The first thing you ought to know about Frank Angelito is he doesn't exist. I mean, there are a thousand guys just like him, sort of. But Frank's not one of them. His car dealership up on Route 128 outside Boston - it isn't there. Don't even bother looking for it. The National Automobile Dealers Association never heard of him. Software salesmen don't bother calling the guy. Nobody does.
Lucky me. I think we've met. Bernard Buyett, market rep. Not-det-Dot Solutions Inc. E-mail address [email protected] You've got my card.
My boss down in the regional office in Connecticut has been asking me what's up with this Frank Angelito guy. How come Angelito's not on my call reports? 'Angelito's in your territory, and I'm seeing nothing,' he says. 'What's the problem?'
So I call around and find out a little bit about him first. Turns out he's old money. Old, old money store. Everybody in the region seems to know the guy, even though nobody knows anything about him.
I get an appointment to go call on him. He's got a girl who does all of his appointments, like maybe he's never there or something. I ask her, 'I mean, is Mr. Angelito the right person for me to be talking to about the business, or is there someone else, you know, like a son or a grandson or something?'
And she goes, 'Oh, no, no, no. You'll need to talk to Mr. Angelito himself.'
So I show up at the dealership, and it's like every other old dealership. Totally nondescript. Quiet. Too quiet. Which is good for me, you know, since my whole pitch is going to be on bringing the place out into the light a little more. Putting in some technological solutions to wire the business a little bit. I'm sizing the place up while I wait. I see a couple of potted plants that are probably as old as I am, and maybe a couple of factory poster boards - 3-D cutouts of a man and a woman with a dog, like maybe that's supposed to make you want to buy a new car or something. A box of doughnuts is on the reception counter, but there's only one doughnut left.
While I'm waiting, one salesman comes over and asks if he can help me, and then a few minutes later, another one comes over and asks the same thing.
And there comes the girl to meet me in the showroom. She takes me in to Angelito, who's apparently been jawing on the phone the whole time. He stands. We shake. We smile. We sit down, and I immediately start in on my bit about how would you like to quadruple your business.
'Hang on a minute, Mr. Buyett,' he says. 'Constance? Before I forget, tell Paul that Speedy Thrift wants to order seven of the sedans. He needs to get the contract over to them as soon as he can.'
The girl goes, 'You mean this week?'
'This week. Next week. Whenever he can. Now, Mr. Buyett, I'm sorry to interrupt you. What were you about to say?'
I had to think about the seven cars for a second. 'What's that? Fleet business?' I ask him.
'Old friends,' he says.
Well, to get back on track, I go through my whole introductory spiel and tell him about our new line that we've just rolled out, the SensoSell Info Booth. I describe it. It lets the customers actually climb inside and experience the vehicle ride while they touch items that appeal to them on a live-action video screen. All the information is fed into the store PCs, and by the time the customer walks out of the booth, you've got a whole buying profile with financial parameters. The personal identification is run simultaneously through all 50 U.S. motor vehicle departments to download a complete ownership history going back to 1975.
A LITTLE SUGAR
'Now, there's what I've been waiting for,' Angelito says real excitedly.
'It is?' But he's looking past me at the girl, who's walking in with a white pastry box tied up with string.
'You like cannoli, Mr. Buyett?' He gets his scissors out and opens the box. Big tan cannolis with creamy stuff spilling out both ends. 'Thanks, Princess,' he tells the girl. 'Mr. Buyett, did you meet my daughter? Constance, this is Mr. Buyett. He's one of those computer fellows. Constance is my youngest. She's going to take over the business. Both of my sons are in real estate. You want some coffee to go with the pastry? Honey, can you get us some coffee?'
I bite into the big cannoli, which turns out to be a mistake because Angelito takes over the conversation.
'Look, Mr. Buyett, I got to tell you, I don't think this computer stuff is for us here at Angelito. I really think we're doing fine. Please don't think me impolite - here's a napkin - but all this Internet stuff, you know. I read. I know how this new technology of yours works. But we're doing just fine here. I was doing fine here when my grandfather was sitting at this desk, and I'm doing fine now, and I believe my girl will do fine here, too.'
Plan B: I go for the gut. I wipe the cream filling off my mouth and lean forward: 'But Mr. Angelito, don't you worry that the entire auto industry is going this way and you're not? I mean, please don't think I'm rude, but doesn't it worry you a little that your daughter will take over one of the last car dealerships in America that still operates the same way it did in the 1950s?'
'That's supposed to worry me?' Angelito asks, pastry crumbs falling from his lips. 'Think about it. I agree. I am doing it the same way my dad did it in the 1950s. And I'm still in business! What's that tell you? It tells you I'm doing something right, doesn't it?'
'No, Mr. Angelito. I mean, yes, you're right. You have been doing something right, very clearly. But not anymore, I'm afraid. Things are changing now.'
