Transcript

513:

129 Cars
Transcript

Originally aired 12.13.2013

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Full audio: http://tal.fm/513

Prologue.

Ira Glass

Freddie is the general manager of a car dealership these days, but he used to be a car salesman. And he was a good one, partly because he's got what he calls the gift for the gab. His go-to move in lots of situations is to finish a sentence and then laugh, even when the sentence is bad news. Like here he is, assessing his chances of making a sales goal for the month.

Freddie Hoyt

I'll give it a 50/50 right now, because it's early.

[LAUGHING]

Ira Glass

Or this is him talking about a month when the car dealership did not make its sales goal.

Freddie Hoyt

And I'm strictly commission, so I make nothing.

[LAUGHING]

Ira Glass

So when Freddie is not laughing, you know it's bad. And this October, Freddie did not laugh much at his weekly meetings with the guys who sell cars for him.

[FREDDIE COUGHING]

Freddie Hoyt

All right. Good morning. All right. In the beginning of the month, I went through the room and I told everybody where they had to be. Jason, you have 16 cars out. You need 10 more for the month for 26. I want to see you there.

Bob Lender, you have six out. You need nine more. Scottie, you're at 10 right now. You need to be at 18.

Ira Glass

Last month, they didn't make their sales goal. That was September. First week of school is always bad for car sales in the suburbs. They were supposed to sell 127 cars and trucks. They sold 82.

So they have to make October. And when I say "have to make," this is not some sort of abstract, feel good, compete with the dealership down block just for fun kind of competition. They're part of Chrysler. And if they sell 129 cars and trucks by the end of October, Chrysler will pay them a bonus that's pretty much the difference between the dealership being in the black or being in the red for the month-- somewhere between $65,000 and $85,000, depending on which models they sell. Different cars are in different amounts. If they sell 128 cars-- fall just one car short-- they get nothing.

Marc Brodlieb

That's the worksheet that Chrysler sends us to show us what money we can earn by how many cars we sell.

Ira Glass

And there's a new one every month?

Marc Brodlieb

Every month.

Ira Glass

In the middle of the month, the owner of this dealership, a sweet-faced guy named Marc Brodlieb, and Freddie, show me the document where Chrysler set their October sales goal.

Freddie Hoyt

No. No. This changes every month.

Marc Brodlieb

At their whim.

Freddie Hoyt

At their whim.

Marc Brodlieb

And that's another frustration. We have no idea what the number's going to be and really how they compute it. We've had numbers as high as 159. And we fight and we go crazy. It's cockamamie, if anyone knows what that means.

Ira Glass

Because basically, they shift around the ground rules on you.

Marc Brodlieb

Every month.

Ira Glass

What makes all this tricky is that there are four other Jeep dealerships within 10 miles of Marc and Freddie. And Marc says that most customers will shop price at two or three of them. So to stay competitive, Marc and Freddie do what pretty much everybody else does. They set lower prices, knock hundreds of dollars of the price of the cars, sometimes sell them for less than they paid Chrysler for them with the hope that they're going to hit their sales goal and get the bonus to make up the difference.

Marc Brodlieb

But there's no guarantee we will hit this number. So the pressure is huge, because we've already given away the money to the consumer using that to sell the car.

Freddie Hoyt

So I need a big day today. I need a big day. No bull-- I really need a big day today.

Ira Glass

So with 12 days left to go in the month, numbers wobbly, Freddie laid it on thick during his weekly meeting with the sales team. He told them he's watching them over the dealership security cams.

Freddie Hoyt

I look through the video. I watch you guys in there, all on your computers, going to different websites, chilling. Dude, get on higher gear. This is no joke. I got to be at that number, or I'm telling you, I'm not going to be a nice guy.

So put your nose right to the ground and come out shooting today, everybody. I want balloons in all the departments. I want the radios down on. Put the convertible tops down all over the place. I want tons of balloons in the show room. I just don't want one balloon to a car. Balloon the whole freaking place so it looks like a circus. Make it seem like we're having a monster sale and it's a party, because we got to be at the big number by the 31st, midnight, period-- no ands, ifs, and buts.

Ira Glass

So everybody grabs balloons. Grown men inflate and tie and decorate. It's truism in their business. Balloons sell cars. And then, nobody shows up-- for an hour, two hours, three hours, four hours. Saturday should be one of their busiest days, and it's empty.

Brian Reed

Hey, Freddie, how's it going today so far?

Freddie Hoyt

Shit. Really bad. Really slow. Really, really slow.

Ira Glass

Early afternoon, Freddie told one of our producers, Brian Reed, that it was way slower than usual. I don't know if you can catch this, but try to notice the song that is playing over the radio in the background as they talk.

Brian Reed

What do you think it is? What's going on?

Freddie Hoyt

Not a clue. With all the advertisings out there and everything else, we should be swamped. I'm stressing. Oh, I'm stressing.

[LAUGHING]

[MUSIC - "DON'T WORRY, BE HAPPY" BY BOBBY MCFARRIN]

Ira Glass

Marc, who owns this dealership, and Freddie, who runs it, both know that most people do not trust car dealers. Most people think that they're ripping us off, throwing on extra charges, milking us for every dime. And they say, if you and I only knew the reality, we would see that, in fact, the dealer is not making a killing off us.

In fact, the dealer is often squeaking by with a very thin profit margin. They say it is all very different from what people think. And to prove their point, they let us watch. A bunch of us from our radio show, we recorded them as they headed towards the end of the month, trying to make their goal, trying to sell 129 cars, which-- you would think it would be very straightforward, very businesslike.

After all, new cars and trucks, they're 15% of all retail sales. But if what we saw was typical, what that means is that hundreds of billions of dollars in economic activity and nearly two million jobs exist thanks only to millions of messy, seat of the pants deals, many of which barely come together as salesmen sweat out their end of the month quotas. It is way more chaotic than we expected.

And we saw some things, it's true, we think will surprise a lot of car buyers. From WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life, distributed by Public Radio International. Today, one car dealership tries to sell 129 cars. We get to know the resolute men and women who try to pull that off. Stay with us.

Act One.

Ira Glass

So I wish I could pretend that we got interested in this subject of our radio show because we realized what an important part of the economy car sales are. And I wish I could pretend that we did a huge survey to find the most typical dealership out there. But in fact, we got interested in this topic and this particular dealership-- Town & Country Jeep Chrysler Dodge Ram is what it's called, in Levittown, New York, on Long Island-- when one of our co-workers here at the radio show, Robyn Semien, bought a used car there.

Here's how that happened. A friend of hers, who knows all about cars, told her that the only vehicle that she should even consider for her young family is the Honda Pilot. And so she went looking online. She was one listed on cars.com. It was a Town & Country.

And she called. And she had no intention at all of going to look at the car. But a salesman convinced her-- oh, you know what? You should come out today, right today, talked her into it, which meant an hour long ride on a train from Brooklyn with her husband and her four-year-old.

And then once she got there, they upsold her to a newer, more expensive vehicle, a Jeep Liberty, which she drove off the lot 24 hours later.

Ira Glass

Robyn, tell me this story in the car in question on our first ride out to the dealership.

Robyn Semian

Yeah. The Honda Pilot, I think, is, across the board, less problems, lasts longer, better gas mileage. I know. [LAUGHING] I know. I know. I know. But I love this car.

Ira Glass

You got that? These people are such good salesmen, not only did she pay more, not only did they put her into a Jeep, which meant that, since they are a Jeep dealer, they could sell her a warranty, which they also did for a few thousand dollars, she came out of this loving her car and loving them. How do they do this?

Act Two.

Ira Glass

Well, before we go any further, I think I should give you a quick primer on the basic set up and cast of characters at this dealership. New cars are sold at Town & Country-- and we're going to be spending most of our with new cars today-- by seven men and one woman, who, by the way, constantly make fun of each other in this raunchy way that we cannot play you over the radio. Just know that that's happening.

Plus, there are two guys in the finance department. And then overseeing all of them, there are the general manager, Freddie, who you already met. And then out on the showroom floor, all day, every day, are two managers, who you're going to be hearing from a lot over the course of this hour. These are Mike Perez and Sal Lanzilotta.

