Automobile Sales Workers

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QUICK FACTS about this job:

  • School Subjects: Business, Speech
  • Personal Skills: Communication/ideas, Helping/teaching
  • Work Environment: Mostly indoors; Primarily one location
  • Minimum Education Level: High school diploma
  • Salary Range: $20,000 to $38,896 to $92,000
  • Certification or Licensing: Voluntary
  • Outlook: About as fast as the average
  • DOT: 273
  • GOE: 10.03.01
  • NOC: 6421
  • O*NET-SOC:

OVERVIEW

Automobile sales workers inform customers about new or used automobiles, and they prepare payment, financing, and insurance papers for customers who have purchased a vehicle. It is their job to persuade the customer that the product they are selling is the best choice. They prospect new customers by mail, telephone, or personal contacts. To stay informed about their products, sales workers regularly attend training sessions about the vehicles they sell. Approximately 280,000 automobile sales workers are employed in the United States.

HISTORY

By the 1920s, nearly 20,000 automobile dealerships dotted the American landscape as the Big Three automobile makers—Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler—increased production every year to meet the public’s growing demand for automobiles. Auto mobile sales workers began to earn higher and higher wages. As automobiles became more popular, the need for an organization to represent the growing industry became evident. In 1917, the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) was founded to change the way Congress viewed automobiles. In the early years, NADA worked to convince Congress that cars weren’t a luxury item, as they had been classified, but vital to the economy. The group prevented the government from converting all automotive factories to wartime work during World War I and reduced a proposed luxury tax on automobiles from 2 to 3 percent.

During the lean years of the Depression in the early 193 Os, auto mobile sales fell sharply until President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal helped jumpstart the industry. Roosevelt signed the Code of Fair Competition for the Motor Vehicle Retailing Trade, which established standards in the automotive manufacturing and sales industries. By 1942, the number of dealerships in the United States more than doubled to 44,000.

Automobile sales workers have suffered an image problem for much of the career’s history. Customers sometimes felt that they were pressured to purchase new cars at unfair prices and that the dealer’s profit was too large. The 1958 Price Labeling Law, which mandated cars display window stickers listing manufacturer suggested retail prices and other information, helped ease relations between sales workers and their customers. However, in the fiercely competitive automobile market, sales workers’ selling methods and the thrifty customer remained at odds.

When it came to used vehicles, there was no way for customers to know whether they were getting a fair deal. Even in the automobile’s early history, used vehicles have been popular. From 1919 through the 1950s, used car sales consistently exceeded new car sales. Despite the popularity of used vehicles, the automobile sales industry didn’t quite know how to handle them. Some dealers lost money on trade-ins when they stayed on the lot too long. After debating for years how to handle trade-ins, dealers finally began today’s common practice of applying their value toward down payments on new cars.

The industry suffered personnel shortages when the armed forces recruited mechanics during World War II. This affected the service departments of dealerships, which traditionally have generated the biggest profits, and many dealers had to be creative to stay in business. During these lean times, sales gimmicks, such as giveaways and contests, came into increased use. According to a history of NADA, one Indiana dealer bought radios, refrigerators, freezers, and furnaces to sell in his showroom and sold toys at Christmas to stay in business.

The energy crisis of the 1970s brought hard times to the entire automotive industry. Many dealerships were forced to close, and those that survived made little profit. In 1979 alone, 600 dealerships closed. As of 2006, according to NADA, there were 21,200 dealer ships nationwide (down from 47,500 in 1951) accounting for about 14 percent of all retail sales and employing more than 1.2 million people. Most dealerships today sell more makes of cars than dealer ships of the past. Still, they face competition from newer forms of automobile retailers, such as automotive superstores, the automotive equivalent to discount stores like Wal-Mart. Also, automotive information is becoming more widely available on the Internet, eroding the consumer’s need for automobile sales workers as a source of information about automobiles.

THE JOB

The automobile sales worker’s main task is to sell. Today, many dealerships try to soften the image of salespeople by emphasizing no pres sure, even one-price shopping. But automobile dealers expect their employees to sell, and selling in most cases involves some degree of persuasion. The automobile sales worker informs customers of everything there is to know about a particular vehicle. A good sales worker finds out what the customer wants or needs and suggests automobiles that may fit that need—empowering the customer with choice and a feeling that he or she is getting a fair deal.

