I had just started a job as a bar manager at a country club right out of college. I was feeling pretty good about the opportunity. I was meeting business leaders, learning about the restaurant industry, and getting my feet wet in a leadership role. I needed the car to match my young ego.
At the time, BMW released a hatchback version of their legendary 318. It was deemed the entry level BMW at a starting price of $19,999. The BMW 318ti. I wanted one. I was presently driving a Honda Prelude. It was in good condition and I didn’t really need a new car. But..my ego wouldn’t let it go.
I had previously browsed car lots looking to test drive and/or purchase a car. No salesperson would come out to chat with me. It was likely due to my age. I was 22 at the time and looked even younger than that. I was not happy that I was not being noticed. I had a good paying job, great credit, and some cash in the bank and a good trade-in.
I built enough confidence to go check out the new BMW 318ti. It was late on a Saturday night. Right around closing time of the dealership. As I walked up to a shiny new red BMW 318ti with a sport package on it, a salesperson approached me. He asked me if I wanted to take that car for a test drive immediately. I said sure.
Without hesitation, he tossed me the keys and said go take it out for a spin.
I caught the keys with amazement and confusion. “Do you want to hop in too?” I asked as in the past, salespeople always hopped in the car with you on test drives. “Nope. Just be back in 10 minutes maximum,” he replied with a huge smile. I got in the car and drove it off the lot. It was a 5 speed sports car. Sure it was entry level but it handled like it was on rails. I looked down at the steering wheel and saw the BMW logo on it. It felt good. I felt like I accomplished something. I felt professional.
I was back on the lot within the 10 minutes and the salesperson was sitting at his desk in the lit up showroom. I walked in with a little extra pep in my step. He asked how the drive was. I let him know all about it. He introduced himself. “Hi, I am Bob.” I introduced myself and we talked about the car and the BMW brand for a while. He was very up front about the costs of the car. He let me know that I wouldn’t find one for the marketed price of $19,999. He let me know that I would be paying about $24,000 for one. The car I test drove was Bob’s demo car. A demo car is one that the salespeople get to drive around to help market their products. Bob asked me if I wanted to buy his demo car. It had about 600 miles on it and would be slightly less than a brand new one. I said I needed to speak with my father first. He said okay. He mentioned he would hold it for me and not sell it until I got back with him about my decision. We ended our conversation well over an hour after the dealership’s posted closing time.
I immediately called my father and talked to him about the car. He told me on Monday, he would come to the dealership to check out the car with me. After what felt like the longest Sunday of my life, Monday came and we headed to the dealership and met with Bob. I ended up purchasing that car.
I had to ask Bob why he let me test drive the car alone.
His answer taught me a huge lesson in life. He began by saying he learned a lesson when an individual walked on the BMW dealership lot on a Saturday a few years back. Bob told me a black man dressed in sweats and a hoodie was looking at a row of BMW 7 series on the lot. For those who don’t know, the 7 series is the flagship of the BMW auto line. At the time, they were selling for close to $60,000 a piece. Bob saw that none of the other salesmen headed over to speak with this customer. Bob did. Bob walked over to the guy in the lot and asked him if he was interested in a 7 series. The man answered yes. Bob asked him if he would like to pick one to take for a test drive. The answer was yes and Bob ran back into the dealership and got the keys. He returned to the man and gave him the keys and said the exact same thing as he said to me. “Be back in about 10 minutes and we can chat about the car more.” The man obliged. The man returned in a timely fashion and sat down with Bob. Bob asked him if he liked the car and the drive.
“I would like to purchase three of these today.”
Bob was stunned. “Um, sure.” Bob replied. The man then wrote a cashier’s check for close to $180,000. Everything was set in motion. The three cars were prepared for delivery that day. The customer had two acquaintances come to drive the other two new BMW 7 series cars away as Bob watched them all head out with the new cars.
Bob let me know in those days, there was no way to check with the bank about funds until Monday morning. It was a cashier’s check so it was likely good but there was a nervous energy and anxiety building in Bob. It was his longest Sunday of his life as he explained it. Monday morning came around and Bob called the bank listed on the check. A receptionist answered and Bob let that person know he was checking on the funds of a huge cashiers check. The lady asked who wrote the check. Bob replied it was “Mr. Washington.” The receptionist paused, and told Bob she would get the manager. Bob told me he felt like he was going to have a heart attack. The manager finally came on the line and spoke to Bob. Bob told him the situation and wanted to know if the check made out to nearly $180,000 was good.
The manager paused and replied, “I can assure you the check is good. Mr. Washington is the president of this bank and what Mr. Washington wants, Mr. Washington gets.”
Come to find out, Mr. Washington was buying cars for himself and two other family members. From that day forward, Bob told me he never makes assumptions about people who come in to look at cars. He told me that is the reason he tossed the keys to me, a 22 year old, and let me drive off the lot on my own test drive.
As I sat there finishing up my car purchase with my father listening to Bob, I knew to never make assumptions about people based on what they look like. Bob had taught me a huge lesson in life.
Side notes: I owned my BMW 318ti for 20 years and put on 187,000 miles on it. I loved every driving minute of it. My father, who was impressed by not only the BMW brand but who the salesman was, ended up purchasing 6 cars from Bob over the next 15 years. Bob has since retired. My parents still purchase BMWs from the same dealership.
*Mr. Washington is not the actual name of the individual Bob spoke of. I really couldn’t remember the person’s real name.
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