Of the two, Sal is the more complicated figure. Balding with a gray goatee, he's got this vibe that is halfway between Ben Kingsley in Gandhi and the laconic hit man, Mike, from Breaking Bad. When Sal gets up to speak at the weekly sales meetings-- the meeting, by the way, is in the middle of the showroom-- he paces around a red convertible as he talks, reminding everybody of the basic tenants of car sales.

Sal Lanzilotta

Customer says they're not ready to buy a car. They're all not ready to buy a car. Let's go over it again. They're in a car dealership.

They got in their car, drove through hell to get here, looked for a parking spot for 10 minutes, parked, got out of the car, and walked into a car dealer, not because the coffee's good. We went over this, because the coffee here is not good. They came here because we sell cars, and they want to buy one.

Ira Glass

Nothing's changed in a hundred years of selling cars, he tells them at one meeting. The customer wants to pay as little as possible. We want to make as much as we can.

Sal Lanzilotta

You guys know the job, right? You've all done it before.

Freddie Hoyt

Be aggressive.

Sal Lanzilotta

Be aggressive. ABC, Bob. What's ABC?

Bob Tantillo

Always be closing

Sal Lanzilotta

Always be closing.

Ira Glass

OK. So these guys, the managers, Sal and Mike, sit near the front door of the showroom at this elevated platform that everybody calls the podium or the desk. And they oversee all the terms of all the deals.

And if you've ever bought a car, maybe you've wondered what really happens when the salesman leaves you and they go back and they talk to their manager or they talk to the boss. OK. What do they do? Well, what they do is, we were told-- they load their lips. Here's Freddie.

Freddie Hoyt

We tell them what to say to the customer. And we load their lips, send it back to the customer, and see where we can commit.

Ira Glass

But before the managers can load their lips, they have to figure out what price they're going to ask for and the terms of the deal and all that. And this works differently, I think, than the way that most of us imagine is happening when we buy a car.

We assume that the managers and the salesmen are a unified team, and it's us versus them. But in fact, managers and salespeople are often at odds with each other. And they spin information and they lie to each other.

Here's Peter Possas, a very experienced salesman, who, at the time of this recording, was three cars shy of the 18 that he was supposed to sell in October. And what he's doing here is he's asking a couple what they want their monthly payments to be on a new car.

Peter Possas

What if I can get you the same payment you're at now? $199 for 39 months, something like that?

Ira Glass

OK. Hear that? $199 a month. Then, Peter marches over to talk to the managers at the desk. And listen to the number that he tells Sal that the customer wants.

Peter Possas

And she wants it to be about $150 a month.

Ira Glass

$150, not $199. As soon as Sal is out of earshot, Peter turns to the reporter who's trailing him, Sean Cole.

Peter Possas

Did you see what I did?

Sean Cole

So talk me through it.

Peter Possas

You heard. Well, you saw. She told me she wants to be at $199 a month.

Sean Cole

Right.

Peter Possas

But I'm telling him $150, because I've got to work him, too, with the same kind of--

Sean Cole

Oh, so you're going lower with him.

Peter Possas

Yeah.

Sean Cole

I see.

Ira Glass

Why do this? Well, later, when the negotiations get tough, the manager, Sal, may ask Peter to squeeze the customers for a lower number on their trade in or maybe a higher price for the car, something that might be hard to talk the customer into. But Peter now has wiggle room. He knows he can push the couple up to $199 a month in payments because they already said yes to it. He can make up the difference there.

In fact, as the deal proceeds, it runs into a problem. The desk, the couple, and the salesmen cannot come to an agreement about how much the dealership should pay the couple for their trade-in. Sal says that it's worth one price. The customers say that another Jeep dealer offered them a lot more than that for the trade-in, but, of course, that may be a lie. There's a saying in the business-- buyers are liars.

Or maybe the other dealership is lying to the customers. Maybe the other dealership told them an unrealistically high price that they never intend to pay. That happens, too. Everyone is playing everyone. Sal, at the desk, tells Peter, the salesman, that the customer cannot be getting that trade-in price from the competitor. It can't be true.

Sal Lanzilotta

OK. Stop believing what the customer's telling you. That car does $16,500 at the auction. There's no way to they're paying them $20,000 on a car that they could sell at auction for $16,500.

Peter Possas

Then I guess he's a better negotiator than me.

Sal Lanzilotta

I think he's just a better liar, and you're buying it.

Peter Possas

Yeah.

Sal Lanzilotta

That's the difference.

Ira Glass

So to summarize, the managers and the salespeople are playing each other. The customer's playing them both. Each dealership is playing the other dealerships. And the manufacturer is playing all the dealerships with its quotas and its incentives.

Chrysler sold 140,083 cars and trucks in October. That is what it took to sell one of them.

Act Three.

Ira Glass

So like I said earlier, several of us came and recorded at this dealership. And each of us chose different sales people to follow. Robyn Semien chose Bobby Tantillo. A warning to listeners-- somebody uses a word in an offensive way in her story. And we're going to leave that in, because we're trying to document what really happened.

Robyn Semian

Robert Tantillo-- Bobby T around the dealership-- is in last place. He doesn't like talking about it.

Robyn Semian

How many cars have you sold?

Bob Tantillo

I can't keep track.

Robyn Semian

I know someone here is keeping track.

Bob Tantillo

Well, then you'd have to ask them.

Robyn Semian

I didn't have to ask them. Freddie makes it clear in that weekly speech he gives every Saturday. Remember that meeting? He goes over everyone's individual sales, gives them new goals. Bob's there that morning, too. Freddie is keeping track.

Freddie Hoyt

Bob T, you're at three. Thanks for stopping by.

Robyn Semian

Bob doesn't flinch. He sits poker faced in a chair. A couple of guys look down or stare at their hands.

Freddie Hoyt

I'm like 15, Bob-- 12 more.

Robyn Semian

Bobby T's new here. Before this, he was in the wholesale food business for three decades, became a car salesman a few years ago after he retired. Bob says last month he had the most sales for a couple weeks. But last month was last month. Freddie needs this month.

Bob says the issue is there's just so much about selling cars that's out of his control. He says his biggest problem this month is a lack of leads. One way salesmen get leads is from the internet. Town & Country lists all the cars it has online. When people see one they like, they usually call before they come in to make sure the car's really there.

But those calls go to guys in the back. In the internet department. Then, when the customers show up at the store, they meet whoever they talk to on the phone. And one of the bosses at the desk hands them over to a real sales person, like Bob. Except that Bob says he's never been handed one of those leads.

Bob Tantillo

They've got to give it to a guy that they know is-- that's been here. And they feed him the deal. That's pretty much how it works.

Robyn Semian

You have to really be tight with the desk.

Bob Tantillo

Yeah.

Robyn Semian

Bob's not tight with the desk. But Freddie, in an attempt to help out, gives Bob exactly what he wants-- his first internet lead. He tells Bob, go on back, get Dan. Dan works in the internet office. So these words-- "go get Dan"-- that's the signal for taking over an internet lead.

Freddie raises his eyebrows at Bob and nods his head slowly, like, you got that? Bob misunderstands the cue. He gets Dan from the internet office, who comes up to the desk to greet the customers and hand them off to Bob, who has suddenly disappeared. No one knows where he went, so Freddie gives the customers to another salesman. A bewildered Freddie call over to Dan.

Freddie Hoyt

And I sent Bob T over there to get you or whatever, and then come back. Where'd he go?

Dan

I buzzed him. I said, are you busy? Come on. He kept going to the office.

Freddie Hoyt

He's like retarded. He's retarded.

Dan

[INAUDIBLE].

Freddie Hoyt

I know. I told him, go get Dan. Come right back.

Robyn Semian

Bob walks up minutes later.

Freddie Hoyt

The whole idea is to get Dan and come back and then take over the sale. That's what Dan does.

Bob Tantillo

Well, I thought you wanted me to get him. That's what I thought.

Freddie Hoyt

Well, that's what Dan does. He comes in. He gets the sale, and then he gives it to the salesman. So instead, now Manny got it.

Bob Tantillo

I'm sorry. I was talking to Chris about the office.

Freddie Hoyt

Yeah, exactly. Three cars out-- I would.

