Big Mike Features

Big Mike: It’s a shame I can’t run my forecourt like a hire car counter…

Time 10:29 am, December 13, 2012

WHEN you spend half your life setting up finance contracts, filling in registration documents or just trying to keep your company accounts in order, it’s very easy to become dispassionate about the job you do.

I was reminded of this just a couple of weeks ago. Mrs Big and I were on our annual trip to the Costa del Sol, taking advantage of the autumn and the combination of no school holidays and still reasonably warm temperatures to give ourselves a more natural top-up than a sunbed could possibly provide.

While the venerable ‘Er Indoors was hovering by the luggage carousel, I went to take care of my favourite part of any holiday – that tingling wait by the hire car counter, wondering what transport of delight you might suddenly find yourself behind the wheel of.

Would it be a Peugeot 107? A Seat Ibiza perhaps? Or maybe I’d draw the short straw and end up with a three-cylinder Corsa as per our last sojourn into the world of retired Brummie gangland bosses, also known as Marbella.

This time, however, I got the lucky ticket. Despite having ticked the ‘budget’ box, needing nothing more than a motorised luggage trolley with room for me, the missus and her hair plus a couple of bags, it appeared that the rental company were fresh out of econoboxes, and instead had given us a free upgrade, our transport of delight taking the form of a new Volvo V40 – and what a marvellous car it was, too.

Given that I spend most of my own time driving round in other people’s cast-offs, more often than not the trade-ins that require too much work to make them anything like worth selling, or the crusher-dodging old bangers that still have a few weeks’ tax and MoT left on them before the inevitable weigh-in (I’d driven to the airport in a knackered Rover 600 and got the breakers to collect it from there, as it was as convenient as taking a cab, yet I came away with enough cash to buy some Spanish fags), any new car is always a delight.

In my line of work you can get childishly excited about all makes and models, before settling down to an impatient wait of anything between seven and 15 years before you can take a well-used example with a noisy wheel bearing out for a spin. It was reassuring to learn that the sense of anticipation was still there.

‘The hire car tingle is very often there in people who walk on my lot.’

And you know what? It actually made me re-evaluate the way in which I run my business. Not in a massive way – I still do a good line in unvaleted semi-dead Toyotas to my local curry house contacts, for example – but it did make me realise that the hire car tingle is very often there in people who walk on my lot.

Okay, so they may only be spending the equivalent of a fortnight’s rental fees on a car they hope will get them and their family through a relatively trouble-free year or so of motoring, but even so they’re still making a pretty big purchase. Move to the higher end of my forecourt (I don’t do much over £5k, as I leave that to the fancy outlets with their glass showrooms) and I’m actually selling someone an even bigger purchase. Or even relate it to my own experiences of getting the bus to the auction as a young whippersnapper, not quite knowing what I’d be driving home in that evening. It’s all tremendous fun, and so many of us have forgotten that over the years because in our line of work it’s just another day in the office.

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Over the past few weeks, I’ve seen it in the eyes of my customers. From the young lad who walked onto the lot on his way home from college and was delighted that I came down from my asking price to the contents of that week’s pay packet on a tired Fiesta to the 30-something family man who wasn’t aware that his available line of credit would stretch as far as the Toyota RAV4 his wife had set her heart on until I’d run the numbers through the right finance house, to the buxom nail technician who practically screwed me (in more ways than one) to drive away in a 12-year old MR2. Every time, when I handed over the keys, that little twinkle was there.

It’s just a shame there are laws that stop me from running my forecourt like a hire car counter. First of all, I’d take the customer’s credit card and disappear. Then I’d fill out quite a few forms, ticking all sorts of boxes that added a few more tabs to my profit margin, confuse the poor buggers into signing them and then present them with the keys to something that’s not quite what they asked for in the first place, and is occasionally three times the price.

If I could do it that way, I’d be down on the Costa a lot more than I can afford at present…

Jon Reay's avatar

Staff Writer Jon is one of the Car Dealer team's newest members. You can also find him contributing to AOL Cars.

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