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Monday, October 16, 2023

The Higher Up You Complain, the Greater Your Chance of Satisfaction

Many readers of this column may not remember Harry Truman, the 33rd President of the United States, but those of you who do will remember the sign he had on his desk in the Oval Office: "The Buck Stops Here." The sign meant that he accepted responsibility for all acts, policies, and decisions under his command. To be realistic, we know that the chances of you or me making a complaint directly to "POTUS" are zero, but the higher up you complain, the better your chances of being heard and accommodated.

There are two reasons why higher-ups in any business, organization, or government are more inclined to be honest, transparent, and fair with you. (1) The most cynical of those reasons is called "deniability." Some top company executives know that their underlings aren't treating customers fairly but believe that this allows the company (and them) to make more money and likely can go undetected. However, as insurance, in case they get "caught," they can claim that they didn't know these bad practices were happening. (2) They really don't know what's going on at the lower levels, which can often happen in larger companies.

Car dealerships come in all shapes and sizes, but the trend in recent years has been toward larger dealerships and the consolidation of many dealerships under one CEO. Fifty years ago, car dealerships were mostly small, family businesses. The owner was also the dealer, general manager, and the CEO. Today, family dealerships are dying out and being acquired by giant publicly and privately owned companies like AutoNation, Terry Taylor, Sonic, Lithia, Penske, and Larry Morgan. If you have a problem with a car dealership, the likelihood of reaching the very top is slim, but you should endeavor to do so, and the higher up you reach, the better off you are.

Regular readers of this column and listeners to my Saturday morning live radio talk show, Earl on Cars, know that we get a lot of calls to the show from "victims" of car dealers. A few weeks ago, we had a caller named Ellen who spoke to my wife, Nancy, my co-host, about her bad experience when she bought a new 2023 Toyota Camry from "Al Hendrickson Toyota" in Coconut Creek, FL (near Ft. Lauderdale), which is in the top 3 car volume car dealership in the USA. Ellen was very upset because, after signing all the papers and taking delivery, she realized that she'd paid way too much. She returned to talk to the salesman and sales manager (Brandson Angel and Scott Zuckerman), but they were unapologetic and denied overcharging her for the new Camry.

Ellen was under the impression that the dealership was owned by Al Henrickson and didn't know that it had been sold a few months ago to the Moran Auto Group, owned by Larry Morgan. Many car dealerships retain their original owner's name after the sale. The Morgan Group bought the three Arrigo Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep dealerships three years ago, but the Arrigo brothers' name is still on the dealerships, and they still do the TV commercials.

Nancy and I suggested to Ellen that she contact the real owner of Al Hendrickson Toyota, Larry Morgan. She did so, Larry apologized, and asked her to return to Al Hendrickson Toyota and said that he'd instructed them to make her happy. She did return and was given $2,600 back off the price she'd paid for the new Camry.

Ellen was fortunate to have called our radio show and learned who really owned Al Hendrickson Toyota, and she was fortunate to find the contact information to reach Larry Morgan. My advice to you, when you buy your next car, is to do the research first before you buy the car. With Google and AI, like ChatGPT, you can find out almost anything today. Find out who really owns the dealership and what the management structure is inside that dealership. You must insist on getting the contact information (cell phone numbers are mandatory) of all the managers in the sales department and the General Manager or owner. Make this a precondition of buying the car.

The mere act of demanding this information will likely ensure that you get more honest and transparent treatment than if you had not. A car salesman is far less likely to cheat somebody who has his boss's cell phone number. His boss is also less likely not to make things right if you have his boss's cell phone number, etc...

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