Robyn Semian

It's hard to watch someone with a lot of experience berate someone with much less experience for not knowing better. There's a line from the movie Glengarry Glen Ross-- "you never open your mouth until you know what the shot is."

But when you don't know the shot, it's not like you don't want to know the shot. Bob doesn't know the shot. But he's trying.

Bob Tantillo

He didn't say, there's a customer here. Take care of the customer. He said, go get Dan. So I went and got Dan. I was supposed to know what he's thinking. It's hard. You get bullied. You get pushed around. But you let it go. You move on.

It's a tough job, and it's not for everybody. I told you that. You've got to be thick-skinned. You've got to be able to take a lot, absorb a lot. And he says, well, now, I gave it the other guy. OK. What do you want me to say?

Act Four.

Ira Glass

So there actually is a place at Town & Country where they keep score of who has sold what. It's in Freddie's office, the general manager's office. It's a white board with each person's sales for the month to date on it.

Every car or truck that they've sold is represented by a little magnetic rectangle that's roughly the size of a nine volt battery. Everybody calls these chips. And the different colors of the chips stand for different models of cars and trucks.

And throughout the day, salesmen come and they hover around whiteboard, seeing where everybody stands. And generally, everybody is shooting for at least 15 sales a month. At 15 sales, your commission for the next month jumps from 20% to 30%.

There's also a bonus of $600 when you hit 10 cars, $250 if you sell seven cars in the first two weeks of the month. There's money you get directly from Chrysler, and that can be anywhere between $50 and $250 per car.

Mid-level salesman here at Town & Country make around $60,000 a year. Top performers are closer to $100,000. Most of that is commissions and bonuses. The number one salesman at Town & Country is always the same. Some months, he has twice as many sales as whoever's in second place.

Peter Possas

I've been doing this 28 years. This guy's like one of the best I've ever seen.

Ira Glass

That's salesman Peter Possas standing at the board. It's the middle of the month.

Peter Possas

Look. He's got one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight-- 15, two pending-- 17 cars. Unbelievable. This guy's a born salesperson.

Ira Glass

All the veteran sales guys at Town & Country say these things about this guy. He also happens to be the youngest salesman at the dealership. He's 28-- Jason Mascia. Reporter Sean Cole followed him around.

Sean Cole

Jason stands out from everybody else on the sales floor in pretty much every way. He's taller than everybody else, and way more focused on his appearance-- always a full suit and tie, double Windsor knot, gelled hair. He's handsome.

And he isn't just the best seller at Town & Country. He's one of the best sellers of Jeeps, Chryslers, Dodges, and Rams, in America.

Jason Mascia

All right. So I'm going to go on my log-in here. And then, boom.

Sean Cole

He showed me this internal Chrysler company website that ranks all the salespeople.

Jason Mascia

We're talking thousands of people. You see this national number? There is 29,000 salespeople in the whole entire country.

Sean Cole

And you're--

Jason Mascia

I'm 108.

Sean Cole

108, out of 29,000.

Sean Cole

You have a shocked look on your face.

Jason Mascia

Because I look at it and I say, that's fricking crazy. You know what I'm saying? You would think I guy that's in this business for 15 to 20 years should be doing that stuff.

Sean Cole

Jason's barely been in this business for four years. When I met him, on the last weekend of October, he had already outsold everybody for the month, including a guy who's been doing this since Jason was a toddler. But he says he's not competing with the others. He's competing with himself.

Jason Mascia

I'm trying to excel at my own goals that nobody would even know about. You know what I mean? So I'm my own little celebrity in my own little body.

Sean Cole

As we're sitting there talking, he pulls out a piece of paper and starts writing down everything he's saying as he says it. He always does this. I have 10 pages of notes from this interview-- his notes. So most of the salespeople at Town & Country are shooting for 15 to 20 sales in a month. That's considered a solid performance. And Jason, he's not satisfied with a solid performance.

Jason Mascia

There's a number that I really want to hit.

Sean Cole

He writes down that number and circles it and then moves on.

Jason Mascia

And I would love to just-- I've achieved 30 cars several times.

Sean Cole

Writes down 30, underlined "several"-- that is, 30 cars a month.

Jason Mascia

All right. So I've done that enough to say I could do it. Now, I'm trickling--

Sean Cole

Writes down 30, plus sign--

Jason Mascia

--30 plus.

Sean Cole

For October, hoping to finish the month in the mid-30s somewhere. But Jason's own personal Olympic goal?

Sean Cole

And just say what this number is that you wrote down.

Jason Mascia

This is 40. 40's a big number. You know what I mean? If you could hit 40 cars, that's more than a car per day. That's sick. That's crazy, especially when you're selling cars. You know what I mean? It's not like I'm selling suits.

Sean Cole

What took me a while to understand is how Jason sells so many cars, or what he's doing differently than everybody else. And as much as you can figure out anybody in less than a week, I think Jason's success is due to two basic attributes-- two characteristics he has that have propelled him to the top.

So I'll go through those now. Number one, constructive delusion. Now Jason knows that a certain percentage of customers, depending on the month, will walk away from him without buying a car. Of course that happens.

And yet, paradoxically, he enters every negotiation full in the knowledge that that will not happen. As we're sitting there, he drew a picture of a very lopsided hourglass with a line across the skinny part.

Jason Mascia

Are you looking at it half empty or half full? Are you optimistic or are you-- what's the other word?

Sean Cole

Pessimistic.

Jason Mascia

Pessimistic.

Sean Cole

To Jason, the glass is not half empty. And it is not half full.

Jason Mascia

Me, I'm always at 100.

Sean Cole

It is 100% full.

Jason Mascia

Yeah. it's full. And you're like what the hell?

Sean Cole

No, it's not. There's only half of the water there. No, no. It's--

Jason Mascia

No, it's full to me.

Sean Cole

But for someone who barely possesses the word "pessimistic" in his vocabulary, that's not always how he seems on the sales floor. More than any of the other sellers, Jason's anxious.

Jason Mascia

I'm going crazy right now. I'm biting my nails-- biting my nails off because I'm stressed.

Sean Cole

Biting his nails, hovering around the manager's desk-- it's like the dealership making its quota is personal to him. Jason-- and this is number two on our list of attributes-- Jason doesn't just want to sell cars. Jason needs to sell cars. Case in point, I watched him work this one deal, a lease on a Jeep Liberty. He played it totally cool at first. But when the haggling started, it was like someone had clamped a set of jumper cables to his ankles.

Jason Mascia

Yeah. And between 375 and 329 is 46 times 39 is another $1,700. But you've got to put the value point on it. You now have a sun roof, and you have the--

Sean Cole

The guy insists for an hour that he can't leave a deposit without talking to his wife. And then, he leaves a deposit. Jason wins.

Jason Mascia

Anthony, I really like you. I really do.

Sean Cole

He runs outside to chat with another customer that he's already closed.

Jason Mascia

We're getting there!

Sean Cole

And at this point, he's completely dosed up on adrenaline, jabbering like a speed freak.

Jason Mascia

I just-- I just-- I just-- I just closed one-- I just closed one that I didn't think I was going to close.

Customer

Really?

Jason Mascia

Yeah. The guy was on the fence. He's like, my wife, my wife, my wife, my wife, my wife. I threw something at him. And he was like-- and you know those intense moments where you're like, fuck this. Are we going to do it, or we-- and we did it.

It's so exciting. It doesn't matter how many cars you do. It's like the first deal of your life.

Sean Cole

Two hours later, he's already crashed. It's like that deal never happened.

Jason Mascia

I'm struggling right now to get these deals out, man. I'm really strapped. I feel like I told you-- I'm back in that feeling. I'm back on that grind again. I feel like I need another 10 cars.

Sean Cole

The high is fleeting.

Jason Mascia

Yeah, the high's gone. I'm ready for the next dose.

Sean Cole

You're ready for the next one.

Jason Mascia

Yeah.

Sean Cole

So that's two. And then the third and final attribute that I think has led Jason to being the top seller at Town & Country-- ABC, always be calling your girlfriend to say, baby, I just have a couple more things to take care of and then I'll be home.

Gena

We an argument about it last night.

