A used car dealer buys and sells a variety of pre-owned vehicles. The used car dealer may be self-employed and have their own premises, or they may work for a large used car sales company in a staff role.
With 31 million cars on UK roads, according to the DVLA, the domestic market for both new and used cars is vast. The cost of obtaining a new car can be prohibitive for most people, so many buyers look to the used car market for purchasing a new vehicle. The market ranges from £100 “bangers” up to the £100,000-plus used supercar market, and there are used car dealers who operate throughout this spectrum. Cars they sell are typically for private road use, although they can be for corporate or rental purposes also.
At its most basic, a used car dealer can be someone who buys and sells a series of cars from home, although candidates should be aware that there are rules governing the number of cars that can be bought and sold within a year without having to register as a “dealer.” The limit is currently 4 per annum. Beyond this, the part-time trader will need to register their proceeds as taxable revenue, and must buy public liability insurance.
The majority of used car dealerships are independently owned operations which buy and sell a range of manufacturer’s makes of car and retail through a fixed premises. The aim is to seek out reliable cars for less than market value (often at auction), and then apply a “mark-up” when a customer is interested in buying the vehicle. Some dealers choose to specialise, either in a specific make of car, or in a certain type of vehicle, for example 4x4s or sports cars.
Independent dealers with their own premises are self-employed individuals, and they derive an income based solely on the combined value of the mark-up of the cars they sell. This is why many candidates choose to sell the odd car from home to get started, and then seek premises when they are confident that they know what they are doing. The cost of premises' overheads often results in early business cessation.
Established dealers with a stock of several hundred cars can bring in revenues in excess of £100,000 per annum, and very large companies such as Carcraft have an annual turnover in the millions of pounds. Small independent dealers can expect around £20,000-£30,000, although it varies widely depending on region and stock rotation.
Candidates who join established retailers may find the basic salary to be very low (around £12,000 for a Midlands dealership). Firms are currently taking full advantage of the “post recession climate” to offer very limited basic salaries. This is because the basic remuneration is supplemented by commission for each vehicle sold. A successful sales person can work with a basic of £13,500, and routinely bring in £60,000 per annum because of their sales commission. The aim of this is to encourage top sellers to perform and make staff work harder for their bonuses.
- Supply a range of vehicles which the public has an interest in purchasing.
- Handle vehicle registration and transfer of ownership V5 documentation for buyers.
- Supply vehicle road tax for stock, in cases where it is a closing factor of sale.
- Locate and purchase stock, usually either at auction or derived from customer trade-in.
- Provide some form of aftercare policy, dependent on the type of vehicle sold and the customer’s demands. This may be a third-party policy.
- Only supply vehicles of sound mechanical quality, to prevent customer dissatisfaction or return.
- Handle administrative paperwork with regards to DVLA documentation and tax.
There are no formal academic barriers to entry, and being an independent dealer requires only that the candidate has a decent knowledge of the used car market. Candidates who wish to join established retailers are expected to demonstrate past success in a sales environment. GCSEs are often the minimum requirement here, although some dealers are more concerned with the candidate’s personality and applied approach to sales than their ability to pass exams.
- Broad knowledge of used vehicle values and paperwork administration.
- Key component of a candidate’s skill set is, “being able to sell ice to Eskimos.”
- This is a fast-talking job that requires excellent and resolute sales technique.
- The salesperson must be able to demonstrate buyer empathy along with sound technical knowledge.
- Must understand “perceptual macro honesty”, to appear genuine and sincere.
- Must have understanding of closing techniques, and the ability to form customer relationships quickly.
As the used car dealer will typically be working within their own premises, this is largely up to the individual. It should be noted that those dealers who wish to sell exotics or luxury cars will be expected to provide a sales environment appropriate to a retailer operating at this end of the market. Most though are nothing more than car parks or disused petrol stations, with a small office where the dealer is able to handle their administration. It is the responsibility of the dealer to provide public liability insurance, in case the member of public injures themselves whilst on the dealer’s premises. It is not a condition that the dealer must provide insurance for any vehicles being “road tested” – legally, this is the responsibility of the driver.
