Dan Minner, used-car manager at Sterling McCall Toyota in Houston, knows what it's like to get mobbed.
It happens every year on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving and the unofficial start of the Christmas shopping season. That's the day Minner and his team grab black markers and walk through the used-car lot adorning windshields with special one-day sale prices. For three vehicles the price will be $1.
"There's a crowd following you around, and it can be 50 to 200 people," Minner says. "If you mark a car $1, they go crazy. But if you mark one that they think is too high, you hear moans and groans."
The dealership's "Slicer Sale" has become a Black Friday tradition in Houston since it debuted in 2008. It draws local TV coverage and crowds that start to form at 5 a.m., waiting for the used-car lot to open at 7.
And it reflects one dealership's solution to a challenge that has vexed auto retailers nationwide: How to draw consumers into car showrooms on one of the busiest shopping days of the year.
"There is so much promotional noise out there you have to make sure your marketing is heard," says Mike Maroone, COO of AutoNation Inc., the nation's largest dealership group.
Last year a record 247 million shoppers visited stores and Web sites over the Black Friday weekend, up from 226 million in 2011, according to the National Retail Federation. Total spending reached an estimated $59.1 billion.
Day-after-Thanksgiving shoppers at Sterling McCall Toyota are hoping to land one of the $1 vehicles or else get a special price on another of the 180 to 200 used cars marked down that day.
Consumers are allowed to climb inside vehicles they reckon will get a low price and wait until Minner makes his markdown rounds at 9 a.m. The person in the driver's seat at the time has the first option to buy the car or pass it to the person in the passenger seat.
"The person who is in the driver's seat for the car we mark as $1 is always cheering because they know they just bought a car for a dollar," he says.
This year the dealership has advertised that three vehicles will be priced at $1, 10 under $1,000 and 50 below $10,000. Shoppers can come and browse the inventory before Black Friday.