Sean Cole

Oh, no.

Gena

Yeah.

Sean Cole

This is Jason's girlfriend, Gena. She stopped by to say hi to him at the shop one of the days we were there. The night before that, he had come home too late and screwed up their dinner plans. Gena says they're always running into a store five minutes before it closes. She's imposed a no work talk over dinner rule, but Jason always has just one last thing to tell her about something that happened at work.

And they've only been together a year, so they can both still laugh about at, at least with me. But of course, working long hours can threaten everything else in your life. And the entire business of selling cars is built on working long hours-- working weekends when more customers come in, coming in on your day off when the store needs to meet its quota.

And the damage that can do is all around Jason. The sales guy in the cubicle next to him, Peter Possas, told me managing a sales team at a dealership in Florida is what led to his divorce.

Peter Possas

Yeah, of course it did. I was never home. I missed all functions and stuff because I married my job.

Sean Cole

Manny, who sits next to Peter, is separated from his wife partly due to the business. Theresa in finance said her job caused her divorce. Sal, one of the managers you heard from before, says the job was a factor in both of his divorces.

Still, Jason and Gena wouldn't even be together if it weren't for the job. They met at the dealership when she was buying from another salesperson. And now, here they are, both driving the exact same kind of car.

Jason Mascia

It's funny. We've both got white Jeeps. We love them. she has a '12. I've got a '14. And we just have a good time. And they're great trucks. They're got everything you need, all the luxury, the right size. And they last forever.

Sean Cole

It's like you're trying to sell me now.

Jason Mascia

Yeah. And if you've ever been-- yeah, you're going to go out and buy a car before the end of the night. You're going to be like, Ira, you know what? I'll be back at the office in about two hours. I'm picking up my new Jeep. All right. This product is on fire.

Act Five.

Ira Glass

In the second half of October at Town & Country, sales stay slow. And going into the last two days of the month, they still have so many cars to sell that when Freddie sees me arrive in the morning on the next to last day of the month, knowing what it is that I'm about to ask him, he starts laughing.

[LAUGHING]

Freddie Hoyt

Oh, boy. Here we go. We're behind 16 cars for the month so far. And that's not good. That means I need 16 cars between today and tomorrow.

Ira Glass

Here's how hard that number is. Freddie tells me that he only expects 15 or 16 customers to show up in the store each day, which means that to get to his number, he's going to have to sell a car to every other person who walks in the door.

And what my fellow radio producers and I witness over the next two days-- OK, some deals do go through. But it's almost a catalog of all the ways that a car dealer can fall apart. There are the obvious ways. A young woman doesn't get approved for her car loan. A father and son promise to come back tomorrow to sign the papers and take the car. They never come back.

But there turn out to be all sort of other ways that a car deal can implode that we had never imagined or conceived. For instance, Bob T.

Speaker

Bob, please see Rich in finance, Bob.

Ira Glass

You remember Bob T, the salesman with the lowest sales of anybody this month. OK. A deal of his starts to unravel after the paperwork is signed, after the deposit is paid. Basically, what happens is he told a couple that their new car is $2,000 cheaper than it actually is. They found out the truth while talking to Rich, the finance manager, and kind of hit the roof.

Customer

Why am I thinking I'm getting screwed here?

Ira Glass

Bob T was also surprised. He himself thought it was $2,000 cheaper. The finance manager, Rich, tells Bob T that Bob T should have, OK, first, better understood which rebates the couple qualified for. That's where the mistake was. And second, he should have explained it to the couple.

Rich

You left the middle out. You left the meat of the sandwich out.

Bob Tantillo

That wasn't told to me. It was that we were going to give him the same discount. That's what I understand. I'm going by the numbers that were given to me. And I gave him the numbers, and he signed it. It started with $28,960. Is that right?

Ira Glass

Rich manages to save this deal, but barely. And then around 7:00 at night on the next to last day of the month, one of the salesmen, Scott Froehlich, gets some weird news about one of his sales. He tells one of our producers, Jonathan Menjivar, that some customers that he had just sold a car to were now coming back to the dealership, but not to pick up their new car and take it home. No, no, no.

Scott Froehlich

They have to pick out another car, because the other car was sold and nobody marked it.

Jonathan Menjivar

It was sold?

Scott Froehlich

Yep.

Ira Glass

That's right. They accidentally sold the same car twice to two different customers. Here's how it happened. Scott had sold a red Jeep Grand Cherokee to this customer, this guy who came in with his dad. They'd left a deposit.

But another salesmen, Mike Lester-- everybody calls him Mike L-- had already sold that same car the day before. The customer hadn't picked up the car yet, and the little magnetic chip that they use to keep track of the sales, the one for this car, nobody had put it on the white board in Freddie's office, the board that keeps track of who sold what. Scott is not happy.

Scott Froehlich

I want a drink. You're welcome to come over for a fucking drink.

Ira Glass

Or maybe this does a better job of capturing his mood.

Scott Froehlich

God, I want to shoot myself right now.

Ira Glass

An hour later, the customer is back on the lot with his dad. And Scott walks up to him. And maybe this is the time to tell you that Scott moonlights as a mortician, which means he's used to handling all kinds of situations with customers. And so even though he did absolutely nothing wrong, here's what he says.

Scott Froehlich

I fucked up and I sold a sold car. I'll admit it.

Jason Mascia

Broke my heart, Fredo. Broke my heart.

Ira Glass

Hope you got the customer's Godfather reference there. Scott tells him that if the other sale falls through, the car is his. But the other deal does not fall through. So Scott and the guy go wandering around the lot in the dark looking for another Grand Cherokee-- red. The guy is set on red. And they find one.

Customer

And what is this one?

Ira Glass

Yes, it is another red Grand Cherokee. Scott writes down the stock number, runs to the desk to check it out. And it has also been sold. Scott's only hope is that that deal will fall apart and he can sell the car to this customer, who he sends home. Fingers crossed.

The night, however, is still not over. And around quarter to 8:00 that night, something happens at the desk that really, really ticks off the manager, Sal.

Sal Lanzilotta

The amount of stupidity that just happened far exceeds anything I have ever experienced in the car business.

Ira Glass

OK. Here's the short version. Stephen Brown, a computer engineer from New Jersey, has come in to finalize a deal on a new Dodge Challenger Coup. Sal greets him.

Sal Lanzilotta

How are you doing?

Stephen Brown

I'm all right.

Ira Glass

Stephen is Lori's customer, the one woman on the sales team. But Lori is out sick. Stephen tells Sal that she texted him that somebody else was going to be taking care of the deal.

Sal Lanzilotta

But she didn't tell you who?

Scott Froehlich

No. She just sent a text message about--

Sal Lanzilotta

All right. Give me a few minutes. If you want, you can grab a seat in the waiting area over there.

Ira Glass

Stephen sits down. Sal get Lori on the phone.

Sal Lanzilotta

I have a customer of yours here, says someone else is supposed to take care of him. Who's supposed to take care of him? All right. Good. Mike Lester's gone for the night. So now what do I do? Well, he's gone too.

Ira Glass

Sal pages Scottie, but he's not around. Peter's around, but he's working another deal. An then, you know how in every shop of every kind everywhere, there's that one team-playing, late-staying, extra go-gettery kid you can turn to who will always help clean up whatever weirdo mess just erupted one hour before closing? Yeah. In this case, that would happen to be--

Sal Lanzilotta

Jason, what are you doing right now?

Ira Glass

Jason comes over to the podium. Sean Cole, who is trailing Jason, picks up the story from here.

Sean Cole

So Jason comes over to the desk, and Sal explains what's going on.

Sal Lanzilotta

Here's the rundown. You ready? This is Lori's customer. The customer came in to see Lori. Lori's not here today, so she set it up with Mike Lester. Mike Lester went home. Mike Perez knew about the deal. Mike Perez went home. TK's the finance manager on the deal. He's off today. So now, I'm supposed to piece this together.

Jason Mascia

What are we doing?

Sal Lanzilotta

I'm not quite clear.

Jason Mascia

Is the thing billed out?

Sal Lanzilotta

I'm not quite clear.

Jason Mascia

OK. So what am I doing right now?

