure that he has some very high profits and some very low ones. This is a “healthy pattern” because it ensures the dealer that this salesman is making as much money on each customer as that customer as that customer’s negotiating/buying skills will tolerate. If a dealer sees that a salesman’s monthly profit pattern is in too narrow a range, he’s “not asking for all the money” and/or “he’s walking customers at too high a profit”. Car dealers all believe that you can’t ask for too high a profit on a car because you can always reduce the price before the customer leaves. Most car dealerships instruct their sales people to “start the asking price at above MSRP”.

Those readers of this column who’re familiar with my weekly radio show, EarlOnCars, Saturday mornings 8-10, know about my weekly mystery shopping report. [Tru Oldies 95.9 FM & 106.9 FM WIRK-HD3] My undercover shopper visits a different car dealership each week and goes through the motions of buying or leasing a car. I report everything that happens, naming names and dealerships, and we add that dealer to our “Recommended List” or “Don’t Buy from this Dealer List”. You can read all the mystery shopping reports in my archive at The latest shopping report was my inspiration for this column. You can click on this link to read the entire report.

The salesman who greeted the mystery shopper made every attempt to get my shopper to BUY TODAY, even to the extent of taking the new Camry home to show her husband and even to the husband’s workplace. This, of course, is to be sure that the buyer doesn’t have time to shop and compare the price he quoted. He quoted her an out-the-door price of $28,804. The salesman and the manager assured her that this was a very low price and guaranteed that it was lower than any of the competitive Toyota dealers would offer.

When my shopper refused to listen to them and wouldn’t make a buying decision that same day, they asked her to wait a minute and they’d be back with a lower their words “an even sweeter deal”. They came back with an out-the-door price on the same new Camry of $23,254! THIS PRICE IS $5,550 LESS than the first price they gave her. My mystery shopper left the dealership at that point.

This was, tactically, a very poor way to “sales manage the deal”. A savvier sales manager would have negotiated the price down slower, in small increments. When you drop your price too fast, you can scare the prospective customer away. The customer will think, “if he can drop the price $5,500 this fast, how much more can he drop the price?” The price was a very low price, only about $100 profit to the dealership…a GREAT price. The dealers only hope of increasing his profit was to charge her a high interest rate in the finance office and/or sell her warranties, GAP insurance, and maintenance plans. Or, sneak in some hidden fees on the real papers she signs, because all she’s been shown so far were “worksheets”, not legal documents.

Of course, the best protection against being “slam dunked” is to never buy a car on the first day you begin shopping and always get competitive out-the-door prices from at least three different car dealers.

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