When I say “used car salesman” what is the first thing that comes to mind? It’s probably not a good connotation. You might think of a scheming dishonest scam artist, or someone trying to make a quick buck. Few people have a positive connotation with the term. That is something that entrepreneurs like Derek Emery face every day. Battling stigmas like this is just part of the business for honest people trying to sell used cars.
Marketing Moves had the pleasure of speaking with Derek over the weekend, where we asked him about his business and how it fits within the larger car culture of Los Angeles, where he is based out of. Derek had a few unique insights for us that we wouldn’t hear from just any entrepreneur because of the unique nature of his business.
The Picture in Los Angeles
Los Angeles is big. Really big. Because of the sheer size of the city – about ten million people – the used car market in Los Angeles alone is larger than it is in some states. Nationawide, it is massive. Used cars make up roughly three out of four automotive sales nationwide. Derek told us how people in LA fit the stereotype. They’re fashion conscious, and that extends to what they drive. While it is hard to generalize, Derek says that people in Los Angeles do tend to want to show off more with their vehicle. With so many people in the city, there is a huge market for car turnover. Lots of people want to sell their vehicles and lots of other people want to buy.
Pushing back against the stereotype is difficult, but Derek’s business really doesn’t even fit within the same niche as the shady used car lots that people tend to think of. Instead, his business prides itself on being a full service retailer. They send an agent out to your home or business to appraise your car. If you’re happy with their offer, you can agree to sell it right there. They offer prices higher than a customer would get at a dealer lot and they work to make the process go as smoothly as possible. By focusing so much on professional and convenience, Derek differentiates his business from every other used car lot in the city and creates the trust and rapport with customers that is so often lacking in these transactions.
Other major car companies make the customers come to their lot to get their appraisal and then sell the car on the lot. But Derek will send a representative out to the customer wherever with a check. Trade the keys for the cash without having to leave your house!
Derek also has his employees focus on soft sales. He doesn’t want the experience to be like any other car lot, where someone pushed customers into making purchases they aren’t comfortable with in an adversarial sale. His lot attendants are trained to be helpful and put the customer first.
A Different way of Doing Things
All of this creates a different sort of environment than most used car shops have. Derek told Marketing Moves that he has spent 35 years in the automotive business and enjoyed every second of it. At the end of the day, the car industry is flashy. It’s something that people are interested in and is a huge part of the American economy. As an entrepreneur, it is fun to be involved in the second largest purchase that most people will ever make. If I want to sell my car in Los Angeles, Derek wants to be a part of that.
It is interesting to see a fresh take on a stale business model. Perhaps if there were more business owners willing to overcome the stigma of selling used cars, the industry might change. As it stands right now, it is almost a self-fulfilling prophecy – the used car industry is sketchy and underhanded, so sketchy and underhanded businesspeople enter it, and the cycle repeats.
We finished, as usual, by asking Derek for advice. He told us college grads and high school students alike should not be scared off from sales careers. “The world does not turn without a good salesman” as he said. Sales careers are a great way to make a good living very early on in your career and they often do not have a stringent of education requirements. If you’re able to perform, you can find a job. If you’re looking for an equal opportunity playing field, you’ll find it in sales. As Derek said, out in the regular world you can give a man a fish and he will eat for a day or teach him to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime. If you “teach a man to sell fish eats for a lifetime and lives in a mansion!” Trading cash for cars in Los Angeles has served Derek well! We need more entrepreneurs willing to take on an old industry and really work to serve the best interests of their customers.