Sal Lanzilotta

He's not quite clear.

Jason Mascia

He's not quite clear.

Sal Lanzilotta

I know the call was ready last-- how are you doing, sir?

Jason Mascia

Good. I'm Jason.

Sean Cole

Now, this isn't a situation where Stephen just needs to sign some papers and pick up the keys to his new car. There are still a lot of steps to march through.

Jason Mascia

I have other thin-- I have other things to do.

Sean Cole

He finds a folder and learns that Stephen and Lori never got to a final, final offer for his trade in. In order to do that, the car has to go up on the lift for a full inspection in the service department, which is inexplicably closed on this, the second to last day of the month, when they need absolutely every sale they can get.

Sal Lanzilotta

They didn't call me to see if they could leave. We're gonna lose this deal.

Sean Cole

With no inspection, there's no trade-in. And with no trade-in, there's no deal. Somebody finally does a cursory inspection on the car without the lift in the dark. All the while, Stephen is getting more and more anxious that no one seems to know what's going on. Jason tries to get him in with the finance guy to work out the terms of the deal, but the finance guy's busy. Jason explains this to Sal, which sets Sal off again.

Sal Lanzilotta

He needs to sit with that customer.

Jason Mascia

OK.

Sal Lanzilotta

This is a--

Jason Mascia

No, don't worry. Don't get excited. Don't get excited.

Sal Lanzilotta

Dude, I'm about ready to walk the fuck out.

Jason Mascia

No, don't--

Sal Lanzilotta

No bullshit.

Jason Mascia

No, don't get excited.

Sal Lanzilotta

I've never been in a store this fucked up in my life.

Jason Mascia

Don't get excited. I don't want you to get excited. I want you to just remain calm.

Sean Cole

This is actually the third time Stephen's made the trek out here from New Jersey. It's a two hour drive he does not want to make again.

Scott Froehlich

A love the car, but if they don't get-- they're going to have to get it done.

Sean Cole

They cannot lose this deal. They're still 10 cars short of their monthly goal. When Stephen does sit down with the finance manager, he can't get the interest rate he wanted-- 3.3%. They finally resolve that, but then he doesn't have insurance for the new vehicle, or he hasn't called Geico to transfer the policy from his old car. And he takes care of that, too.

But then as he's transferring his stuff from the trunk of his old car into the new one, the billing office notices a glitch. Something's wrong with the new insurance card from Geico. Stephen's address isn't on it. And the date on it says October 31, even though it's October 30. That means Steven won't be able to legally drive the car until the following day.

Jason Mascia

Tiffany, good evening. This is Jason. I'm a sales representative at Town & Country Jeep.

Sean Cole

Jason gets on the phone with Geico, thinking maybe it'll be an easy fix. It won't be. We all stand around and watch him work this thing.

Jason Mascia

I'm sitting with a client of yours, and he's purchasing a vehicle, picking it up tonight. I have the ID card and the--

Sean Cole

It's quarter past 10:00 at this point.

Jason Mascia

But it's not like he's opening up a new policy. So what are we doing here?

Sean Cole

Then it's 10:26.

Jason Mascia

Well, we've got to try to make an exception if you can. Please talk to your supervisor one more time if you can?

Sean Cole

Finally, Tiffany comes through.

Jason Mascia

Oh, my god. You're the best.

Sean Cole

Geico says it'll email a new insurance card. Jason keeps Tiffany, the operator, on the line until everything is squared away with the billing office.

Jason Mascia

How have you been working for Geico?

Sean Cole

Billing gives the all clear. We all follow Stephen out to the parking lot. It's about 11 o'clock at this point.

[CAR ENGINE STARTING]

Jason, giddily, watches him tear out of the parking lot and hang a right.

Jason Mascia

Jersey's that way. He went east. Jersey's west. Oh, my goodness.

Ira Glass

Well, coming up, car talk continues. That feels really weird to say. But it's true. That's in a minute from Chicago Public Radio and Public Radio International when our program continues.

Act Six.

Ira Glass

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. So this past October, in most of the country, car sales were strong-- up over 10% from what they were a year before. That's 1.2 million new vehicles sold that month.

But that doesn't mean that every dealership in every town had an easy time of it. And today on our program, we watch one dealership, just one, on Long Island-- Town & Country Jeep Chrysler Dodge Ram is what it's called-- as they try to make their sales goal of 129 cars for the month.

If they sell 129 cars, Chrysler is going to pay them a big bonus. And they need that money to be in the black for the month. If they just sell 128, bupkis.

Ira Glass

So it's 9:15 in the morning on the 31st. How many cars you got to get?

Freddie Hoyt

Nine.

Ira Glass

That's Freddie, the general manager here.

Freddie Hoyt

Nine more.

Ira Glass

And what do you have to say about that?

Freddie Hoyt

God help us. [LAUGHING] God help us. Oh, no. It's going to be hard.

Ira Glass

On a good month, he would start the last day with just two or three cars to sell. Nine-- that's crazy. And it's Halloween, which means that lots of potential customers are going to be out with their kids today.

Five minute after we had that conversation at the desk, I find Freddie in his office selling a car to himself-- a loner car for the maintenance department to lend out to customers who are getting their cars repaired. He's allowed to count that car in his sales total.

Freddie Hoyt

So now, we only need eight more. See? It's starting to come together already.

Ira Glass

By mid-afternoon, he'll buy a second loner car for the dealership. Back in February, Freddie bought a Durango for his wife to make the number that month, replacing a car that he just bought a year before for her for the same reason.

Act Seven.

Freddie Hoyt

Joe, what's the story with your cars?

Ira Glass

Fredie is calling Joe Monti, one of the guys who runs the used car side of the business at Town & Country. Joe has got his own goal to hit for the month that is separate from the new car goal. 70 used cars-- that's the number Freddie set for him.

Freddie Hoyt

Is any of them going out yet or what? What are we doing?

Joe Monti

They're all going out, boss.

Freddie Hoyt

OK. But how come none was even delivered yet? I'm still sitting at six.

Joe Monti

Eurice delivered the Chevy Trailblazer.

Ira Glass

While we were at Town & Country, we asked everybody what it would mean for him or her personally if the team did not make its sales goal. And it was actually this guy, Joe Monti, over in used cars, who gave us the best picture of that. Sarah Koenig hung out with him for a while.

Sarah Koenig

Joe's particularly stressed out this month. Half the time I'm with him, it feels like he's fighting, even with customers.

Joe Monti

Nobody's giving you a run around, Jessica. OK. Yelling and screaming and being rude and threatening is not going to get you anywhere. The car is a great car.

Sarah Koenig

Next fight-- he calls a woman in the back office, who he thinks ratted to Freddie about a deal she didn't like.

Joe Monti

Theresa, well, can you pick up the phone? Nails could get done later. Why did to Freddie and tell Freddie about a Chrysler 300? Well, whose conversation? Why were you talking to Eddie? First of all, if a manager writes off on a deal and signs it--

Speaker

That's an old car.

Joe Monti

She hung up the phone.

Sarah Koenig

I'm sort of surprised anyone would have the balls to fight with Joe. He's a big man-- 350 pounds, large and in charge. The day I meet him, he's wearing a gray tracksuit. But what I quickly find out is that he's wearing a tracksuit because it's his day off.

He's supposed to be at his son Mike's football game against Malverne. He hasn't been able to catch an away game all season. And he took this one Sunday off to do it. It was important to him. For so many years, he wasn't around enough for his kids. He was working all the time.

Joe knows Mike will be looking for him in the stands right about now, and he's not going to be there because he's here with the car lot.

Joe Monti

We're a little shorthanded, so I got to be here, which is not a problem. Listen. If I'm making money, I'm making money. It's a catch 22. You're missing a game. But that's the car business. That's the car business. I'll make it up to him later.

Sarah Koenig

Yesterday, Joe was late to his mother in law's surprise 70th birthday party. And last week, he was late for his own mother's 60th. The used car side of Town & Country is supposed to sell 70 cars by the end of the month. That's Joe's version of the 129 on the new side.

