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RPM Blog

The RPM Auto Wholesale Blog provides tips for buying and selling vehicles, humorous stories and narratives from the underbelly of the automotive industry.

Slang Terms from the Automobile Sales Floor (Part Two)

Whenever people get together in an occupation, hobby or other field of interest, they form a vocabulary unique to that field. This vocabulary is referred to as slang or jargon.  Like any other subculture, their shared language serves to separate them from the rest of society, to unite them and to announce to one another that they belong.

If you are a baseball fan, you will be familiar with an announcer describing a play as a routine 4-6-3 Double Play.  This play begins as a ground ball to the second baseman (4) who throws to the shortstop (6) covering second base who then throws the ball to the first baseman (3) for the second out.  If you are a newcomer to the game, you will be unfamiliar with what the announcer has just told you.  You are an outsider and the jargon used reinforces your feelings of being on the outside.

With this post, I hope to bring you inside the world of the automobile sales profession, to help you gain an understanding of just what the heck is being discussed the next time you buy an automobile.  Let's peel back the curtain and take a look under the hood.

This post, Part 2, covers the Sales Department and Part 1 highlights the slang of the Finance Department

The Customers:

Up: A customer visiting a dealership.  Derived from the system used by salespeople to designate the next in line to speak with a customer; Who's up next?

Third Baseman: Person accompanying a customer to a dealership.  Usually more experienced in negotiating a deal. There to assist the buyer.

Baby Sitter: Sometimes refers to a third baseman.  Other times used to designate a co-signer to a buyer with limited credit.

Pipe Smoker:  Other names include engineer and college professor.  A thorough customer who wants all available technical information before making a decision to purchase a particular vehicle.

Tire Kicker:  A shopper who just wants to look and touch, usually untethered to a salesperson.  Sometimes referred to as a Looky Lou.

Flake: A customer with bad credit who is usually incapable of obtaining a loan on a vehicle purchase.

Be Back: A customer who is making a return visit to a dealership.  These customers typically leave the first time by stating: "I'll be back".

Be Back Bus: The mythical bus that drives returning shoppers to a dealership to buy vehicles.

Bird Dog: A person who refers customers to a particular salesperson for a referral fee.  Bird dogging is an illegal activity in many states.

Grape: An easy customer who pays full price with little or no resistance.

Lay Down: Similar to a grape.  A lay down will usually pay full price and purchase anything offered to them.

Grinder: Customer who is never happy with the deal they have negotiated.  They fight every step of the way and as they get into their new vehicle to leave the dealership, they ask for a full tank of fuel.

Clown: A customer who has not done any research on models or pricing and has no intention of purchasing in the near future but will gladly waste a salesperson's time.

The Sales Rookies

Green Pea: This is the newest of all salespeople.  How long someone stays in green pea status is a function of the culture of the dealership where they work and how quickly they exhibit ambition and skill towards selling vehicles.

Liner:  This person is typically a green pea.  Their primary job is to land a customer on a particular vehicle take them for a test drive and get them to commit to buying it today.  They are typically too inexperienced to guide the deal through to a close and will hand-off the customer to a TO Man once they obtain a commitment from the customer.

Shadow: This person is the greenest of the green peas.  They are brand new to the business and are often derided for being unable to close a door with two handles.  Typically relegated to moving cars and shagging lunches, they literally shadow a more senior green pea while they learn the ropes.

Lot Lizard: This is the group of green peas who spend their days hanging out in the front of a dealership, on the lot, waiting, hoping, for a customer, most typically a grape or a lay down to pull in or jump off of the be back bus.

The Experienced Folks

Closer: This is the most experienced and most fearless salesperson at the dealership.  They are know for their ability to close a deal.

Hammer: This person is the Black Belt Closer.  Typically the hammer is brought in when all other attempts to close a deal have failed.

TO: Turn Over.  The act of transferring a customer from a green pea to another green pea (uncommitted customer) or a closer (customer committed to buy today).

TO Man: The name given to the person who takes a turn from a green pea.  Sometimes a green pea who has exhibited a degree of success and is being groomed for a closers role at the store will take turns from more inexperienced green peas to see if they are able to get a customer commitment.

Turn: The act of transferring a customer from one salesperson to another.

Flip: A synonym for a turn.

Touch Base:  In a dealership with a tight customer control system, green peas are required to check in with more senior salespeople before allowing a customer to walk.  They touch base or check with someone to get help with gaining a customer commitment to purchase a vehicle.

Walk: Allowing a customer to leave a dealership is usually reserved for more senior salespeople.


The Sales Manager

Pencil: Working the deal.  The closer brings an offer to the desk and the desk man writes a counter offer on the 4 Square. They don't usually use a pencil but will typically use bright red and green markers to respond to the customer offer. Penciling the deal is another way of saying they are working a deal.

Desk: Literally the place where car deals are worked.  Every aspect of the deal is controlled by and goes through the desk including trade-pricing, finance terms and payments.

Desk Man: The desk man is the most senior person in the sales department.  Depending on the size of the dealership there can be one or many desk men.  Sometimes they are referred to as Sales Manager, General Sales Manager or even General Manager in smaller rural dealerships.

Tower: Some dealerships, particularly larger urban stores will install a desk that is above the sales floor and behind glass so that the desk man can see everything happening on the lot and the sales floor but be able to speak privately with the closers as they discuss strategy.

Bricks: The pavement outside the sales offices.  When a desk man has exhausted every possibility in making a car deal with a customer, they can sometimes be heard to tell the closer, in a loud and frustrated voice, "Tell that clown to hit the bricks."

The Deal:

Full Bore: A vehicle sold for full asking price with no discounts given.

Home Run: A deal that is very profitable for the dealer.

Laid Away: When a customer pays more than they should for a vehicle they are said to be laid away.

Bump: Increase the price that the customer will pay for a vehicle.  If a deal is unattractive or unprofitable to the dealer, the desk will tell the closer that they need to bump the price higher.

Switch: Move a customer from a vehicle that they want to purchase to one that they are able to afford. Sometimes an inexperienced green pea will commit a customer to a vehicle that they can not afford or are unwilling to pay for.  When that happens, the closer must switch the customer to one that they can afford.

Low Ball: Give an unrealistic price to a customer who is not buying today and has given an indication that they intend to shop the dealer's price.  When the customer looks around, they are unable to find a better price and returns to the dealer only to learn that the price was indeed an illusion.

High Ball: Similar to a low ball except that the high ball is too much offered for the trade-in.

Buried: When the loan balance on a trade-in exceeds the ACV of the trade, the customer is said to be buried. 

Back of Book: An offer for a trade-in vehicle that is below ACV.  A vehicle that is in below average condition.  An ugly vehicle.

Book Value: Typically used to mean Kelley Blue Book value but could be a generic statement about value in general.

ACV: Actual Cash Value.  The price a dealer is willing to pay for your car outright even if you do not purchase a vehicle from them.

Upside Down: Phrase is used when the payoff amount on a vehicle loan is greater than the ACV for that vehicle.

4 Square: Worksheet used by dealers to gain customer commitment on a vehicle purchase.  The worksheet literally contains 4 squares and each square represents one of 4 main components of a car deal: purchase price, trade-in value, down payment and monthly payment.

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