Brian Carroll had never been fired or let go from a job. Never.
A year ago, he was dumped because his boss needed to trim costs. No warning. No dip in performance. Just a handshake goodbye because the car dealership that employed him for eight years needed to save money.
“I was driving home, crying my eyes out, to tell you the truth," said Carroll, 51, of Macomb Township. "I thought, ‘What are you going to do? How are you going to make it?’ ”
“It was shocking and overwhelming and upsetting,” his wife, Angela, said. “He was very good at his job. We thought we were very stable. I didn’t want him to know how freaked out I was. It makes you sick to your stomach. He had health insurance, a salary, things set in place for the future. I’d been a stay-at-home mom with three boys. I was so scared.”
Carroll loved selling cars. He had worked for dealerships in Detroit, Eastpointe, Clinton Township and Troy. And now he was out in the cold.
Then a guy called wanting a car. Carroll said he didn’t work at the dealership anymore, but the buyer said he didn’t care. Carroll decided then he would go solo. Not as the usual car “broker,” who charges a direct fee to shoppers, but as a car “concierge” who would work on commission.
After all, he figured, fewer people have time to go to dealerships and people like the idea of enhanced personal service. He would ride a trend of changing consumer expectations in the automotive industry. All by word of mouth.
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'Nobody has time'
Ferndale Fire Sgt. Miles Bracali had his 2020 Chevy Silverado delivered to the firehouse.
“For somebody like me who works 24-hour shifts and has an active lifestyle outside the job, with young kids active in sports and school, I don’t always have a day to look at vehicles or another day to sign paperwork,” said Bracali, 50, of Waterford. “I start at 8 a.m., and I get off work at 8 a.m. If we’re running fire calls or medical calls all night, I’m not going to want to sit in dealerships. I want to go home and go to bed.”
He has purchased from Carroll a stable of vehicles for his mother, his sisters and his girlfriend, including a Chevy Suburban, a Chevy Traverse and a Chevy Tahoe.
Carroll sells 30 to 35 cars a month and even as many as 52. He has transformed the car-buying experience for customers in Michigan, New York, Florida and Wyoming.
Andrew Behe, 38, of Oxford wrote an online customer review that praised Carroll as an immediate-gratification "Amazon Prime" experience for car shoppers.
Behe said, “I have four kids, run three different companies, and nobody has time to go to dealerships and spend the whole evening there on multiple days. I told him what I wanted and he brought it to me. He came to my house, picked up my car – a Lincoln Navigator – then drove my new car to my office. I wanted a 2019 GMC Yukon. He picked up the old car and drove over the new car the same exact day."
This week, Cox Automotive released the results of a report titled "Reimagining the Automotive Experience" that suggests Carroll may be a bellwether.
“Consumers are looking for personalized experiences tailored to their specific needs and preferences. Their expectations and demands are getting higher,” Jessica Stafford, senior vice president and general manager of Autotrader and Kelley Blue Book, said.
Only one in three consumers is “very satisfied” with the dealership model, “demonstrating an opportunity and need for improvements," the research says.
"The auto industry from top to bottom is being disrupted, and the dealership experience is no different," said Michelle Krebs, executive analyst at Autotrader, an online car shopping site. "We tested concepts on 2,000 consumers about how to improve the car buying and servicing experience. When people purchase a vehicle, they want it delivered to them at any location at any time, home or office, and if they have a trade-in, they want it picked up. They basically don't want to go to the dealership for certain parts of the buying transaction."
Shop by text
Cheryl Ferrara, 51, a secretary from Macomb Township, turned in her GMC Terrain for a 2019 Jeep Compass.
“With Brian, I didn’t have to do anything. It was all through texts and messages. I told him my price range, what I liked and he got back to me right away asking about mileage, color, whatnot. Then he brought the car to my home, sat at my kitchen table. It didn’t take more than an hour. We signed all the paperwork in the comfort of my home. I don’t know what more you can ask for. He takes the headache out," Ferrara said.
Her fiancé bought a Ford F-150 from Carroll. His sister purchased a Jeep Compass.
For years, Carroll sold only new General Motors vehicles. In his new job, he sells Ford, Jeep, Chrysler, Honda, Toyota, Subaru, Kia, Hyundai, Mercedes, BMW and Mazda, too.
“He always worked for our competitors. When he went out and started his concierge service, that is what brought him into the fold with us,” said Jim Riehl of Riehl’s Friendly Cadillac and Honda in Clinton Township. “He’s not taking away from my salespeople. And paying him is no different than me paying my salesperson a commission. I’m just paying Brian.”
Riehl, 37, of Grosse Pointe is a third-generation car dealer who understands changing times.
“There is somewhat of a society change, somewhat of a trend,” he said. “These are Brian’s customers. These are people who put their trust in Brian. He trusts us, and we trust him.”
Other dealers who work with Carroll declined to be interviewed. And a spokesman for the Michigan Auto Dealers Association did not respond to calls and emails.
Skeptics may wonder how a car concierge can be trusted, suspecting that he must get big money from someone or inflate prices. Carroll works with a network of dealers, so he can find the best price and offer options.
“I’ve learned that if you take a little piece of the pie every time, the pieces will add up to a whole pie. … If you take care of one person, it turns into 10. If you do one person bad, it turns into 100,” he said.
'He's working for you'
Jeff Dody, 59, a voice actor from New York, will fly into Detroit in mid-February to pick up a 2018 or 2019 Cadillac XT5 – he doesn’t care what year, whichever is the best deal. Then he’ll drive it home.
“You know, I’ve bought cars through dealerships before. It takes too long, and it’s not transparent,” he said, having discovered Carroll through referral from family. “It’s just hard to tell when you’re getting taken. You seldom feel comfortable. This has been a piece of cake. It feels like you have your own, what’s the term, car concierge or something. You feel like he’s working for you, as opposed to working for the dealership trying to make as much money as they can.”
Angela Carroll, 46, said she can’t believe her husband is thriving professionally while spending more time at home. “This has given him a lot more freedom," she said. "It turned out to be the best thing for our children and our family that honestly could have happened.”
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Fired car salesman Brian Carroll thrives in word-of-mouth business