When I first met Joe, used was at 35. At stake is Joe's big year end bonus. Joe wouldn't tell me the amount of the bonus, but he made it clear, it's very, very nice-- down payment on a house nice. Since he fell so behind the last couple months, this month, October, is make or break for Joe. He's got to get to at least 70 cars if he wants any hope of reaching that bonus by the end of the year.

And it's not looking good. 20 years in the business, Joe's never seen a stretch this slow for this long. Joe blames it mostly on Hurricane Sandy. A year ago, tens of thousands of people lost their cars all at once. And they got new ones all at once.

So now, a year later, tens of thousands of people are out of the used car market who normally would be buying and selling right now.

Joe Monti

We had two weekends in a row. We sold one car.

Sarah Koenig

Oh my god.

Joe Monti

Two Saturdays and two Sundays, and we sold one car.

Sarah Koenig

The whole weekend?

Joe Monti

The whole weekend-- the whole two weekends, we sold one car. There was days we didn't see a customer.

Sarah Koenig

Joe goes outside to do an appraisal on a Nissan Quest. This also gives him a chance to have a cigarette, one of about 40 Parliaments he'll smoke today. His wife and kids get on him about the smoking. He's got six kids-- six kids. Two are grown, four of them still at home.

Joe's the only breadwinner in the family-- always has been. So it's all on him. Even in the best of times, Joe's a worrier, like his grandmother. He's 42 years old, but he looks older. In the past year, he's gained about 80 pounds.

In the parking lot, Joe throws away a half-smoked cigarette, and then looks over the Nissan Quest. Tires are so so, needs some detailing. It's got a cracked tail light an a bad CARFAX report, meaning it's been in an accident. $2,000 is fair for this car, Joe says. It's what these are going for at auction.

He tells me the customers are going to want at least $2,500, but there's no way he can do that. $2,600 is just too much. He heads back inside--

Joe Monti

$2,500-- that's everything.

Sarah Koenig

--instantly caves.

Joe Monti

That's what I will do.

Sarah Koenig

He needs the deal. They shake on it. Joe was about 22 when he started in the car business. He had a baby at 18, his son Joseph, and then four more kids-- Dean, Chris, Michael, and Adriana, plus his stepson, Louis.

John himself was one of five kids. His mom raised them by herself, no dad around, no money. They moved around a lot. With his own kids, he's the uptight parent, the one who doesn't laugh enough. The one who hammers them about consequences. He wants his kids to fear his wrath, but also to know he loves them. Sometimes it's tricky for him to balance that or even to talk about it.

Joe Monti

I have a good relationship with my children, not as-- I didn't have a father. So it's hard to do something when you don't know how to do it. Sometimes you don't know how to-- I'm like a manly man. So I love them very much, but I don't know how to sometimes show it to them.

I kiss them. I hug them. But you know what I'm saying. You don't-- it's something that I have to adapt to. But that's it. They're good. They're good kids.

Sarah Koenig

Joe wants his kids to have more stability than he had growing up, and a better standard of living. For 16 years, they all lived in a big house in Smithtown in a fairly wealthy neighborhood. And Joe says there was pressure there.

Some other kids at school had fancy clothes and extravagant vacations, blowout sweet 16 parties. He didn't want his kids to feel less than. So he made sure, within reason, that they had what the other kids had. But three years ago, he left Town & Country for another job at a Toyota dealer, and it didn't go well, at all.

He lost-- well, he says he lost everything. But in any case, it was a lot of money. They sold their big house in Smithtown, and moved to a smaller house in Levittown about five minutes from the dealership. And in a lot of ways, Joe's glad about that. It's made them closer as a family, he says.

But he's also trying to work his way back up. He'd like to be able to buy them all a bigger house, give everyone a little more room. That's why he's so worried about this bad stretch of business and about getting that bonus.

Toward the end of the day, his son Mike calls. Joe has already spoken to coach about how the football game went.

Joe Monti

Two sacks and two tackles-- that's great.

Mike Monti

OK. Boy, Dad.

Joe Monti

What?

Mike Monti

Do you think we can all go to-- you can give us money so we can go get something to eat.

Joe Monti

Yeah. All right. I'll be home in hopefully 20 minutes, and I'll give you money to go out to eat.

Mike Monti

OK.

Joe Monti

All right. All right, bye. Every one of them. And it's hard to say no. And you try your best. When you're doing well, it's no big deal, and you could take care of them. And then there's just doing well to where you're making it by. What is it? Today is October.

What's going to happen in a couple months when my son's getting ready to leave for college? Am I going to have the money?

Act Eight.

Ira Glass

It's mid-afternoon on the new car side of Town & Country. So what do you do all day on the last day of the month when you need to sell everything you possibly can? Well, instead of waiting for customers to come into the store, you call up any lead you have and try to close deals, right over the phone if you can.

One of the salespeople, Lori, does this with a previous customer. Jason also sells to a guy he knows over the phone. Peter gets a lead from a cop upstate that he sold a Durango truck to. The lead is a friend of the cop's, also a cop, who wants the same deal his friend got. Peter gets him on the phone and says he'll give him the deal for two reasons.

Peter Possas

One of them, you were referred. And the other one is you're officer of the law, and we respect that over here, big time, just so you know. All right.

Ira Glass

Of course, this leaves out the third and main reason for the great deal that he's getting-- they need eight more sales by 9 o'clock. And the cop ends up buying his Durango for $2,214 less than the dealership paid for it. Even after finance charges and hold back and all the other ways they make money, they still lost on this one.

Ditto this guy, Richard Massana-- he was going to get an oil change this morning and stopped in on a whim. And they showed him numbers way lower than any other deal that he'd been to. Richard called up his wife to let her know, hey, surprise, we're getting a new truck. On his test drive, he still seemed amazed at what was happening.

Richard Massana

Who would have thought Halloween, buying a truck? I never thought it would happen.

Ira Glass

His payment will be $425 a month. The salesman says later that it should have been $525. But it's the end of the month. It turns out, yes, it is true that you do get a better deal at the end of the month at Town & Country-- at least, any month that they're struggling to make their goal.

When you actually look at the numbers, the cars that they sell on the last two days, the average deal actually loses money versus the deals that they make at the beginning of the month, where they made about $900 per car. OK, for car people, I'm now going to say these words. I am factoring in everything they made on financing and warranties and extras and hold back and the 1% they get from Chrysler on every car.

And when I make that statement, I am not factoring in any money that they would get if they hit their number and get their bonus from Chrysler. That would add about $500 per car, which still does not give them a huge profit per car.

It used to be a lot higher. But today, because people research prices on the internet, profit margins on new cars are lower than what they used to be-- not just here at this dealership, but everywhere in the car business. The owner of Town & Country told me that he used to make $500 more per car, and each salesman made more per car.

Now, they all have to make it up in volume. So it's more of a grind, a harder job with tighter deals, and less reward. And if you're wondering, car dealerships make less profit than other businesses. A recent study by an outfit called Sageworks found that car dealers end up with less than $0.03 on every dollar they make as profit, which is less profit than furniture stores, office supply stores, restaurants-- lower than pretty much everything but grocery stores. When car dealers say that they are not making a killing, on average, it's true.

At some point during this last day of the month, one of the deals that they had been counting on falls through-- Mike Lester's sale of a red Grand Cherokee. But turns out that's no problem for the dealership, because Scott has a customer who wants that exact same truck.

Do you remember that deal the day before, where two salesmen sold the same car to two different customers, the mortician? It's that salesman and that customer and the salesman, Scott, is very, very happy. And the only bad news about all this is what it does to Mike Lester's sales total for the month.

Mike Lester

That drops me down to 14.

Ira Glass

14 sucks because, like I said earlier, 15 is the magic number. 15 is where the serious bonuses and commissions kick in. Most of the guys count on getting those.

Mike Lester

It could add up to big money.

Ira Glass

But then Scott, whose customer is now going to get the red Grand Cherokee-- Scott realizes what this means for Mike, and says to Mike--

Scott Froehlich

Wait, is that your 15th car?

Mike Lester

Yeah.

Scott Froehlich

You take the chip. Give him the chip. Switch it around.

Mike Lester

OK.

Scott Froehlich

And split it with me.

Mike Lester

OK.

Ira Glass

Now, Mike will get the credit for the sale. He's at 15 again.

