I Want Your Job: Luxury car dealer

'We deal with a lot of glamorous people'

Alex McRae
Thursday 07 February 2008 01:00 GMT
Clive Sutton says you don't need technical skills to sell cars
Clive Sutton says you don't need technical skills to sell cars

Clive Sutton, 46, is the chairman of Clive Sutton Premier Marques, a luxury-car dealership in St John's Wood, London

What do you do?

I manage a team of people buying and selling premium- brand cars, such as Aston Martins, Lamborghinis and Ferraris. It's a service for people who want to buy luxury cars that aren't yet on the market, or are in short supply. Usually, if you want to buy a new Ferrari, you have to wait several months. We speed things up.

We also offer a bespoke service – I'd call it high-class bling – doing special interiors and electronics, a bit like the TV show Pimp My Ride. For one Arab royal family we fitted a Mercedes with five flip-down laptop screens, so they could surf the net and watch DVDs.

What is a typical day at work like?

I arrive at 8am, and meet the sales team at 8.30am. We review the cars available to buy, discuss logistics, and decide who will ring round to find out how long it will take to get a specific model. At 10am, I have a cash-planning meeting. The average price of our cars is £90,000, and, as we deliver 15 to 20 cars a month, I have to plan our finances very carefully.

In the afternoon, I might review projects with our bespoke division – for example, discussing how to develop a car's exhaust to make it faster and noisier, with an authoritative rumble. I leave the office at 6.30pm, but often work online at home until 10pm.

Why do you love your job?

You might say I'm a petrolhead. I love cars, and especially the kind of cars we deal in. You're not just selling a box, there's a whole relationship built up around the car, because after a customer buys a car, they need to have it serviced regularly. I enjoy motivating my team, and communicating with people. We deal with a lot of celebrities – rock stars, film stars and politicians – which does add a bit of glamour and interest to the job.

What's not so great about it?

You occasionally encounter people who aren't honourable. In the bad old days, car dealers were the butt of jokes, but actually, we do things extremely professionally. It's a shame when you agree something with a customer and they don't keep up their end of the deal.

What skills do you need to do a great job?

You don't need technical skills to sell cars. The role of a car salesman is changing: it's helpful to love cars, but it's more important to be a good communicator. You need to listen so you understand what people want, and be able to follow deals through. When you're selling something, you're selling yourself first, so you need to be personable. You also need to be computer-literate, and able to manage a portfolio of enquiries, as it can take up to a year between enquiry and sale. There's a stereotype of the car salesman waiting in a showroom, like a Rottweiler ready to pounce. My salesmen are well-organised and professional, and they only go to the showroom if they have a meeting with a client.

What advice would you give to someone wanting your job?

There's a graduate course at Loughborough University's Henry Ford College, which gives a good grounding in the motor industry. You could start as a trainee at an established dealership for a good volume brand such as Honda, Ford or Vauxhall, and get a few years experience. If you're a petrolhead, you could move to a mid-market prestige brand such as Audi or BMW. You can't just jump into the top end of the market. You develop sales skills in the volume market, where it's more of a hustle so you need to be hungry and push hard.

What's the salary and career path like?

Starting in a volume dealership, you might earn £25,000-£30,000 – half basic salary, half commission. You might decide that you want to move into management, or to keep selling but move into the specialist car market, where earnings can easily reach six figures because of higher margins.


For more information on training and careers in the industry, visit www.rmif.co.uk; www.motor.org.uk; and www.automotive skills.org.uk

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