Sorry, We Don’t Require Your Custom Today, Sir


"She's only done 100K, runs like a bird."
"She's only done 170K, runs like a bird."

Of all the industries facing major problems during this global recession (and let’s face it, there are few that aren’t) we are consistently reminded on virtually every news bulletin of the motor industry’s plight.

Huge companies such as GM, Chrysler and Ford walking cap in hand to the American government and virtually begging for money is a stark reminder that the mess the world banking system has left us in holds no mercy. No matter how big you are, you’re potentially in trouble. No one, at this moment in time, should feel their job is safe.

It was therefore somewhat of a shock that my girlfriend and I were allowed to walk out of a car dealership on Saturday having willfully explained that we would be spending money that day. No, really.

Having already been to VW to get a valuation for the trade in of my girlfriend’s Polo, we trundled off to see what other dealers would offer. As wacky as this may sound, we hadn’t made our mind as to which car should replace the Polo and were therefore open to suggestions. So, enter Peugeot, Riverside Park, Northampton.

We scoured the forecourt for a salesman, although only one was in view. This guy had a limp and he could be seen painfully making his way around the parked cars, as though having just been hit by shrapnel. I was therefore keen to avoid him at all costs. Time was tight and I didn’t want the valuation of the car to take three hours due to Sir Limpalot dragging his poorly foot around our car.

Of course, we got Sir Limpalot.

As he waddled across to greet us his grim expression didn’t appear to ease at all. In fact, he did all he could to avoid us, scanning the room for someone else to speak to but instead being met with a barren landscape of French hatchbacks and saloons. They weren’t going to give him an excuse to make us wait, so he had little choice but to continue his pain-ridden path towards us.

It certainly wasn’t the cheery punch-me-in-the-face car salesman greeting you expect to receive on entering their domain.  Although I did fancy punching him in the face…

Having explained that we didn’t have a particular car in mind and that our budget very much depended on the valuation of our current car, I moved on to ask if he could match VW’s valuation.

After a pause (and possibly a wince), Limpalot replied: ‘I’m sorry sir, we don’t just do valuations.’ He shuffled his stance and took the weight off his compromised leg. ‘You’ll need to book a test drive first, or choose a car before we can do a valuation.’

This was a surprise.  Even when I pointed out VW had offered £4,000 trade in, he simply replied: ‘Which system did they use to value it?’

Now, call me ignorant, and perhaps VW neglectful, but I hadn’t entered the show room with this knowledge. Helpfully, he offered two options as to what the ‘system’ might have been; ‘Was it Lazarus or Panda?’ (I’ve made those up, but the real ones were equally as meaningful).

I explained that I wasn’t a car salesman and was therefore unable to explain the exact system or formula used to calculate the valuation of our car. This didn’t do much to lift the conversation, as Limpalot, having run out of ways to confuse us, simply reiterated their policy of being unable to ‘just value a car’.

‘But we’re willing to spend money today,’ offered my Girlfriend. ‘And we don’t know our budget until we know what you’ll give us for our car.’

She may as well have explained this to the car bonnet that was inexplicably placed next to the service desk behind Limpalot. Although I would suspect the response that would have offered would have been slightly more animated. Limpalot simply shrugged.

And with that, he let us leave, my girlfriend offering the parting gift of ‘Well, there’s plenty more dealers around,’ which was also met with a shrug and a kind of ‘Mmm’ sound.

Later that day, we purchased an 08 plate Vauxhall Corsa. A car we’d had no prior intention of buying.

The more I’ve thought about Saturday’s episode, the more it has bothered me. Limpalot had a prime chance of selling us a car. We had openly admitted that we were willing to look at what they had on offer, we had a car worth £4,000 waiting to be traded in (therefore it would be reasonable for him to expect to sell something worth at least £6-7k and still make a fairly decent profit). The fact that we didn’t have a car in mind appeared to be our downfall but surely that gave him even more leverage to sell us the most expensive car we could afford?

I’m a salesman, and I would fall over myself to attend a prospective buyer like that. And at Ford and Vauxhall, they did. The latter, as a result, sold a car.

So what does this mean for the automotive industry? Well, I hope this was an isolated incident, I really hope we were simply unlucky.  But if there are more Limpalots out there, it is in more trouble than we perhaps think it is. How many other sales were turned away at the weekend due to jobsworth employees? How many other salesmen are sticking so stringently to the rule book when a little common sense and a few niceties might net them a sale?

Frightening stuff. Regardless of whether or not there’s a recession on, the world doesn’t turn without salesmen and all opportunities must always be fully explored. To turn away a possible sale, no matter how small, is utterly nonsensical. To make people feel uncomfortable and, in our case, a little silly, is simply unfathomable.

As for our injured friend, I truly hope he’s handed his P45 soon. We could do without people like him unnecessarily crippling the recovery of consumer confidence.

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