Mike Lester

OK. Yeah. Love you, Scott.

Ira Glass

Scott kisses Mike on the cheek. Producer Brian Reed witnesses all this.

Brian Reed

You're at 15 now?

Mike Lester

Yes.

Brian Reed

Did he owe you one?

Mike Lester

No, but we always help each other out, especially on the last day of the month.

Brian Reed

How do you feel?

Mike Lester

Excited. [LAUGHS]

Act Nine.

Ira Glass

So amidst anxious salesmen and salesmen literally running to the desk or to finance, there is one salesman who is a model of calm. Even his cubicle is different from everybody else's. There's no swag. There's no pictures of family. There are no good luck charms. It's bare. The salesman, his name is Manny Rosales, says he doesn't like the distractions. One of our producers, Brian, who you just heard, got to know him.

Brian Reed

Manny is 58, born in Peru. He has gray hair and glasses. One morning at the showroom, he gestured cryptically for me to come over to his desk, as if he had a secret to tell me. Turn that off, he said, pointing to my tape recorder.

I explained that I was a radio reporter and I needed to record whatever he was going to tell me for it to be useful. But he wasn't having it. He seemed unimpressed by our little radio story. He said my colleagues and I were like fishermen who had no idea what we were angling for. We had no focus. We were just casting blindly.

Manny, I soon learned, is a man of many metaphors. I put down my recorder. The thing you need to be paying attention to, he said, is the negotiation. The salesman is the tiger. And the customer is the deer. The tiger has to eat, and you can't eat if you don't kill that deer.

He moved his right hand up and then clamped his fingers around his own neck. You have to go for the neck, he said. But if you try to kill them too early, the deer will wake up and run away.

As the day went on, I kept trying to get Manny to let me record him, but he wouldn't. Instead, he'd come up to me while I was interviewing someone else, point to his head very deliberately, presumably to his brain, give me a knowing look, and then walk away.

At one point, we found ourselves facing each other at his desk. He asked me if I had read the greatest book ever written about car sales. I don't think so, I told him. What is it? The Art of War, he said, by Sun Tzu. Sun Tzu, as you maybe know, was a military general and strategist in ancient China. The Art of War is his magnum opus, where he lays out his tactics for how to succeed in conflict.

And though Sun Tzu was writing about actual war, the book has become well known in business and sales circles. It's kind of like the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, if that had been written in the fifth century BC on individual strips of bamboo.

So I went to the bookstore and bought a copy, and then headed back to Town & Country.

Brian Reed

Manny, how are you, sir? Can I show you the homework I've been doing?

Manny Rosales

Please.

Brian Reed

I handed him my copy of The Art of War, which I'd marked up with notes about its relevance to car sales. I could see why Manny felt that it spoke to his profession. Lines like "draw them in with the prospect of gain," "take them by confusion" seemed especially on point.

Manny Rosales

How far you are?

Brian Reed

I finished it.

Manny Rosales

You finish it? OK. I want to ask you a question. What did you learn?

Brian Reed

What have I learned? Well, I'm here to learn some more.

And I was in. For two days, Manny took me under his wing, with my recorder running, and became my sales sensei. Manny's kind of an unusual car salesman, because he has no affection for cars at all. If a customer asks him how much horsepower a car has or how quickly it can go from 0 to 60, usually, he has to look up the answer or go ask a coworker. He has no interest in that stuff. So instead, Manny developed a way to sell the customer using a different approach.

Manny Rosales

The psychology, how you penetrate his brain.

Film Narrator

Sun Tzu says, all warfare is deception.

Brian Reed

To help me understand this, how to penetrate the brain of one's opponent, Manny showed me a couple of movies on YouTube. One was a reenactment of the Second Punic War in the third century BC, Hannibal's campaign against the Romans. Manny wanted me to pay attention to one battle in particular from that war, the Battle of Cannae.

Film Narrator

One of the bloodiest ever fought.

Brian Reed

At Cannae, Hannibal's troops were vastly outnumbered. He had about 40,000 men, versus Rome's army, which had roughly 85,000.

Hannibal

The Romans will have the confidence that comes only with greater numbers. We'll present them with the unexpected, then watch them fall apart.

Manny Rosales

But that is the secret, to present them the unexpected.

Hannibal

Our forces will be arranged like this.

Brian Reed

The details of Hannibal's strategy are a bit complicated to go into here. Manny had to draw me a diagram to help me get it. But let's just say it involves an unusual troop formation that made the Romans think they were gaining ground when really, they were at Hannibal's whim.

Hannibal

At this point, the Romans will think they have won. Let them taste victory.

Brian Reed

We're watching this, remember, on a laptop on the showroom floor. Customers are milling about, checking out the new cars, as Hannibal's mercenaries and cavalry encircle the Romans and trap them for good.

Manny Rosales

And now, the killing has started.

Brian Reed

So how does Manny use this to sell Dodge Chargers? Well, just like Hannibal would, he presents the customer with the unexpected. What they expect is for the salesman to be pushy and try to coerce them into buying a car at a certain price. So Manny does the opposite.

He acts as if he doesn't even want to sell the car. He agrees with the customer, uses a similar tone, repeats words that the customer says. If someone comes in and says he's just there to browse, not to buy, that's totally fine, Manny will say, and he'll back off.

Manny Rosales

The idea is to make them believe that he's doing everything from his point of view, so he thinks he's playing his game.

Brian Reed

But he's really not?

Manny Rosales

Absolutely not.

Brian Reed

What game is he playing in reality?

Manny Rosales

My game. Simple. Simple.

Brian Reed

Manny gave me an example of this that he'd executed a few days earlier with a customer named Julio, who was looking for a Jeep Grand Cherokee. Julio runs warehouses for a living and negotiates for his company, so Manny knew he'd be a formidable opponent. Julio told me later that he'd already visited seven other Jeep dealerships by the time he got to Town & Country and was calling and texting with another three.

When he sat down across from Manny, Julio made the first offer-- $36,000. The Jeep was listed at $45,000. So Julio's offer was absurdly low. Julio knew it was unrealistic. He expected Manny to say, no way, that he could never gave it to him for that price.

But then listen to what Manny did instead.

Manny Rosales

I said, all right. If I can sell it to you for $36,000, are you ready to do that right now? Show me the money. Where's your credit card?

Brian Reed

Where's the credit card? Manny says this was the key move, the unexpected move.

Manny Rosales

Because he never thought I would say yes. Suddenly, he didn't know what to do or what to say, became confused. He cannot back up, because that's what he said to me. If you give me $36,000, I'll buy the car.

Hannibal

At this point, the Romans will think they have won. Let them taste victory.

Brian Reed

So he pulled his credit card out?

Manny Rosales

Absolutely. He gave it to me. And I said, all right. Let me take the offer to my manager, even though I knew that we cannot do it.

Brian Reed

After days of negotiation, Manny ended up scoring this deal. Julio paid $40,000 for the Jeep, which was low. The dealership lost money on the car. But after it was all over, Julio told me that this move, when Manny pretended to take his low offer seriously-- he said, without that, he would have walked out of Town & Country immediately, which would have meant no sale, nothing towards the monthly quota.

Act Ten.

Ira Glass

By 4:00 PM, the hustling in the showroom is paying off. Chips are going up on the board in Freddie's office. Even one of the guys in the back rooms is pitching in, a finance guy, Terrance Kelly, TK. He's reaching for the phone.

Terrance Kelly

So basically, the numbers are down. They need all the deals. So they made me call my niece in Las Vegas, believe it or not. She's been trying to buy a car anyway.

[PHONE RINGING]

Katie

Hello?

Terrance Kelly

Hi, Katie.

Katie

Hey.

Terrance Kelly

How are you? I have you on the speaker phone.

Katie

OK.

Ira Glass

TK's got 34 nieces and nephews. Katie is his goddaughter, though, so he keeps a special eye out for her. At the time that this was recorded, the rest of the family didn't know that she was pregnant, though he did, even though he did not know, until he picks up the receiver and started filling out the forms for the car sale, her fiance's last name.