Since the sticker price on new cars is only a starting point to be bargained down, and since many customers come to dealerships already knowing which car they would like to buy, sales workers spend much of their time negotiating the final selling price.

Most dealerships have special sales forces for new cars, used cars, trucks, recreational vehicles, and leasing operations. In each specialty, sales workers learn all aspects of the product they must sell. They may attend information and training seminars sponsored by manufacturers. New car sales workers, especially, are constantly learning new car features. Sales workers inform customers about a car’s performance, fuel economy, safety features, and luxuries or accessories. They are able to talk about innovations over previous models, engine and mechanical specifications, ease of handling, and ergonomic designs. Good sales workers also keep track of competing models’ features.

In many ways, used car sales workers have a more daunting mass of information to keep track of. Whereas new car sales workers concentrate on the most current features of an automobile, used car sales workers must keep track of all features from several model years. Good used car dealers can look at a car and note immediately its make, model, and year. Because of popular two- and three-year leasing options, the used car market has increased by nearly 50 per cent in the last 10 years.

Successful sales workers are generally good readers of a person’s character. They can determine exactly what it is a customer is looking for in a new car. They must be friendly and understanding of customers’ needs to put them at ease (due to the amount of money involved, car buying is an unpleasant task for most people). They are careful not to oversell the car by providing the customers with information they may not care about or understand, thus confusing them. For example, if a customer only cares about style, sales workers will not impress upon him all of the wonderful intricacies of a new high-tech engine design.

Sales workers greet customers and ask if they have any questions about a particular model. It’s very important for sales workers to have immediate and confident answers to all questions about the vehicles they’re selling. When a sale is difficult, they occasionally use psychological methods, or subtle “prodding,” to influence customers. Some sales workers use aggressive selling methods and pressure the customer to purchase the car. Although recent trends are turning away from the pressure-sell, competition will keep these types of selling methods prevalent in the industry, albeit at a slightly toned- down level.

Customers usually make more than one visit to a dealership before purchasing a new or used car. Because one salesperson “works” the customer on the first visit—forming an acquaintanceship and learning the customer’s personality—he or she will usually stay with that customer until the sale is made or lost. The sales worker usually schedules time for the customer to come in and talk more about the car in order to stay with the customer through the process and not lose the sale to another salesperson. Sales workers may follow up with phone calls to offer special promotions or remind customers of certain features that make a particular model better than the com petition, or they may send mailings for the same purpose.

In addition to providing the customer with information about the car, sales workers discuss financing packages, leasing options, and warranties. When the sale is made, they review the contract with the customer and obtain a signature. Frequently the exact model with all of the features the customer requested is not in the dealership, and the sales worker must place an order with the manufacturer or distributor. When purchasing a new or used vehicle, many customers trade in their old one. Sales workers appraise the trade-in and offer a price.

At some dealerships sales workers also do public relations and marketing work. They establish promotions to get customers into their showrooms, print fliers to distribute in the local community, and make television or radio advertisements. To keep their name in the back (or front) of the customer’s mind, they may send past customers birthday and holiday cards or similar “courtesies.” Most larger dealerships also have an auto maintenance and repair service department. Sales workers may help customers establish a periodic maintenance schedule or suggest repair work.

Computers are used at a growing number of dealerships. Customers use computers to answer questions they may have, consult price indexes, check on ready availability of parts, and even compare the car they’re interested in with the competition’s equivalent. Although computers can’t replace human interaction and sell the car to customers who need reassurances, they do help the customer feel more informed and more in control when buying a car.

Internet sales specialists are sales workers who specialize in selling vehicles at a dealership’s Web site. They manage Internet sales leads and answer customers’ questions. They work with webmasters to keep the dealership’s Web site up-to-date and attractive to potential buyers. Internet sales specialists help develop special Web-only sales and promotions and ensure that the latest and most comprehensive information is posted. They also arrange test drives and schedule deliveries of vehicles that have been purchased on the Web by customers.

REQUIREMENTS

High School

Because thorough knowledge of automobiles—from how they work to how they drive and how they are manufactured—is essential for a successful sales worker, automotive maintenance classes in high school are an excellent place to begin. Classes in English, speech, drama, and psychology will help you to achieve the excellent speaking skills you will need to make a good sale and gain customer confidence and respect. Classes in business and mathematics will teach you to manage and prioritize your workload, prepare goals, and work confidently with customer financing packages. As computers become increasingly prevalent in every aspect of the industry, you should take as many computer classes as you can. Speaking a second language will give you an advantage, especially in major cities with large minority populations.

