A Traders Tale – Part Two

A real life tale from a real life motor trader in 4 parts…

On paper I’m a brief read. My CV would make any corporate human resources officer put my future career firmly in the direction of recycling.

Age 16, got job at Used car dealer where I had worked cleaning cars as a schoolboy.

Age 20 got job at a Volkswagen main dealer franchise.

Age 24 left job to become and independent motor trader.

Age 39 completely broke.

Looking at it now, when listed like that, I can see a promising pattern within the first 3 lines. At age 24, I know I was regarded as quite a promising prospect, certainly within the confines of the main dealer where I worked. The problem at the time as I remember was that although I was quite an ambitious lad, I was not inspired to move up the ranks that were on offer. The reaction I received from my dealer principal when I handed in my notice and I told him of my career plans to be a motor trader, got similar reaction to me telling him that I was off to herd goats in the Andes. ‘Cameron it just wouldn’t suit you, you could do a lot better than that’ Despite this he knew me well enough to know that I wasn’t going to be talked out of it, I knew what I wanted to do and was completely and utterly determined to do it.

An interesting use of words from my DP. Though I could have guessed that this was the sort of thing that he would have come out with. You see independent motor traders (we’ll give it them a post-modern acronym IMT) are generally regarded as sub-human by many of those working within main dealer franchises. ‘Showroom creepers’ are stereotyped by most dealer principles as dishevelled weasley little men who sneak in via the service department on Saturday afternoon clutching bags of greasy burgers and cakes to administer to his salespeople, with the hope that he will be offered the rich pickings of the week’s part exchanges. It’s all bit, you know, grubby. They come in uninvited looking clearly out of place leaning against pristine cars in an immaculate showroom then wrapping themselves around the suited sales people and sales managers that they are courting. It’s all about presentation and it’s fair to say that in most main dealers, an IMT is as about welcome as an incontinent tramp, who’s hoping for a little lay down in the World of Beds.

There was a time though when IMT’s were an intrinsic and necessary part of just about all successful retail car operations. They would turn up sometimes daily with open cheque books that knew no upper limit and buy quite literally as many cars as the dealer had to sell them. The cars that couldn’t be retailed by the dealer, the good the bad and the ugly. Personally, I saw IMT’s as unsung heroes, care-free nomads of the motor trade hopping from showroom to showroom collecting nectar in the form of privately owned, very saleable used cars.

Of course, I wanted to be one.

I was actually a new car salesman at the time but my heart belonged to the used car market, it was down and dirty and way more interesting. I was lucky enough to (just) catch a glimpse at the tail end of the Warren Street trading days and always felt that I had a natural infinity for it all. I knew I had the skill of accurately valuing used cars, I don’t know where it came from but I do in part, put it down, to some of the things I learnt in those early days at the sharp end of the used car market.

Some of the advice that comes your way in life can seem so simple that there can be a danger of it being carelessly dismissed. The piece of advice I was given very early on when approaching a car to value in order to buy and make profit was, always keep in the forefront of your mind what you think someone will pay for it.

Sounds obvious huh?

It’s amazing how many cars I’ve valued with just a few brief details, model, age, mileage, colour, history plus using that incredibly basic but magical rule of thumb. It has often bemused passengers when I have carried out this task, with no visible point of reference whilst on the phone driving down the motorway at 80mph, with a phone balanced on my shoulder whilst eating a sandwich (the days before the common use of hands free kits and Panini’s). The added consideration was that the price given on these brief phone calls are what I was offering to buy it for, unseen. Underwriting, that is, giving a price to a sales manager who has an appraisal in front of him of a customer’s car that his salesman is attempting to negotiate to do a deal on. If my price is best out of the 3 or 4 people he will call, I get to buy the car if it deal is done. Correction, if my price is the highest, I have to buy the car if the deal is done or he’ll never call me again. Admittedly this pursuit was not for the faint hearted but profitable for those that were able to do it, at least it was at the time.

It was also great fun and it’s something that I enjoyed doing for most of my 20’s.

Read Part Three Tomorrow…

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