Our sales training class consisted of eight new sales people. After introductions, we spent the morning with the human resources manager, filling out paperwork, and reading through a company policy manual. The manager’s monotone voice did little to stimulate our attention spans, but I noticed he mentioned at least ten times about our first six months of employment being probationary periods.
Ted Hopkins, the sales manager, led off the afternoon session. Hopkins, a former Navy SEAL, was a no-nonsense walrus of a man with a flattop hair cut. His red Toyota golf shirt bulged with muscles, straining to break through the fabric. His voice complemented his physique with an authority which bordered on rage, ready to be unleashed at any time and on anyone.
“Welcome to Maxi Toyota,” he said with his hands on his hips, “you have been selected to attend our sales training class. It will not be easy, but those who pay attention will excel at our dealership. Some of you may earn a $100,000 per year. Some may even be promoted to sales management positions with earnings of $200,000 to $300,000 per year. It’s up to you what you do with your training.”
He picked up a black marking pen from the table.
“Rule number 1: all auto buyers lie,” said Hopkins, walking over to an easel with a large paper tablet sitting on it. “The only time they don’t lie is when their lips are not moving. If you ask them questions about their trade-in, they’ll tell you it’s the sweetest machine they’ve ever owned. They’ll conveniently forget to mention the blown transmission and head gasket. So, how do we combat their lies?”
Oh my! I thought. What has God got me into?
Hopkins proceeded to lay out the Four-Square sales program which all of us were required to use with customers. At the heart of the program was the 4-square, a sheet of paper divided into four boxes for: the trade value, purchase price of vehicle, down payment, and the monthly payment.
But as I listened to Hopkins explain the Four-Square, it reminded me more of a street hustler’s shell game than it did a sales program. You know, three shells, a pea, and the hustler’s sleight of hand while the poor sucker ended up losing all of his money. Just like the shell game, the whole idea of the Four-Square was ripping the customer off through confusion.
Every cell in my body screamed for me to run out of the dealership and never come back, but my butt glued itself to the chair and my feet to the floor. I could not move. Yet, I felt an inner peace which caused me to relax after a while.
Two hours later, Hopkins laid his marking pen down on the table.
“Let’s take a fifteen minute break,” he said, looking at the clock on the wall. Then he added, “Stoner, could I see you for a moment?”
I stood up and walked over to him as the other sales trainees left the room.
“Stoner, I checked out all eight of our trainees on Google this morning, just to see if there was anything happening with you guys. The other seven lead pretty dull lives, but you had 150,000 results. Care to tell me a little something about that?”
My face felt hot as blood rushed to the surface.
“I was a writer and a preacher before I came to California.”
“That’s an understatement. Why didn’t you tell me you were a big deal Christian preacher?”
“The interview was short and you didn’t ask.”
“What if I tell you I don’t like preachers?”
“That’s up to you.”
“Let me ask you,” he whispered, invading my space so his face almost touched mine, “will you have any problems with the Four-Square System?”
“If I don’t ever have to lie, I’ll have no problems.”
He wrinkled his face as if I had slapped him with leather dueling gloves.
“Well, Preacher, truth in car sales is a vague, hazy concept. To the customer, it means one thing and to us sales managers, it means another. All we want you to do is be an actor on a stage and tell the customer what we tell you to say. It’s just that simple.”
We exchanged gazes for a few moments.
“Preacher, I can see I’m going to have trouble with you,” he said, backing away and shaking his head. “And I don’t like having trouble with sales people. It upsets me and makes me want to kick their butts all over the parking lot. Understand me, Preacher?”
I nodded and walked away.
For the rest of the day, we role played customers and sales people, using the Four- Square System. Hopkins acted as the desk manager and critiqued us on our presentations. None of it felt comfortable for me as Hopkins constantly referred to me as Preacher, no longer calling me Luke or Stoner. The other trainees followed his cue and likewise called me Preacher. Soon, the whole dealership followed suit and the nickname stuck.
Walking home afterward, I felt miserable. It seemed like the Lord intentionally dropped me into a den of thieves. Why would He do that to me?
(The above is the second part of Chapter 4 for a new novel I’m writing, The Day LA Died, © Larry Nevenhoven, 2012.)
(Continued in Part 11)