A few weeks ago I was car shopping. First online, and then visiting showrooms with a view to test driving before making a final decision. The only criteria I had were that it had to be fun, and, in what might have been some kind of mid life crisis, it had to be a convertible.
Oh and an automatic, but I will come back to that point later.
The reason I wanted the car to be fun was because I no longer have to do a school run so I don’t need a practical car. My kids can all drive and it is rare that we all need to go out together, and if we do, well they all have their own cars and we can go in convoy. Or they can drive and I can drink. Ahem.
We are also trying to get out and explore at the weekends and to my mind having a fun car to do that in is part of the adventure. I have been thinking for a while that it would be fun to have a car that was a giggle to drive so that it added to the adventure. And so this was my chance.
Having trawled the usual online car buying sites I was able to discount a variety of makes, models, shapes, styles, ages, configurations and narrow it down to a few main contenders. I also discounted anything more than 50 miles away as the logistics of going to look at it, not liking it and feeling we had wasted a morning, or liking it and then having to go back to pick it up were all too complicated. Plus I am impatient and an upcoming weekend in Oxfordshire for my birthday was looming large and I wanted that to be the first weekend we went away in the car.
So the front runners ended up being an Audi TT or a Mercedes SLK. Both fun, I figured, and both super sexy. We managed to find a dealer ten miles away who had some in stock so nipped out one lunch time to take a look and see what I thought.
I hated the TT the second I sat it, discounted the SLK but fell for a Mercedes E class that the dealer also had on the forecourt. Fell for it so much I put a holding fee of £50 on it so I could go away and think about it. There was somebody else interested in it apparently but he had gone off to work out if he could fit his golf clubs in it <raised eye brows emoticon>
The more I thought about this car overnight the more I realised it was a bit too flash for me. I am clumsy. I am not confident in a “big” car and I would probably end up too scared to drive it.
So the search continued.
On to a dealership pretty much at the end of the road who’s website showed they had just the car. Except the salesman we approached had no idea about that car, nor what they had in stock, and had to resort to his iPad to check stock at their sister dealership 50 miles away. He was quite possibly the worst sales assistant I have ever encountered. In any industry ever. Here I was desperate to buy a car and he really couldn’t have been less interested in actually trying to sell me something.
The following it was then on to another dealership that only sold coupes and convertibles and it was here that I started to realise how people looking to buy a car get suckered in and fed a line by salesman who think we are all still wet behind the ears.
I had made the mistake of telling these guys over the phone before I arrived what my budget was for the new car. How funny then that the car that arrived just as I did “which was new in” was exactly the same amount as my budget despite having now price information on its windscreen.
It was at that point I walked away, feeling pretty demoralised by the whole process. That many dealers use all sorts of tricks to hook potential buyers in and I didn’t fancy being the next catch so I went home determined to find a better way to find my fun car but this process was rapidly becoming anything other than fun.
And when I say “dealers” I am sorry to say this but they were all men. All men who I think just saw me as a woman who didn’t really know what I was buying (true) but who was pretty gullible and fall for the old lines (not true).
Here I was with a sizeable chunk of money (like twenty thousand quid in cash as a VERY generous birthday present from my parents) and I couldn’t spend it. I had visited five or six showrooms and I couldn’t find anybody to sell me a car without selling me some garbish sales pitches first
Step forward then Marshalls Mini in Hook. Their cars had come up on a search that Jonnie did for me for ANY convertible in a 20 mile radius. Forget the flashy Mercs or Audis, he suggested I think about a Mini. A car I had written off (not literally obviously) as too small and a bit, how do I put this nicely? Basic? He persuaded me that wasn’t the case at all and that actually maybe I should consider one. That modern Minis are full of features that would fit the “fun” criteria, plus they are iconic. And small.
A phone call to them to confirm they were open and we could come in, and half an hour later we rocked up and were introduced to Debbie.
No hard sell
No garbage sales tactics. No trying to sell me something bigger / with more features / brand new (I refused to buy brand new as they depreciate the minute you drive them off the forecourt).
Just an honest description of the car, did I want to test drive it, and yes they could take my car in part exchange. Oh and yes it really did have only four miles on the clock so was, to all intents and purposes, brand new, but with that depreciation already knocked off.
Oh and whilst I was thinking about it, did I want a cup of tea?
It might have been that last bit that made me think that actually this is how cars should be sold.
I know that sounds a bit patronising but I really don’t mean it to be, because it really isnt meant to be taken that way. But here was a lady selling me a car without any bullshit. By talking to me as an equal, with chats about what else was going in our lives, our car owning history, and without any kind of flannel. It was so refreshing. And not on a forecourt where you feel like you have to make a decision to spend tens of thousands of Pounds in a few minutes whilst standing up, but at a desk, with a cup of tea in a cup and saucer. And no pressure. Debbie didn’t give my any garbage about other people being interested in it so I had to be quick, she didn’t try an entice me in with add ons that are meant to make a deal sound more attractive. She just let me look at the car, think about it in my own time, and yet when I did have a question, she really knew her stuff and answered it without making me feel like it was the most stupid question ever asked.
Within seconds I had made the decision I was buying a Mini, the car that the beginning of my search I had said I was categorically not buying when it had been suggested. And not only that but I was buying a manual, despite one of my only pre-requisites being that it had to be an automatic. I also set out wanting a diesel as they are cheaper to run, but that also went out of the window when the model I fell in love with was a petrol and manual.
Everything I had said I didn’t want had been turned upended and wrapped up into my perfect car.
It was the little touches after the deal was signed that mean I will only ever buy from this dealership again too. Emails with updates, videos of my car after it had all its final safety checks (despite only having been on a road when I did a 20 mile test drive in it on the clock it still had to go through vigorous testing and have a final clean), and a little sign on the windscreen when we arrived on the day of pickup. And after I had been given the keys Debbie went through all the cars functions, and showed me things like being able to download the manual to my phone (complete with my chassis number so the manual is specific to my car). Debbie also, whilst going through all the paperwork for my glove box, gave me a KitKat “because sometimes when you have been driving a while, you just need a break”.
This made me howl with laughter and made me really wish that everybody buying a car could have this kind of experience.
Even weeks after the event I got a phone call from Debbie asking if everything was okay with the car and to remember that if I needed anything to just shout.
The sooner other dealerships get wise to the fact that increasingly it is women making the car buying decisions in families these days, the better. We don’t want to be talked at by sales people who think we are clueless, or unfamiliar with the sales tactics they deploy, we just want honesty and a bit of space to make the decision ourselves.
And people like Debbie who make buying a car fun.
Which is just what I had wanted all along