(This is a special excerpt of Joe’s untitled non-fiction work, scheduled to be published in 2017)
“The first duty of a human being is to assume the right functional relationship to society—more briefly,
to find your real job, and do it.”
—Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Writer
When your WWII veteran father looks you dead in the eye and says, “Son, it’s time for you get a real job,” and doesn’t bother to remove the Camel non-filter from his lips, you know he’s serious.
In late June of 1978 I had just graduated Grant High School in North Hollywood, California. During that summer, virtually all my friends were making plans to head off to college. We’d enjoy one last summer of debauchery together and then they’d head off to far-flung places like the Midwest or east coast. Some would stay more local, attending schools like the University of Arizona or UCLA, but all of their paths would lead them out of the San Fernando Valley.
Mine would not.
My high school grades were horrendous. I did nothing to prepare for college; I had a hard time focusing in the classroom and had no interest in anything other than golf and fine art. Golf would have been my ticket to a higher education if I hadn’t gotten into an altercation with the coach during my senior year. That little scuffle got me kicked off the team, which is clearly a story for another time. The miniscule amount of money my parents had set aside for college tuition would be used to buy a yellow AMC Matador and two suits of clothes. The suits were from J.C. Penney, one of them was powder blue, and the other was dark brown. Whatever real job interview I could talk myself into would be driven to in that yellow car, and I’d surely be wearing one of those sexy new suits. My father, his nickname was “Buzz,” had been crystal clear in his message to me. My part-time job as night manager at Valley Beverage Liquors would not “cut the mustard,” whatever the hell that meant.
Buzz opened The Valley News to the classified section. He set it down on the kitchen table, and then sat my butt down next to it. He even handed me a red felt tip pen. He wasn’t leaving anything to chance.
My eyes scanned the newspaper as the ink soaked into my sweaty fingers. Going on the Internet would have been easier but it would be many years before Al Gore would invent the World Wide Web, so this was my primary job search tool. Even at the tender age of 17, I had a loathing for manual labor, so I eliminated many of the pages in the thick classified section. My attention was drawn to the section marked, “SALES.”
I wasn’t the most outgoing guy in the world. The two things I did well were hit a golf ball and create pen and ink drawings. I was an accomplished artist at a young age, but didn’t know how to make a buck doing that. Both of those skill sets, golf and art, were solitary activities, It was okay with me to be a “loner.” That said, my close friends had told me they thought I might make a good salesperson. They’d say things like, “you like to debate issues,” or stuff like, “once you get an idea in your head, you don’t let it go, you like to convince people of things.” I focused on the largest ad featured in the “SALES” section. It read:
“Join the Universal Ford family and make people’s automotive dreams come true!
Universal Ford, The Home of Low Prices.
Sales positions now available.
No experience necessary.”
I liked cars. I didn’t think selling them would be that hard. And the one line at the bottom of the ad, “No experience necessary!” That described me perfectly! I circled the ad with that red felt tip pen, walked over to the big black rotary phone and dialed the number. The receptionist put me through to a guy with a French accent. His name was Serge Arsenault. He asked me a few questions, but damn few, and then he invited me in for an interview. The next morning I put on my dark brown suit and drove that yellow AMC Matador to the dealership on Lankersheim Boulevard. I don’t remember much of the interview. I do recall it was short. After about five minutes of chitchat, Serge stuck out his hand an announced, “You’re hired. Go down ‘dere to da Van Nuys DMV and apply for your sales license. Call me when you have it in your hands.”
Upon my return home I advised Buzz that his son officially had a real job. He smiled proudly and winked at me while sitting in his recliner watching Star Trek, never bothering to remove the eternal Camel non-filter from his lips. A week later I had the license in my hand. I called Serge and told him I’d received the license in the mail. In his French Canadian accent he said, “Beautiful. Get your ass in here da day after tomorrow…at NOON, yeah. You got some paperwork to do and ‘den you’re on da line at 1:00, second shift.” I wasn’t sure what, “on da line” meant, and he talked funny, but two days later I showered, shaved, put on my powder blue suit and drove that yellow AMC Matador to the lot. I was careful to park down the street because I wasn’t driving a Ford. I found Serge in his little office on the south side of the main showroom. He was sitting there in a cloud of smoke with paperwork towering over his small desk. The piles of files looked like they were ready to tumble onto the floor at the slightest movement.
