Ever have a bad experience at a dealership? If people do, it’s likely to sour them on the car brand entirely.
Selling cars is an odd business. Automakers spend millions, and sometimes billions, developing a new model. It runs the factory, builds the vehicle, advertises it, launches it, and trucks it into the showrooms.
And then, it all comes down to one person in the dealership, who doesn’t even work for the auto manufacturer, but who is the single face of all that time and money.
With only a couple of exceptions, every car dealership is an independent franchise. Automakers talk about “our customers,” but you’re not one of them. The manufacturer sells the cars to its dealers, and the dealer sells the car to you. That’s standard business practice: when you buy a Coke at the corner store, you’re not getting it directly from Coca-Cola. But you’re also not paying $30,000 for it, which is why a bad dealer experience can hit a consumer as hard as it does.
Many centuries ago, I worked in dealership service departments. As with virtually every other workplace, you got all kinds of employees. Some genuinely liked their jobs and worked hard to help the customer, while a few were only there because they couldn’t find anything else. They were the ones who generally made life miserable for everyone.
In fairness, selling cars is not an easy job. The salespeople put in long hours, under pressure from their bosses, while they try to sell to people who don’t think the dealership should make a penny of profit. On a slow day, they could be there for ten hours and not take home any money to show for it.
The service desk isn’t always a pleasure, either. A car that doesn’t run right is always the end of the world for every customer. Parts go on backorder, seemingly minor problems can turn into major ones, and it’s almost impossible to fix an intermittent issue if the car isn’t acting up when you take it in. And let’s be frank: many dealerships don’t offer decent wages at the desk, and you get what you pay for. There are more than a few people communicating issues between the customer and the technician who really would be better off working at sandwich shops. (That said, I’m not sure if I’d even want to order lunch from a couple of them.)
On top of that, yes, the Customer From Hell certainly does exist. We had one who traded in his luxury sedan on the very first pickup truck he ever piloted, a 1980s one-ton diesel dually, which he always drove unloaded and brought back with frightening regularity, demanding that we fix its “rough ride.” Another, hearing a rattle that no one else in the dealership could detect, diligently took out every seat but the driver’s, every single trim panel, and the carpet, and brought in the empty shell for us to locate the noise. (Alas, stripping it down didn’t help, and he was furious that we wouldn’t put everything back in for free.)
Automakers set standards for their franchised dealers, and inspect them periodically, but the day-to-day operations come down to the individual store. And at the store, it comes down to one person who doesn’t work for the automaker, but is the face of that company. It’s quite a business indeed.