We get a crash course in running a used car dealership… and (nearly) sell a car

  • As part of my AI Car Dealership Project I have spent a few day learning the ropes at Car Quay
  • Boss Jamie Caple attempts to give me his top tips for buying and selling used cars
  • We documented how I got in in the latest video of the AI Car Dealership (above)

Time 6:37 am, December 23, 2023

Starting out as a used car dealer is a daunting task, so what better way than to learn a few tricks of the trade than to get some work experience.

As you may know by now, I’m attempting to start my own used car dealership with the help of, as much as possible, AI. 

I’ve deployed ChatGPT to help me in a number of tasks already from choosing the dealership’s name – The Clever Car Collection – to helping me shape a business plan. 

On that plan was a need to get out there and learn from other dealers so, in this week’s episode of the AI Car Dealership Project (video above), that’s exactly what I’ve been doing.

I spent a few days in the company of Jamie Caple, boss of Used Car Award winning site Car Quay, in Derby. 

Caple won Used Car Dealership of the Year (Over 100 Cars) and also picked up the coveted Dealers’ Dealer award from Mike Brewer at our awards last month.

Caple set up his business in 2018 after his previous dealership failed and has been working incredibly hard to build up the new firm’s reputation and stock ever since. It’s worked. He now has 250 cars for sale and envious reviews online.

One of the first things he explains to me is how vital those reviews are. He has a 4.8 star rating on Google from 488 customers and he says he takes bad ones personally.

‘Our reviews are vital to me and the business,’ he explains. 

‘They show customers we care and when you’re buying a used car they need to have that trust that when it goes wrong we’ll look after them.

‘Our reviews prove that we do. When I get a bad one it really upsets me – I get proper down.’

Over a few days, Caple introduces me to all the tasks vital to running a used car dealership of any size – buying stock, advertising it, dealing with enquiries and marketing.

He admits he hasn’t deployed AI himself much in his business yet, so I show him how ChatGPT can help write an advert for him.

Caple advertises all the dealership’s stock – a tedious task but one that he clearly loves doing.

He has a style that he likes to use and copies a similar template each time. It’s this sort of task that ChatGPT can be very good at. 

I sit with him while I upload one of his previous ads into the AI platform and then a few basic details of the car he has coming into stock. 

I ask ChatGPT to write an advert in the same style for the new car and within seconds it’s spitting out something that Jamie admits would even fool him into thinking he’d written it.

‘That’s blown my mind already,’ he said. 

His dealer principal, Craig Vladimirovs, uses AI far more than Caple. He tells me how he’s asked for help dealing with an angry customer.

‘One customer wanted his money back on a car and wasn’t happy so I fed his email into ChatGPT and asked for a response to help calm him down,’ said Vladimirovs.

‘It gave me a script that I read out word for word to him on the phone and at the end the customer was happy, could see our side of the story and we sorted the situation out.

‘At that point I could see the power of AI. Jamie will come round to it too.’

The pair got me on the phone talking to my first few customers too. One wanted a deal on a Range Rover Sport – he had a Toyota Aygo to part-ex and was going to make the rest up in cash. 

As the ‘A.I.-prentice’ I had to do quite a bit of back and forth with the bosses on the figures but it was good chatting to someone for the first time. I saw the importance of building a rapport and not going straight into the numbers.

I’m certainly not a natural salesman, so it’s going to be a steep learning curve over the next few weeks and months.

We also spent some time at an Aston Barclay car auction where I saw how brave you have to be as a car dealer to buy used cars at the right price so that you can then make a margin. 

I’ll be honest, it terrified me at times seeing the snap decisions that had to be made on thousands of pounds of your own money. However, I also saw that when you got it right it could be very rewarding indeed. 

The next episode of the AI Car Dealership Project is part two of my time with Caple when we head out to the auction and will be published soon. However, you can watch the latest episode of my apprenticeship now at the top of this post. 

The whole series is available for a bit of binge watching over Christmas as a playlist on YouTube.

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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