He glanced up, without standing he shook my hand. “Joel, welcome to the Universal Ford family, home of low prices.” I politely replied, “It’s Joe, Mr. Arsenault.” He looked at me, half annoyed, half apologetic and mumbled, “Yeah, right…Joe…whatever. Sit yourself down ‘dere.” Within forty-five minutes I had signed my name to a bunch of stuff and Serge handed me a small box of business cards with my name on them. I slowly opened the box and there was several hundred small pieces of shiny cardboard inside. I slowly took one of the cards out and stared at it. I had never seen anything so beautiful in my life. There was my name, spelled correctly, with the title, “SALES REPRESENTATIVE” underneath it. The Universal Ford sign was pictured to the left. The business card was a thing of beauty. I think violins and trumpets were playing in my head. Serge broke the spell by saying, “Hey, kid, put a few of those in your pocket and follow me. Time to hit da line.”
We walked out to the farthest part of the lot. They called it, “the point.” We approached a guy who was already standing there. He appeared to be a few years older than me, probably 22ish. He had an expensive suit on (definitely not from J.C. Penney) and his hair was oiled down and slicked back.
“Frankie De La Torre, dis is Joel Bazaro. Show him da ropes. You two will get along good. You’re both Spanish, yeah.”
After the slaughtering of my name and the mis-identification of both our nationalities, Serge turned and walked away. I told Frankie what my actual name was, and then informed him I was of Italian decent. We had a good laugh at how clueless Serge was. Frankie was born in Sinaloa, Mexico and his family immigrated to L.A. when he was ten. Frankie had been at Universal Ford for nine months—at nine months he was considered a grizzled veteran. He wanted to move up in the ranks, so he had volunteered to break in a few of the new guys, show them how to, “work the line.” A liner’s job was to make sure prospects were never alone as they walked the lot and started looking at window stickers. Frankie explained that everybody started at Universal Ford as, “a liner.” Liners were to be positioned where the asphalt met the sidewalk bordering Lankersheim Boulevard. Universal Ford had an “UP” system. This meant that the liners were supposed to take turns being, “up to bat” as prospects drove up. I soon learned from Frankie that taking turns didn’t always happen that neatly.
Frankie told me to, “Watch and learn.” After standing for a few minutes making small talk and sweating bullets in the mid day heat, a couple drove up in a gold, 1970 Ford Fairlane, Sedan. (Please don’t ask me how I recall this stuff) There was another liner closer to where they parked, but Frankie had moved over and positioned himself right smack next to where they’d have to exit their car. The other liner just shook his head in disgust and walked away. Frankie was, apparently, the alpha dog. The husband had a newspaper tucked under his arm as he exited his vehicle. Frankie whispered, “This one’s a ‘mooch’. He’s coming in on the ad special.” I had no idea what “mooch” meant, but I smiled, nodded and kept my mouth shut. The prospect spoke first.
“Hello young man. I want to see the advertised special…the 78’ Fairmont. Can you show it to me?”
Frankie’s smile featured more big white teeth in his mouth than I’ve ever seen before or since. He stuck out his hand and said, “Yes sir. That’s a great car. You’re smart to want to see it.” On the walk over to the ad special Frankie asked them if they had any kids. They did, and Frankie asked what high school their children had attended. It was the same one he went to and he seemed to recognize their son’s name. He told them their son was a popular guy on campus. The mother smiled and Frankie kept the conversation going. “Boy, you guys are lucky. The advertised special is still here on the lot. A lot of people have looked at it, but nobody’s bought it yet. I thought for sure that somebody would have snapped it up by now. Seems like a fine car to me. Come on…let’s find it, open it up and look inside.”
The couple was still obviously eager to see the car, bouncing along behind us, but you could tell that Frankie had started the husband’s wheels turning. We walked to what must have been the hottest part of the lot—direct sun. There sat the advertised special, in all its glory. It was a weird chocolate brown color, it had plain aluminum hubcaps and the manual windows were rolled up tight. The interior seating was black vinyl and there was an empty space where an AM/FM stereo cassette deck should have been. I thought, “Who the hell ordered this car and decided it should be the featured advertised special?” It didn’t make sense to me.
