I was a junior in High School in the mid-1970s, working after school and all day on Saturday. I started my career in the prep department, also known as the “make ready” or “get ready” department. Back then, vehicles came in somewhat incomplete.
The pickups were delivered to the dealership with the hubcaps and exterior mirrors boxed in the front seat. I got really good installing mirrors and using a rubber mallet to install the hubcaps. Weather was an issue of course; I did the installations when it was well over 100 degrees, and sometimes when it was in the 20-degree range.
One of my jobs was to be the last set of eyes when a vehicle was sold. I was to make sure everything worked, the vehicle was clean, and that it was in perfect condition when a customer was coming in. The delivery is that magic moment for most customers. All the pressure was over, keys were being handed off, and the customer rode off into the sunset with the vehicle of his or her dreams.
At the time, our top salesperson was a guy I’ll call Glen. He was nice, a bit on the crude side, but he was good with customers, they all loved him. He dressed a bit sloppy and was unkempt, but certainly a hard worker.
One day during the summer, I saw Glen showing an older couple a new red half-ton Ford truck. It was a top-of-the-line F-100 XLT truck and the older couple was very excited about it. You could tell this was a huge decision for them, as it was most likely the last vehicle they would ever buy.
A few hours passed, and Glen came back to the prep department with a red truck, and as always, we asked the promised delivery time so we could prioritize vehicles. He told me it was a rush job, his customers had gone to grab some lunch and would be back in an hour.
I pulled the truck into the state inspection bay and asked the tech to jump on this one, we didn’t have much time. He did the inspection, then I pulled the truck into the wash bay, washed it quickly, then dried it, dressed the tires, cleaned the windows and had roughly 5 minutes left before deadline.
I pulled the truck up on the delivery drive, ran to get the owner’s manual and extra keys, and told Glen everything was done. It was then I noticed his customers were the same old couple I had seen a few hours earlier. However, the truck they were looking at earlier, and the truck I prepped were very different.
The truck they were excited about was well-equipped, but the truck I prepped was just a down-the-line model, it didn’t even have carpeting. It was red, and it had an automatic transmission, but that is where the similarities stopped.
I asked Glen, in front of the customers, if he was sure I had prepped the right truck. He had a look of horror on his face, took me by the arm, and said: “let’s go look”. As soon as we got out of earshot of the customer, he asked me “what are you doing?” I told him I saw them looking at a nice truck earlier, but I prepped a base model. Then he said; “they’ll never know the difference, mind your own business, and go wash something” or words to that effect.
I was devastated. I had no idea things like this happened. I watched as he walked the old couple out to their new truck and sat them down. He showed them how the radio worked, as well as the air conditioning, and they thanked him. The lady even gave him a hug, and off they drove.
Glen came back into the showroom, and although I could not hear what they were saying, he and the sales manager exchanged high fives and were laughing it up, proud of their accomplishment. They had ripped off an elderly couple, made a lot of money, and were celebrating.
I admit I was naïve, and walked up to them and asked “How can you do that? How can you live with yourself?” One of them said: “you’ll learn kid.” I just simply said two words: “I quit” and walked to my car.
My parents asked why I was home so early, and I told them I quit and why. They supported my decision and I said I would find another, more honorable job.
A few days passed, maybe two or three, and the owner of the dealership called me to speak to me. He asked if I could come in to see him. He had just learned I had quit. He told me I was a valued employee, had a good future in the car business, and asked what happened. I told him the story about the blatant bait-and-switch. I also told him I couldn’t live with myself working at a place that did that. He said to let him look into it, and he’d be in touch.
The following day, he asked me to come back in. I did and he told me the salesperson and manager were gone, and he asked if I would come back to work. I agreed. I was very relieved those two were gone, and really enjoyed my job.
At an early age, I learned that doing the right thing was the most important thing you could do. Had the owner not called, it is doubtful I would have ever worked at a dealership again, and who knows what I would be doing today?
Photo Credit: chompoo/ShutterstockTags: True Stories From a Former Car Dealer