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Want to fix the trade? Get rid of OTE.

Car dealerships are a mess – here’s how we’d fix them.

Back in the day, before smartphones and three million channels of nothing on the telly, we used to work in a dealership. This was great, because having been obsessed with cars since popping out of Mother, we always wanted to be in one. It was, to us, the hub of automotive activity. It would be the perfect way to live out our passion for cars. And for a while, it was. Then journalism and car magazines happened, so we did that for ten years instead. And in that decade, a lot happened.

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OTE. On. Target. Earnings. That’s what happened, and it happened in seemingly every department, resulting in pretty much every dealership up and down the country now being nothing more than a sickly, one-dimensional, single-minded hideousness with nothing but a junkie’s lust for profit glinting in its eye. It’s horrid.

Now don’t get us wrong, we’re no masters of industry, but even so, we know a business needs to make money. But there are ways to go about that properly, and the motor trade doesn’t use any of them. Work in a modern-day dealership and you’ll be sickened by the largely two-faced nature of the place. Like siblings that behave for mum and dad, but then kick the shit out of each other when they leave.

Customer = mum and dad. Siblings = staff.

And you might think ‘yeah, well, that’s sales’ and you’d be right. It is. But these people have been screwed down so hard, they’ve had their basic salary reduced to so little, and they’ve had their commission structure amended ‘for the long-term good’ so many times that they have become hyenas.

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Heavy stuff, right? But probably speculative, given that we’re just a little motoring website dedicated to cheap cars. What would we know? Well here’s the thing, we’ve done pretty much every job in a dealership, including selling cars. And do you know what? We were good at it. But we were never good enough. Because that’s how it works. You do well only to be rewarded by goalposts that keep moving. It’s draining. Imagine being set a target, then hitting that target, then being told it’s still not good enough. Nice.

And then there’s the culture. There were a few bad weeks, we had some stuff going on at home, it was sub-optimal. The Sales Manager called us in for a chat. Fair enough. His advice? Get into debt. Because if we had debt, we’d work harder. That’s the culture.

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And it goes deeper. Years and years ago, we worked as a service advisor. Our job was to book cars into the the workshop and then keep the customer up to date with what was going on, if any extra parts were needed, that kind of stuff. We were under no obligation to sell. It was just good, wholesome, customer service.

Now though, you can’t do that. You have to up-sell. Service plans, tyres when the customer doesn’t really need them. Brakes when the customer doesn’t really need them. Wipers. Fluids. All of it, from bumper to bumper, is now unsympathetically mashed into the department. And it’s being put on people who don’t have a sales background, so it inevitably gets done wrong. And then the customers are unhappy.

We never had an OTE. But we cared. There was pride at stake, so we just did a good job. We didn’t need an incentive.

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Actually, that’s wrong. An incentive to get a little bonus would have been nice, it would have pushed us all to work a bit harder, to check every ‘t’ and ‘i’ that bit more carefully. Because that’s how incentives work. Incentives don’t frighten, they inspire.

But the ever-raising targets given to staff across dealerships today don’t inspire. They instil fear and a sense of insecurity. And as such, these targets have bred a culture of dishonesty and lies, of ‘you can’t trust a garage’ chatter never more than a stone’s throw from a dealership. The staff are pressured into selling no matter what, just to keep their job, or to bring in enough money for the ‘big shop’.

They create environments where the dick-waving, big-watch wearing, pointy-shoed slime-balls of the world can thrive. But to what end? These people never do a good job. They charm sales out of people. Then when those people get home and away from the fake smiles and ‘power’ handshakes, they come to their senses and come back to the dealership full of anger and vitriol. How’s that a good business model?

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How does the industry fix itself? Quite simply, it does it by getting rid of targets. Pay the staff a decent, living wage and let them work. Let people come to work because they enjoy doing it, not because they have to, just to sell one more car, please god, one more car, it’s month end, I need one more sale, I’ll do anything to get that customer into that car… do you see where we’re coming from?

Offer incentives by all means, and yes, there should be a minimum expectation from all the staff, but hey, that’s no different than any business. But get it right and you watch those dealerships flourish. You watch the staff become a cohesive team that genuinely want to help each other and ultimately the customer, too. You watch that acrid, distrusting undertone of your dealership melt away. And then you watch the customers come back, tell their friends, buy from you again and again. You just watch.

Admittedly the current pointy-shoed, big watched, slick haired, deal-stacking, FCA failing, Matalan suit-buying, demo car ragging, GAP insurance touting sales lot won’t like this suggestion one bit. But sod’em. It’s time for a change, and they’re not part of it.

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