Selling a car to a vet? Start with 'Thanks'
Jamie LaReau is an Automotive News staff reporter.
Don't ask me if I've ever killed anybody.
Don't ask me my politics.
We don't all have post- traumatic stress disorder.
We're not all homeless or broke.
Those are a few of the "don'ts" that military veterans would like dealership salespeople to consider, says Chris Walsh, president of the Vets-Cars Group in East Haddam, Conn.
As thousands of troops return home from Afghanistan and Iraq, they create a potential customer base for dealers. But many dealers might not know how to best serve these buyers.
"I've actually had dealers say to me, 'I don't know if my salespeople are comfortable talking to vets,' " Walsh says. "I say, 'All you have to do is extend your hand and say thanks. If a vet wants to talk to you about their experience, they will.' "
Walsh would know. He's a U.S. Air Force veteran.
And he has had a 24-year career working at dealerships.
He started the Vets-Cars Group two years ago, realizing that as soldiers returned from Iraq and Afghanistan, they needed to buy cars. But they also needed a resource to direct them to "the good guys."
"There are a lot of soldier traps around bases," Walsh says. "These are dealerships, jewelry stores and other businesses that will take advantage of these kids and their wives."
Vets-Cars Group endorses about 100 dealerships in 20 states. The dealerships it endorses are those Walsh and his partner have researched and recommend for superior service. An endorsement is not based on pricing but on reputation for integrity and top-notch service.
Eventually Walsh plans to endorse about 800 dealerships, mostly in the top 30 U.S. markets.
And for those dealerships that win endorsement, Walsh also acts as consultant to them. He advises dealers on ways to improve service and earn an ex-soldier's loyalty.
One way is to ask a veteran to sign a "wall of honor."
Says Walsh: "He knows his name is now living in your showroom on a wall."
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