'Like they weren't changing in 1971 when I took over this place? Are you old enough to remember the energy crisis?'
DUM DUM-DUM DUM
I try to rescue the conversation with another pitch: Internet sales. I tell him about our new NetdotGlue Web site service. Not only do we design your site; we actually serve as the site manager, linking you to third-party buying services. We can deliver any Web surfer in the United States to your site, based on his use of keywords that you select.
'I got a Web site,' Angelito says.
I am floored. 'You do?'
'Yeah, I got a Web site. Started it up two years ago. The factory put the arm on us. They said put one up or else.'
'Really? How's it going?'
'Who knows? People contact us. Constance does all that. I think we get four or five people a month.'
'OK. OK. That's not great, but see? It's a benefit, isn't it?'
'A benefit? I don't know about that,' Angelito says. 'It's just like a telephone. Somebody calls on the phone, they call on the Web, what's the difference? They still got to come down here to drive something off the lot.'
'Right, right. But what if I told you we could funnel 100 calls a month onto your site?'
'A hundred calls a month?'
'Who are they?'
I stop in my tracks again. 'Why do you ask that?'
'I mean, are these 100 people saying, `Sell me a car,' or is this 100 people who don't know from nothing? Because if you're talking about shoving 100 people on me every month who are just going to waste my salesmen's time, then what's the point? And if you're saying you can talk 100 people a month into buying my cars when I know with some certainty that even the factory can't seem to do that, then I think you're trying to sell me snake oil. And if you're telling me you know 1,200 people a year in this market whom I don't know about who want one of my cars and they don't know how to find me, I'd say you need to get out in the sunlight a little more. What do you take in your coffee?'
I take the coffee from Constance's hand.
'But you know, Mr. Angelito, the Internet is just a tool. Just like electricity. I mean, you wouldn't operate this place by gas lamps, right? You've got lights and wall plugs and the whole bit to make your life easier, right? That's what some of these systems will do.'
'Tell me,' I go on. 'How much time do you waste going to auctions? If you're like everybody else, you probably wait three weeks for the auction to come up, send a salesman and then trust him to come back with the right products.'
'You can't trust them to do that,' Angelito agrees.
'That's right. But what if you could buy your auction cars over the Net?'
'No, I'd never send somebody else. That's why I go. I've always liked the auctions. I like the atmosphere. I make a little vacation out of it. You meet people. Old friends. Do a little business. What are you saying? Give that up?'
'OK, forget that. Take our new factory-ordering software. It's called PrecisionX. Whatever factory you want to deal with, we serve as an overlay. The software computes what you've been selling and then instructs you on ordering exactly what vehicles you want.'
'You think I don't already know what I want?'
'Well, really, Mr. Angelito, how can you? I mean, take one look out there at your sales lot.' I get up and open his venetian blinds. 'You must have a two-month inventory out there.'
'I'd say a little more than that.'
'Exactly. And NADA says 45 days should be your maximum,' I point out.
'Well, fortunately, NADA doesn't run this store. I do. But what's your point?'
'All I'm saying is if you could analyze your sales - I mean, know exactly what you've been selling every month for the past two years - wouldn't that be a helpful tool? Wouldn't that help you know exactly what inventory to invest in? Wouldn't that help you sell cars?'
'Sure,' he agrees. 'Of course it would. That's why we've always worked so close with the factory. That's why we have such a nice big selection.'
. . . WE'LL CALL YOU
'But look at all the money it's costing you,' I tell him. 'How can you justify that waste?'
'Waste!' he says, putting his coffee down. 'What's the matter with you? I'm making $1,500 to $1,800 a car retail. Why would I cut back my inventory?'
'OK,' I tell him. 'OK.' I am trying to stay focused. 'I guess what I'm trying to offer your store today is something to help you survive into the next decade. Obviously, things are going well for you right now, but ...'
'Listen, Mr. Buyett,' he interrupts me. 'I guess what I'm talking about is what's in this for me? Do you know what I'm saying here? Where's all this pencil out? Do you know what I'm asking you? Where's the payback? Can you show me that? Can you show me how much more money I'm going to make from these systems and computers of yours than I'm already making? Can you show me where the honest-to-God breakeven point is for me after I spend all the time I'd have to commit to convert everything we're doing here and everything my dad and his dad did into something that, when you come right down to it, depends on whether the telephone lines are operating clearly and whether my general manager can get his salespeople to sit in front of a computer screen?'
He isn't getting it.
'Can you tell me that after it's all said and done, I'm going to sell one extra car a month? Do you know something I don't know?'
He just isn't getting it.
I decide to leave it open. 'Can I get back to you on this?' I ask him. He seems like a decent old guy. I thank him for the pastry, and I drive home, wondering what I'm going to write on my call report.
Like I say, this Angelito guy, he thinks he's got it pretty good, but he doesn't even exist.