Postsecondary Training

Those who seek management-level positions will have a distinct advantage if they possess a college degree, preferably in business or marketing, but other degrees, whether in English, economics, or psychology, are no less important, so long as applicants have good management skills and can sell cars. Many schools offer degrees in automotive marketing and automotive aftermarket management that prepare students to take high-level management positions. Even with a two- or four-year degree in hand, many dealerships may not begin new hires directly as managers, but first start them out as sales workers.

Certification or Licensing

By completing the certified automotive merchandiser program offered by the NADA, students seeking entry-level positions gain a significant advantage. Certification assures employers that workers have the basic skills they require.

Other Requirements

In today’s competitive job market, you will need a high school diploma to land a job that offers growth possibilities, a good salary, and challenges; this includes jobs in the automobile sales industry. Employers prefer to hire entry-level employees who have had some previous experience in automotive services or in retail sales. They look for candidates who have good verbal, business, mathematics, electronics, and computer skills. A number of automotive sales and services courses and degrees are offered by community colleges, vocational schools, independent organizations, and manufacturers. Sales workers should possess a valid driver’s license and have a good driving record.

Sales workers must be enthusiastic, well-organized self-starters who thrive in a competitive environment. They must show excitement and authority about each type of car they sell and convince customers, without being too pushy (though some pressure on the customer usually helps make the sale), that the car they’re interested in is the “right” car, at the fairest price. Sales workers must be able to read a customer’s personality and know when to be outgoing and when to pull back and be more reserved. A neat, professional appearance is also very important for sales workers.

EXPLORING

Automobile trade magazines and books, in addition to selling technique and business books, are excellent sources of information for someone considering a career in this field. Local and state automobile and truck dealer associations can also provide you with information on career possibilities in vehicle sales. Your local Yellow Pages has a listing under “associations” for dealer organizations in your area.

Students interested in automobile sales work might first stop by their local dealer and ask about training programs and job requirements there. On a busy day at any dealership several sales workers will be on the floor selling cars. Students can witness the basic selling process by going to dealerships and unobtrusively watching and listening as sales workers talk with customers. Many dealerships hire students part time to wash and clean cars. This is a good way to see the types of challenges and pressures automobile sales workers experience every day. Although it may take a special kind of sales skill or a different approach to sell a $25,000 vehicle over $50 shoes, any type of retail sales job that requires frequent interaction with customers will prepare students for work as an automobile sales worker.

EMPLOYERS

Approximately 280,000 automobile sales workers are employed in the United States. Franchised automobile dealerships, dealers that are formally recognized and authorized by the manufacturer to sell its vehicles, employ the majority of automobile sales workers in the United States. A small number of sales workers are employed by used car dealerships that are strictly independent and not recognized by any manufacturer. Automotive superstores need automobile sales workers as well, although some may argue that these workers aren’t truly automobile sales specialists because they tend to have less training and experience in the automotive area.

STARTING OUT

Generally, those just out of high school are not going to land a job as an automobile sales worker; older customers do not feel comfortable making such a large investment through a teenager. Employers prefer to see some previous automotive service experience with certification, such as National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence certification, or postsecondary training in automotive selling, such as NADA’s CAM program. Dealerships will hire those with proven sales skill in a different field for sales worker positions and give them on-the-job training.

Employers frequently post job openings at schools that provide postsecondary education in business administration or automotive marketing. Certified automotive technicians or body repairers who think they might eventually like to break into a sales job should look for employment at dealership service centers. They will have frequent contact with sales workers and make connections with dealership managers and owners, as well as become so familiar with one or more models of a manufacturer’s cars that they will make well-informed, knowledgeable sales workers. You can also visit http://www.showroomtoday.com for job listings and advice on career development.

Some dealerships will hire young workers with little experience in automobile services but who can demonstrate proven skills in sales and a willingness to learn. These workers will learn on the job. They may first be given administrative tasks. Eventually they will accompany experienced sales workers on the showroom floor and learn “hands-on.” After about a year, the workers will sell on their own, and managers will evaluate their selling skills in sales meetings and suggest ways they can improve their sales records.

