ONE of the real skills of this trade is learning the ability to match people with vehicles.
Knowing, just by sight, that somebody who walks on to your lot is just the sort of person to go with the Ford/Vauxhall/VW whatever-it-is parked in the left-hand corner of row three is a skill that a chap can only develop over time, and one which once established, tends to lead to complacency.
And that’s why, sometimes, you need to be jolted awake, as every customer’s need is different.
I’m not saying here that the customer is always right, because in no trade is this ever in the slightest bit true.
There are quite a few wrong ’uns out there, and most of them are the ones who are the most adamant they’re right.
In fact, the only time the customer is always right is if you’re that smug little nerd that presents Watchdog and takes delight in watching the nation’s nit-picking busybodies pursue compensation over loose cupboard hinges, misbehaving car alarms, duff insurance policies and other things that, in the grand scheme of things, really don’t matter.
But I digress. Over the past 30 or 40 years (I count in decades now) I’ve become very proficient at matching people to cars. It’s a skill that I once used as a slogan for my business: ‘A tradition of matching cars and people.’
For several years, I used to bet my junior salesmen a tenner a go that as soon as someone stumbled onto the lot I’d be able to guess which car they’d take an interest in, and the tenner was doubled to a twenty if I could then convince them to buy the thing. Some weeks, it saved me from having to pay commission!
Sometimes, it was easy. Young lad, fashionable togs, obviously still living at home with Mum and Dad so able to spend all he earned was a perfect match for a Golf GTi, Fiesta XR2, 306 GTi or MG ZR depending on what year it was.
From the 80s right through to the present day, they’re still the easiest customers to spot and match, which if nothing else proves my daughter is correct when she says that boys don’t have any imagination.
I hope she’s talking about their choice of cars here, and not, ahem, in other departments.
It’s true, too, because when I was a youngster my weapon of choice was an Austin 1300GT. Not a hothatch by today’s standards, but certainly the ZR or Saxo of its day.
And I doubt I was dynamite at the other either, if I’m honest, given my lack of success with the ladies.
It wasn’t just boys who were lacking in imagination, though. The perfect companion for the imagination-deprived fully-grown man is, was and always has been a mid-range silver BMW.
A 3-Series for anyone with a waist up to 36 inches; a 5-Series for the 36-40-inch middle, a 7-Series for the real fat cats or any kind of coupe for the type of gent who, despite years of practice, is still a complete failure with the fairer sex.
Ladies who refuse to go grey have always been fond of their MGs. Be it a ‘B’ or an MGF, an open-top with an octagon on the front surely comes as standard with a bottle of peroxide blonde and make-up in the glovebox.
And when they age to the extent that excessive peroxide has turned their hair blue, the very same ladies develop a fondness for Metros and Micras with CVT gearboxes, usually finished in metallic gold or beige, or even worse plough all of their savings into a Vauxhall Agila.
There are lots of other associations. Excessive gold jewellery and, shall we say, a disinterest in whether or not the vehicle has a tax disc suggests a cash buyer, specialising in 4x4s with good towing capabilities.
Green Hunter wellies and wax jackets suggest a very different type of 4×4 buyer, but with an interest in a very similar type of vehicle. I could go on.
But with stereotypes abounding, it’s all too easy to get caught out. This is a lesson I learned the very hard way back in the late 80s, when a dear old thing came hobbling onto the lot and told us she wanted to get rid of her late husband’s Jaguar on the basis that she’d always hated automatics, and replace it with something ‘a little smaller, and with a manual gearbox’.
Unbeknown to me, the Jaguar in question wasn’t, as I suspected, a nice metallic burgundy XJ6, but a bright red XJ-S 5.3 V12, complete with Walkinshaw bodykit, twin headlamps and a supercharger conversion.
So it’s no surprise that she was rather aghast when I steered her across the lot to a silver Volvo 340. Luckily, she saw the funny side of my presumptuousness and after beating me with her stick a few times, she chopped in the Jag and paid the balance in cash for a Ford Capri 2.8 Injection Special. I’d have loved to have known her when she was a bit younger…!