Terrance Kelly

OK. Charles-- Parker? You're getting married to somebody with the last name of Parker? Oh, Barker. Oh. He is related to Bob at all? What does he do, by the way? I never asked you.

Ira Glass

The dealership is selling the car to Katie below cost at a $900 loss. And TK is going to end up spending $1,200 of his own money to ship the car out to her in Las Vegas.

Terrance Kelly

Oh. HVAC Company? Nice, I like that. As long as he's happy. You're in the right area for air conditioning, I guess.

Ira Glass

And this? This is the sale that puts them over the top. This is the 129th sale of the month. Just a few minutes before 5 o'clock, right after this happens, I stopped by Freddie the general manager's office. Nobody is running in to high five. There's not even a staff announcement on the PA saying they made it.

Ira Glass

I've got to say, it's weirdly anti-climactic.

Freddie Hoyt

There's no hurrah. There's no balloons falling from the ceiling. We did our job. Everybody earned their paycheck. That's the bottom line.

Ira Glass

And then the clock starts ticking tomorrow morning on the next month?

Freddie Hoyt

We're all a bunch of losers tomorrow morning. We start all over again. That's how it goes. Oh, the wife. Oh, my god. Don't get married.

We're fighting, because I told-- she says to me, what time are you getting home? I say, what time do I usually get home at the end of the month? Whenever I get home. What do you want, a time card? What am I, punching in?

I said, when I get home, I get home. And I hung up on her. So now she's pissed and she's texting. OK. So why do you have to bite my head off? I told her she should have married a plumber, 9:00 to 5:00, OK? Weekends off. OK?

Ira Glass

He texts her back. This fight actually continues for the next few hours over text message. Then, at 6:57, two hours before closing, one of the managers, Mike Perez, and Jason start huddling at the desk, a little freaked out.

Mike walks to Freddie's office to explain the problem to Freddie. The count is wrong. They're not at 129, because there's an extra chip on the board.

Mike Perez

There was a chip up there that was supposed to be pulled off.

Freddie Hoyt

What do you mean? We're down one?

Mike Perez

Yeah. This was up there. It should have been off of there, because the customer switched cars, but someone put the new chip up but didn't take the old chip off.

Freddie Hoyt

So I'm still at 128?

Ira Glass

Freddie does know that at this moment, there is another deal being negotiated that could possibly get them back up to 129. Peter is the salesman for that one. But the deal is stuck over the price of the customer's trade-in-- what they should pay for it.

Freddie Hoyt

Go make that deal right now. Whatever it is, just make the fucking deal.

Ira Glass

But that deal is not too easy to settle. And while they're waiting, more bad news. Do you remember that red Grand Cherokee that Scott and Mike Lester each had sold to different people and then Mike Lester's guy dropped out and Scott picked up the deal and there was the kiss?

Now, Scott's guy also drops out. He doesn't want to buy tonight because he wants his mom to see the car tomorrow. Freddie overhears Scott saying this to one of the managers.

Freddie Hoyt

What, you have a problem? What's the matter with it? What's the matter with it, Scott?

Scott Froehlich

The guy wants to show his mom tomorrow the car. Originally--

Freddie Hoyt

What do you mean? This isn't a deal?

Scott Froehlich

I thought it was, but--

Freddie Hoyt

Are you fucking kidding me? You have insurance on this car and everything?

Scott Froehlich

He didn't even send it into the bank, because we don't have his prior employer.

Freddie Hoyt

What are we doing? I thought these all went in to the bank today. I asked you, all the cars have insurance and went into the bank? You've got to be fucking kidding me.

Ira Glass

Scott's deal is dead. They're at 127 with just two hours left before closing.

Freddie Hoyt

Fuck. I just lost Scott's. I'm fucked.

Ira Glass

So now, they scramble to figure out, OK, there was Mike Lester's customer for that red Grand Cherokee. Could they possibly give him better terms that would bring him back to the table? Freddie orders one of the managers, Mike Perez, to make that happen.

Freddie Hoyt

Just do it. It's going to be too late. You're going to wait a half hour longer. It's getting later and later. I'd rather have a sure thing than not. Just fucking do it.

[PHONE RINGING]

Freddie Hoyt

How much does that lose?

Ira Glass

Yeah. The only question is how much does the deal lose, not whether it loses. So Mike Perez calls Richie in finance. Richie tells him he's in luck. The guy actually called back saying that he would agree to the terms, but OK. Here's the catch. He just wants 24 hours to think about this.

Mike Perez asks, OK, if we sweeten the terms, can we get him to decide right now? Rich doesn't think so.

Rich

It's not going to change anything tonight. For me to pull down my pants, you don't need to.

Mike Perez

But Freddie's telling me to. Literally, he's telling me to. So I need to just--

Rich

Whatever you need to do. But I'm telling you, if I told him it was free and the same, you're going to get the same answer anyway-- 24 hours.

Ira Glass

All is lost. And then, in just six minutes, they turn it around. Rich offers a better deal to that guy on the red Grand Cherokee after all, and yes, he takes it. And Peter's deal that was stuck over the price of this trade-in gets unstuck when the managers suck it up and pay $1,500 more for the trade-in than they think it's worth-- back to 129.

Everybody seems a little stunned by what just happened when it's done. Freddie and Sal look at the showroom from the desk like old sailors on the deck of a 19th century ship that just got thrashed around by a hurricane and also a murderous white whale.

Freddie Hoyt

Can you believe this shit, Sal? I feel like I'm back in fucking Infiniti days.

Sal Lanzilotta

Oh my god.

Freddie Hoyt

This is ridiculous, this month.

Sal Lanzilotta

Oh my god.

Freddie Hoyt

This is just--

Sal Lanzilotta

The month wasn't bad enough. We've got to suffer a little more at the last day of the month.

Freddie Hoyt

Un-fucking-believable. Fuck me.

Ira Glass

Freddie's phone, of course, doesn't stop with the text messages through all this.

Freddie Hoyt

[SIGHING] God damn. The wife, who else? I don't know what she's even fighting for.

Ira Glass

They get their bonus from Chrysler, $68,000, because the dealership ends up in the black, not the red for the month. Jason finishes the month with 29 cars, almost twice anyone else, as usual. Manny has 10, Mike L 15, Scott 18. The used car side, Joe Monti's side, did not meet its goal. They were hoping for 70. They got 57, meaning Joe Monti probably will not be getting his year end bonus this year.

And Bob T, the salesman at the bottom of the board, with the least sales this month, well, the night isn't over for Bob T.

Bob Tantillo

Where'd you put the key? Where'd you put the car? I got the key. Where's the car?

Ira Glass

Not long after they reach 129, a couple walks in wanting to buy a Dodge Dart for their 19-year-old son. Bob T rushes them through the test drive, has the husband sit at his computer and use his phone to quickly call the insurance company, and then runs-- literally runs-- to get their new car prepped and inspected in the garage.

Speaker 1

Bob, is this car going tonight?

Bob Tantillo

He says to bring it right over to service.

Speaker 2

Yeah, but is it going or is it a paper delivery?

Bob Tantillo

I don't know if it's going. It should go.

Speaker 2

Find out.

Speaker 1

Who the fuck wants to take a car home at 10 o'clock at night? You still got the receipt for them? Bring them back.

Bob Tantillo

These guys can say what they want. This old timer-- nobody works as fast as me here. You notice that? Huh? Yes or no?

Ira Glass

And with that, Bob T lands Town & Country's last sale of the month, number 130, one car past the goal of 129.

Special thanks today to Marc Brodlieb and the entire staff of Town & Country Jeep Chrysler Dodge Ram in Levittown for letting us hang around for days. We sent a photographer who does celebrity photographs-- his name is Jeff Minton-- out to Levittown to photograph the sales staff there. And you can see the results at our website, thisamericanlife.org.

This American Life is distributed by Public Radio International. Thanks, as always, to our shows co-founder, Torey Malatia. On a vacation this month in Rome, he stood in line at one point for three hours at the Coliseum, then gave up, went back to the hotel.

Hannibal

At this point, the Romans will think they have won. Let them taste victory.

Ira Glass

Don't worry. He'll be back. I'm Ira Glass. We will also be back next week with more stories of This American Life.

Announcer

PRI, Public Radio International.