Then it hit me—even before Frankie opened up the suffocating sweatbox and motioned for the husband to get in—they didn’t want to sell this car! The newspaper was sticking out from under the husband’s arm. I glanced at the price. It was several thousand dollars lower than ANY other Fairmont we had passed on the lot. The price was ridiculously low—probably even below the dealer’s cost—but the car was stripped down to the bare minimum equipment, and the exterior color and interior options were atrocious. This car was a magnet…a vehicle priced so low in the paper that anybody in the market for a brand new Ford couldn’t resist coming down to check it out.
What happened next was hysterical.
Frankie had jacked open both front doors and persuaded the husband and wife to get inside. It gets up to 100 degrees during the San Fernando Valley summers, and it was at least 95 on this particular day, so with all four windows rolled up and the black vinyl seats radiating the heat, the inside temperature must have been 5 degrees hotter than the surface of the sun. The couple lasted about two seconds in the car. They both popped out, like springs were attached to their rear ends. The husband blurted out, “It’s pretty warm in there young man.” That’s exactly what Frankie wanted to hear. The husband suggested Frankie start up the car and “crank on the air conditioner.” Frankie smiled and grabbed the keys from above the visor. He looked into the car, then dramatically rubbed his forehead and frowned. He turned to the husband, and in an apologetic tone asked, “Were you nice folks looking for a Fairmont with an A.C.?”
I’m watching this unfold with a morbid fascination. On one hand, I’m captivated by the strategic mastery of it all. On the other hand I’m taken back by the manipulative nature of the sales tactic. The husband looks at his wife and meekly asks, “We do need an air conditioner honey, don’t we?” She nodded her head and assures him they can’t “drive around the Valley without any A.C.”
Frankie didn’t miss a beat.
“No problem folks. By the way, what color car did you have your heart set on today?” The couple told him that gold was their favorite color. Frankie picked up the baton and ran with it. “That’s a great color. My favorite too! Let’s go into the showroom…get out of the heat. I’m going to have my manager find us a gold Fairmont with an A.C. on the lot somewhere and drive it up. Come on with me folks.” Frankie led them into the showroom like the pied piper and continued asking them questions about their son—what university he attended, what work he was doing now. Mom and dad were gushing about their boy; they couldn’t stop talking about him. Two hours later they drove off the lot in a brand new, Gold Fairmont, one they’d paid close to full price for.
The sales process at Universal Ford, Home of Low Prices, worked like a charm. The “liner” took the “up.” They’d show them the advertised special if that was what they were coming to see, and then sell them OFF of it. They would use the advertised special to determine exactly what colors, options and features the prospect really wanted. If there wasn’t an ad special, the liner would ask them what they were looking for and tell them that he thought that very same car might be on the showroom floor. After that, they’d “box” the prospect. (Get them inside the showroom sitting down in a small office) Frankie told me that this was a critical part of the process because the prospects were in the inner sanctum and it was much harder to walk off the lot. When they arrived in the box, the liner would get a convenient page over the loud speaker. It would say they had a “call waiting.” The liner would introduce their prospects to a “closer.” The closer was the liner’s sales manger, like Serge.
The closer would nail down a price (either a cash price or a monthly payment) that the prospects were willing to spend on the car of their dreams, one that was on the lot somewhere. When the closer had a commitment from them, he would tell them they were locating the car—cooling it down and driving it up. Then the closer would ask them about their trade—would they like a “great price” on their trade-in so they could apply that to the price of the car or their down payment. This is where the magic happened. The prospect was ALWAYS curious as to what the dealer would pay them for their old bucket of bolts. They’d hand over their keys and the closer would ask where the vehicle’s registration was—usually in the glove compartment. Viola! Now the prospects couldn’t leave the dealership. They had no keys or registration! Frankie told me that this was the reason it was so important to “box” the prospect. Once they were sitting down, talking price and trade-in, they were trapped.
Frankie also explained to me that Universal Ford was a “T.O.” house. That meant that a liner was taught to “turn over” a prospect if they couldn’t box them quickly. If a liner was losing control of a prospect, they were to signal one of their teammates. The teammate would walk over, tell the liner that they had an urgent call waiting and then take over the conversation. If your manager found out you didn’t “T.O.” a prospect, and they walked off the lot, you could be fired.
