Selling small cars: What I learned when I met a used car dealer professional

  • I visit Small Cars Direct for some help and advice with my used car business
  • I want to know where boss Alex Bradley has used AI and what he can teach me about selling cars
  • Watch our latest video above where he gives me some helpful advice on how not to screw it up

Time 7:38 am, February 18, 2024

As learning curves go, the one I’m currently climbing in my quest to sell used cars with some help of AI is rather steep.

Much of it I’m picking up as I go, learning the hard way about buying cars and the many pitfalls that lie in wait for the unwary.

While AI has been helping ease the process in parts – it certainly isn’t the panacea I’d hoped it would be and there are many manual and labour intensive tasks incorporated in setting up a used car business that it can’t help with.

So in a quest for knowledge, and to get some help with the many things I’ve already been stumped on, this week I headed to the New Forest to visit a seasoned used car dealer.

Alex Bradley set up his Small Cars Direct business like I have, at home, while he built up the capital to establish the business and secure a location.

These days he’s based on a trading estate in New Milton, cleverly using the unused parking space around a warehouse and an office on the site to display his 30-car stock.

Bradley started his career in the manufacturer world with marketing roles at Lexus, Mitsubishi and latterly Nissan, before he decided he’d rather be at the coalface selling cars – and he’s never looked back.

In our latest video – which you can watch above – he explains how he started his used car dealership in 2016. Importantly, he gives me some sage advice when it comes to acquiring stock and then preparing it for sale.

‘If you can buy things locally, buy things in part exchange, essentially anything where you can actually see and touch and drive the cars before committing is important when you’re dealing with this age of car,’ he explains.

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He also warns me when it comes to buying cars at auction and says I’m right to feel nervous about the process. Next week, I’m due to attend my first sale so I was interested to get his advice ahead of that.

Bradley explains that he currently acquires around 25% of his stock from auctions.

‘If you’re buying anything that doesn’t have the higher level of report that gives you some level of assurance then be fully aware – even then we’ve had incidences where we’ve bought a car with an assured check and there have still been issues,’ he explained.

‘You need to go into auctions with all eyes open really and be aware that things might not be covered.’

Bradley sells similar used car stock to that which I’ve acquired so far for the Clever Car Collection, usually smaller cars that are around 10 years old.

He shows us around his pitch which has many Minis for sale, some Smart cars, a Ford Fusion, Audi A1 and Mercedes A Class. He even has a Citroen AMI that he bought as a marketing gimmick that he’s had painted in bright green.

And he tells me how he has set up a local car buying service – We Buy Small Cars – which he promotes locally to help him acquire stock. It’s an idea I want to develop for myself.

‘It just sort of feeds the sort of stock that we need,’ he explains.

‘At the time we launched it we had only 10 cars or so in stock, and we wanted to buy one or two, but it’s really grown from there and we advertise it locally.

‘We use some of those free magazines that you get through the post to advertise it and it works.’

Bradley admits he has dabbled in AI and now uses it to help write his adverts and talk to difficult customers when there’s a problem.

‘If we’ve got particular issues that we are trying to resolve with a customer just to strip the emotion out and make sure we are professional as we can be, we’re actually using ChatGPT to edit some of those responses,’ he added.

So far AI has helped me with branding and given me advice on setting up a website – which was eventually provided by the experts at award-winning firm 67 Degrees – but what I want it to do, I’m rapidly finding it can’t.

Bradley gives me advice on dealing with the pressure of selling used cars – something that I must admit, even at this small level, I am finding a little stressful. 

Wanting everything to go smoothly for the customer is vital for me, but when you’re retailing 10-year-old cars the chances of problems arising are higher, which is something I constantly worry about.

‘It’s completely normal because you care and you’ll naturally worry about everything,’ explains Bradley.

‘But you need to build a network around you of people who can help shoulder the burden. I’m talking about body shop contacts, technicians and garages that can help share the load – that is so vital.’

So what’s next in my AI-assisted used car dealership business? Well, I need to get AI plugged in to help me with some of the more simple tasks, that’s for sure.

I am due to speak to several companies who may be able to help me build an AI assistant to answer customer enquiries and deal with part exchange requests.

I know there are solutions out there that do this already, but on the face of it they’re not as intelligent as perhaps I want. I’d like my AI assistant to learn from me, a sort of digital apprentice that gets better every time I feedback. 

I also plan to use AI to help me build and market a used car buying website locally. I want to set up something that hyper-targets the local area and will be getting some assistance from AI for that. I admit, it’s in no small part inspired by Bradley.

Next week I’m off to an auction – Manheim’s Thursday night Colchester sale – and will be attempting to buy some cars in the cut and thrust of the lanes. I’ll be using AI to assist with the planning in advance. Come back soon for an update on that challenge.

You can watch the entire AI Car Dealership series on our YouTube channel on this dedicated playlist.

James Baggott's avatar

James is the founder and editor-in-chief of Car Dealer Magazine, and CEO of parent company Baize Group. James has been a motoring journalist for more than 20 years writing about cars and the car industry.

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