Experience is crucial, regardless of the candidate’s entry point. Established dealers will look for a past history of sales roles, particularly within the used car market. Those candidates who wish to set up on their own will need a diverse and complete knowledge of the used car market if their business is to thrive long term. This is often why new independents begin by trading cars from home. This will provide a grass-roots understanding of rotating stock and maximising margins from each sale. It is then a case of looking for higher used values (increasing potential margins per sale) and increasing the number of cars being sold concurrently (faster vehicle rotation).
The sky is the limit in terms of personal development for independent retailers. There is always the chance to increase the size of one’s stock and move to larger premises, although candidates are limited by the “malleability” and resistance of the used car market at a given time. The usual entry point is to begin by trading a series of cars from home, and then building the business up from hobby to small-scale retailer, usually with a compact rental premises.
Carcraft is the UK’s largest independent car retailer, and they have become so primarily due to their ability to offer vehicle credit to customers whom others have deemed to be credit risks. There are, however, a very large number of “car supermarkets” operating successfully across the UK. There has also been a rise in the number of “disposal” traders, who offer to “buy any car”. Customers looking to sell on luxury cars or exotica would never choose this route as a means of sale, although sellers at the bottom end of the market may elect to use these companies as an alternative to vehicle breakage, as £50 cash-back is better than paying government disposal fees.
Matt Cardy is a used car specialist operating in York, in the North of England. His dealership has an excellent reputation for providing a diverse range of high-end specialist sports cars.
What made you decide or choose to get into this sort of career?
I have been a car fanatic since I was a baby when my parents used to take me out for a drive around the block to get me to sleep! I saw it as a natural career progression, as it's a hobby more than anything, so going to work every morning is a pleasure rather than a chore, such as it would be on the 9-5 treadmill.
Do you have a standard day or a standard type of `exercise'?
Every day is different, so there is no hard and fast timetable of events. We take every day as it comes and work hard to provide the highest level of service to our customers.
What is the most common type of problem/call-out/enquiry to which you must attend?
I don't see any problems, just hurdles that we have to overcome. To stay focused, we have to be positive and have a “can-do” attitude at all times. It requires a great presence of mind to succeed in this game.
What do you like most about the job?
First and foremost I love driving the different cars we buy and sell on a daily basis, as well as meeting new people. You get to meet a diverse bunch of individuals, and it helps that they are enthusiastic about supercars as we are.
What do you like least about the job?
The fact that there's only 24 hours in a day! You’re always up against it, time-wise.
What are the key responsibilities?
There are many responsibilities we have to take care of, but the most important one is to make sure our customers are happy with our products and services. There is also a great deal of (seemingly) complex admin, but when you are successful, it comes with the territory, so you can do it without too much thought.
What about academic requirements? Any formal demands, eg- A Levels?
No. In my industry, common sense is all you need. I left school at 16 to be a mechanic, and now I have a business that turns over 7 figures per year. I would say I'm living proof that academic achievements don't necessarily mean you will be successful. Looking back I would have liked to have done a business degree, but the best way to learn is to do. There's nothing in my industry that requires a lot of knowledge, and what I do need to know, I know where to find the answer.
What is the starting salary and how does this increase over time with promotion?
As a business owner, I don't take a salary as such.
What advice do you have for someone who is looking to get into this as a career?
If you have determination, a passion for the product you're selling, a good manner with people, and a commitment to your customers, you can succeed in this business. Reputation and service are the key elements, and if you can provide that, you'll do well.
What are the most important qualities an applicant must and should possess?
A can-do attitude, a willingness to learn, determination and above all else, to realise you have two ears and only one mouth for a reason. Listen to the customers' needs and act on that.