Closing a deal, one dollar at a time

Rick Kranz is product editor for Automotive News.

A few decades ago I worked at a neighborhood newspaper in Chicago.

One of the advertising salesmen, Joe, had previously been employed as a new car salesman at a nearby Ford dealership.

He shared a number of stories, some fairly humorous, about a few of his Falcon, Fairlane and Galaxie buyers at the dealership, which was located on Chicago's Northwest Side.

One day, the timeframe was some time in the '60s, two elderly women walk into the store.

"They were shopping for a big station wagon, a white Country Squire," I remember Joe telling me.

This was Ford's flagship wagon, the model with the fake wood paneling on the side. It was a head turner. Ford sold more wagons than Chevrolet back in those days.

After spending several hours debating about options, haggling over price, the two women sign the paperwork and provide a cash deposit for the order. The Country Squire is expected to be built and delivered in about five weeks.

The day the Squire arrives, Joe calls, tells one of the women the wagon is ready.

The following afternoon, Joe is sitting at his desk in the showroom, and he happens to see the two women climb off a Chicago Transit Authority bus. They walk toward the dealership, carrying four paper shopping bags, the type provided by a grocery story, one each in hand.

They enter the dealership and slowly walk to Joe's desk.

"Hi. All I need is a bank check and you will be ready to drive out the door," Joe says.

The women place the four bags on his desk.

"The money is in the bags," one of the women says.

Joe looks in one of the bags. Crumbled newspaper pages are on top. Beyond that, the shopping bags are filled with white business-style envelopes. Sticky tape prevents the flaps on each envelope from opening.

A company name is printed on each envelope. The women are photographers.

Joe opens several envelopes. Each is stuffed with cash, $1 bills, no larger denominations. Some envelopes have $3 or $4, others more. The amount differs in each envelope. At the lower, left-hand corner of each envelope, the dollar amount is written in pencil.

The women made their living snapping classroom photos, the typical school shot with the kids politely sitting behind a desk, the teacher standing to the left or right of the students, politely smiling. Many of the elementary schools were located in blue collar neighborhoods. Few checkbooks here, most bills are paid in cash.

Joe calls the sales manager. The four bags are quickly whisked into the dealer principal's office. Joe, the sales manager, the dealer principal, another salesman and the two women are crammed into the small office.

The office is hot, the air is stale. The desk is cleared, the office door is closed, and one grocery bag is handed to each of the four members of the dealership, each standing in the office.

The envelopes are opened. The dollar bills are placed on the desk, thousands of $1 bills.

I don't remember the exact cost of the wagon but I believe Joe said it was around $3,500 or so.

From time-to-time, dollar bills accidentally fall off the table. Sometimes three or four, sometimes a stack, forcing a recount. The two women, the only two people sitting in the office, closely watch their cash.

Finally, after about 90 minutes or so of double counting and triple counting the $1 bills, the dealer principal is convinced the cash matches the price of the Country Squire.

There is a sigh of relief but his question is inevitable. The dealer principal's frustration is clearly in his voice as he addresses the two women.

He asks: "Why didn't you give us a bank check?"

There is silence.

Finally, one woman responds, almost in a whisper: "We don't believe in banks."

If you have a humorous story that occurred at a dealership, a true story, send a note to rkranz@crain.com

Your story might appear here.

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