I feign brushing back my hair in the hope of hiding the crackle of insults spewing from my earpiece. For 45 minutes, I've been doing the new-boat buying tango with not one partner, but two-the sales guy in the showroom, and the one barking in my ear, a 15-year pro whom I've assigned the task of getting me through this in one financial piece. Thanks to the miracles of hidden microphones and videocameras, earpieces that would make the Secret Service proud, and an unmarked van in the dealer's lot that has half the inventory of Circuit City, my undercover pro has been coaching me in how to get the best deal possible. He tells me just what-and what not-to say. I'm like a ventriloquist's dummy; I open my mouth, but it's his words that come out.
Thanks to the voice in my ear I call "Oz"-as in the great and powerful wizard behind the curtain-I'm going to prove that anyone can walk out of a dealership with both the boat he wants and a little cash left over. Oz knows all the tricks and gimmicks. He understands just how easily a person like me can be overwhelmed. No, we don't intend to bleed the dealer dry. Like you and me, a dealer has to make a living. What we don't care to do, however, is unnecessarily pad a salesperson's wallet.
Yeah, it's funny at times, even comical: You try carrying on one conversation while another plays out in your ear. It took a few tries to get it right. But in the end, it worked.
STOP 1. Feeling like the snitch who never makes it out alive in one of those bad 1950s detective movies, I look for a salesperson to engage in some one-on-one interaction. The weekend before, I cased this dealership during a local boat show, and over the past three days I've scoured the Web for information on my boat of choice.
And here he comes. The nametag says Rick. I mention the boat I saw at the show and we're off. Right away, Rick blocks my first volley at the net. "Sorry," he says with bravado, "that deal was good only at the show."
Oz pounces on this. "Come on, this guy's not even a challenge. Add up the show space, travel expenses, and all the other associated costs, and you'll discover it actually costs the dealer more to sell at the show. Keep demanding the show price. If he wants a sale, he'll cave."
I do, and after a few weak attempts to block me again, he does. Well, sort of. Rick gestures me toward the boat in question and promises to see what he can do about persuading his manager to honor the show price. Acting as if he's done me a favor, the guy even tries an early closing technique. "If I can get you the show price, can we sign the papers today?" Easy pal, we're not done yet. I mutter something noncommittal and listen as Oz fills me in.
According to the master, there are two kinds of salesmen-runners and jumpers. "Runners are just plain afraid to lose the deal-they'll cut right to the bottom line. Jumpers are a tougher breed-they'll move down in increments, then stand tough." On Oz's advice, I asked around the docks over the past week and learned Rick was a first-class runner. Upon returning from a conversation with his manager, Rick was able to knock about 20 percent off the sticker price. "Yep," says Oz confidently, "he's our boy."