ADVANCEMENT

The longer sales workers stay with a dealership, the larger their client base grows and the more cars are sold. Advancement for many sales workers comes in the form of increased earnings and customer loyalty. Other sales workers may be promoted through a combination of experience and further training or certification.

As positions open, sales workers with proven management skills go on to be assistant and general managers. Managers with excellent sales skills and a good client base may open a new franchise dealer ship or their own independent dealership.

The Society of Automotive Sales Professionals (SASP), a division of NADA, provides sales workers with advancement possibilities. Once sales workers have completed a certification process and have a minimum of six months’ sales experience, they are eligible to participate in SASP seminars that stress improving the new car buying process by polishing a sales worker’s professional image.

EARNINGS

Earnings for automobile sales workers vary depending on location, size, and method of salary. Previously, most dealerships paid their sales workers either straight commission or salary plus commission. This forced sales workers to become extremely aggressive in their selling strategy—and often too aggressive for many customers. With a new trend toward pressure-free selling, more sales workers are earning a straight salary. Many dealerships still offer incentives such as bonuses and profit sharing to encourage sales. The average hourly wage for automotive sales workers was $18.70 in 2006, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. This makes for an annual salary of approximately $38,896 a year. Those who work on a straight com mission basis can earn more; however, their earnings are minimal during slow periods. Sales workers who are just getting started in the field may earn lower annual salaries for a few years as they work to establish a client base. They may start in the low $20,000s. According to Automotive Retailing Today, a coalition of all major auto mobile manufacturers and dealer organizations, automobile sales workers earn salaries that range from $30,000 to $92,000.

Benefits vary by dealership but often include health insurance and a paid vacation. An increasing number of employers will pay all or most of an employee’s certification training.

WORK ENVIRONMENT

Sales workers for new car dealerships work in pleasant indoor show rooms. Most used car dealerships keep the majority of their cars in outdoor lots where sales workers may spend much of their day. Upon final arrangements for a sale, they work in comfortable office spaces at a desk. Suits are the standard attire. During slow periods, when competition among dealers is fierce, sales workers often work under pressure. They must not allow “lost” sales to discourage their work. The typical workweek is between 40 and 50 hours, although if business is good, a sales worker will work more. Since most customers shop for cars on the weekends and in the evenings, work hours are irregular.

OUTLOOK

Automobile dealerships are one of the businesses most severely affected by economic recession. Conversely, when the economy is strong, the automobile sales industry tends to benefit. For the sales worker, growth, in any percentage, is good news, as they are the so- called front-line professionals in the industry who are responsible for representing the dealerships and manufacturers and for getting their cars out on the streets. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, automobile sales were especially strong in the United States; however, a weak economy in recent years has caused some setbacks.

The automobile sales worker faces many future challenges. A shift in customer buying preferences and experience is forcing sales workers to reevaluate their selling methods. Information readily available on the Internet helps customers shop for the most competitive financing or leasing package and read reviews on car and truck models that interest them. Transactions are still brokered at the dealer, but once consumers become more familiar with the Internet, many will shop and buy exclusively from home.

Another trend threatening dealers is the automotive superstores, such as CarMax and AutoNation, where customers have a large inventory to select from at a base price and get information and ask questions about a car not from a sales worker, but from a computer. Sales workers are still needed to finalize the sale, but their traditional role at the dealership is lessened.

Nonetheless, the number of cars and trucks on U.S. roads is expected to increase, and opportunities in this lucrative, but stressful, career should continue to increase about as fast as the average.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

For industry information, contact:

American International Automobile Dealers

211 North Union Street, Suite 300

Alexandria, VA 22314-2643

Tel: 800-GO-AJADA

http://www.aiada.org

For information on accreditation and testing, contact:

National Automobile Dealers Association

8400 Westpark Drive

McLean, VA 22102-5116

Tel: 800-252-6232

Email: nadainfo@nada.org

http://www.nada.org

For information on certification, contact:

National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence

101 Blue Seal Drive, SE, Suite 101

Leesburg, VA 20175-5646

Tel: 877-273-8324

http://www.asecert.org

For information on careers, visit

Automotive Careers Today

http://www.autocareerstoday.net

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Also see: Automotive Dealership Owners and Sales Managers

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