Frankie continued explaining what happened when a prospect was in the box. The closer would take the prospect’s ridiculously low offer (and their keys) into the general manager’s office, saying something like, “The big boss is not going to like this offer. He’s going to throw me out. But you’re sweet people, so I’m going to go to bat for you. Let me see what I can do.” It was a classic good cop-bad cop thing. The closer’s job was simply to get a price commitment, some kind of small deposit and the keys to their car. The general manager was the wizard behind the curtain. He was a dude named, “Boegner.” I saw his name in print once as, “A. Boegner.” Serge called him, “A” to his face and everyone else called him, “The Big Man.” Nobody seemed to know what his first name was.
After the closer went back and forth to the general manager’s office a zillion times, they’d either meet at some price the prospect agreed was fair (usually near full sticker price) or the prospect would be so worn out, they’d simply agree to it. Some prospects would become angry with all of the back and forth, which could take hours. They’d sometimes walk out of the showroom in a huff. The closer would apologize, tell them he’d done “his best” and he was also upset that “the big manager wouldn’t budge.” However, the closer wouldn’t chase after the prospects. He didn’t have to. He’d sit back down and light up a smoke.
He knew they’d be back.
The prospects would walk to where their car was originally parked, but it wasn’t there anymore. The used car manager had moved it during the appraisal process. They’d hide the prospect’s car behind the service bays. Even if the prospect found it, which they never would, they still had no keys. If the prospect did go back there and ask for the keys, the service manager was trained to shrug his shoulders and say, “I dunno’ where they are, they must be in the showroom somewhere.” In the very odd event that the prospects found the car, and the used car manager was sloppy enough to leave the keys in it, the prospects would drive off but soon remember that they didn’t have their vehicle registration. Their registration was sitting in the file of countless offers and counter offers on the closer’s desk.
After five or ten minutes of searching for their car, the prospects would march into the showroom, back into the box, where someone like Serge would be sitting, in a cloud of smoke. The closer would calm them down; assure them that the car was probably moved over to the used car lot for the appraisal. He’d ask the receptionist to get them a cup of coffee while he brought the car back over. After a couple of minutes the closer would appear back in the box, with a friendly smile. He’d explain that the used car manager felt so bad that he’s having the lot boy wash their car for them. The closer would disappear again, and then show up with some great news. He tells them he made “one more trip to the “big boss’s office.” He’d then say, “I told him what happened with your trade-in, that it was moved, and he felt bad that you were upset and inconvenienced, I’ve never seen him do this… he’s going to knock down the price real close to your last offer and throw in free oil changes for the first year. It looks like we have a deal!”
As if on cue, the husband would grunt, still pissed off, but the wife would say, “Honey, I want to drive home in a new car today, and that salesperson, Frankie was so nice. He knows our son. And honey we’ve spent all this time here today, and they’re going to give us free oil changes…”
And that’s how their sales process worked. Universal Ford would simply wear people down. They’d make it so you either bought a car the day you walked onto their lot, or you’d NEVER go near the dealership again. They didn’t care. Frankie advised me that Universal Ford didn’t believe in be-backs. (As in, “I like this car, but I’ll be back”) Frankie didn’t believe in be-backs either. Along with a few other clever sayings passed on to me during my first day on the lot, Frankie told me, “Buyers are liars. Don’t believe a thing they say to you.” At least Frankie didn’t call me, ‘Joel.”
It was a heck of a first day in a sales career that would last almost forty years. I recall that there was something really exciting to me about the thrill of the chase. I wasn’t quite sure if I liked the tactics being used but I remember thinking that selling things to people could actually be a real job for me.
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Joe Buzzello is a nationally recognized expert on direct selling and sales leadership. He has built legacy sales teams and experienced unprecedented success in individual and business-to-business markets as well as the network marketing industry. Joe has held executive level positions for Fortune 500 companies, but he has never strayed far from the art and science of selling, which he loves. In early 2014, Joe began writing, speaking, and coaching through his platform, www.joebuzzello.com and The CAP Equation©. Please visit Joe at: http://www.CAPequation.com