A retired car salesman hits the road with advice for buyers

  • Article by: JEFF STRICKLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 14, 2014 - 2:44 PM

A tried-to-be-retired car salesman softens the hard sell by acting as an ally for car buyers.

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Ted Weinberg, right, recently chatted with client Harry Maron at a car dealership in Golden Valley.

Photo: RENEE JONES SCHNEIDER, Star Tribune

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Harry Maron is in the market for a new pickup truck, a deal he hopes to close by the end of the month. All he has to do is decide on the color.

Really, that’s all he has to do.

Everything else is being overseen by Ted Weinberg, a low-key teddy bear of a man who starts every new conversation with a firm handshake and the words: “I’m Ted Weinberg. And you are … ?”

After spending five decades in the car business, Weinberg has launched Auto Buying Service, where he helps prospective car buyers save money — for free.

Doesn’t that mean that sometimes he’s talking them out of buying the very things he used to try to talk them into buying?

“Yes,” he admitted, “but I’m playing for the other team now.”

Weinberg, 81, semiretired a few years ago, after returning to sales from being a manager so that he and his wife could go south for the winters. He retired for good last year, but quickly realized that he didn’t want to walk away from the business entirely.

He missed the social interaction. He liked keeping abreast of the new models and innovative features. And he discovered that he loved haggling over prices.

“And, if I do say so myself, I’m pretty good at it,” he said.

He also knew that lots of people aren’t very good at it, don’t like to do it or don’t have the time. People often use an agent to help them buy a house, he figured, so why not have one to help buy a car?

“After all, it is the second-biggest purchase a person makes in their lifetime after a house,” he said.

Weinberg estimated that he saves clients between $1,000 and $2,000 by keeping them from being talked into extras that add cost but little value. “Like undercoating,” he said. “That comes standard on most vehicles. It’s not something you should pay extra for.”

Sometimes he accompanies would-be buyers when they shop. Other times, as with Maron, he does all the shopping, and the buyer just shows up to sign the paperwork.

“I don’t have the time to go around to a lot of car dealers,” said Maron, of Big Lake. “I’m a single dad with two busy kids — a junior and a freshman in high school. I coach baseball, and I volunteer a lot. Plus, I’m not very good at [car-buying]. I let my emotions get in the way and end up buying things I don’t need.

“With Ted doing all the work, my job is just to figure out what color I want.”

Helping, protecting

There are fee-based car brokerage services, but Weinberg is adamant about offering his expertise for free. Clients often try to pay him, he said, but he declines. And if someone offers to buy him a beer after they close a deal?

“Well,” he chuckled, “that I would probably take.”

He sees what he’s doing as a public service.

“It’s the way I volunteer,” he said. “Other types of volunteering don’t appeal to me. I love helping people. And I enjoy the activity and the personal satisfaction that comes from having a happy car buyer.”

Weinberg grew up in Minneapolis intending to become a psychologist, but his studies at the University of Minnesota were interrupted when he was drafted. By the time he finished his hitch in the Army, his ardor for school had passed and he segued into sales, taking a job selling Buicks for a long-since-closed dealership in St. Paul.

His initial interest in psychology has served him well, he said. His approach always has been to learn as much as he can about clients in hopes of matching them with vehicles that suit them and their families.

“It’s important to find what you’re looking for,” Weinberg said. “That’s the most important part of this business.”

Many of his clients are fellow retirees. “I protect people who are on a limited budget and make sure they get the best deal out there,” he said.

Rolland White, 85, appreciated having Weinberg on his side when he got a new car recently.

“You always want to make sure that you’re not leaving a whole lot of money on the table, which dealers can do to you,” the Bloomington resident said.

White has been buying cars from Weinberg for “25 or 30 years,” he said. He was calling him about buying yet another one when Weinberg told him that he had started representing buyers instead of sellers. For White, it was an easy decision to enlist his help.

“I trust him,” he said. “If there was ever a problem with a car I got from him, he got it solved. Plus, he knows everybody in town who’s in the car business.”

Fair for everyone

Weinberg insists on dealing with veteran salespeople.

“I want to deal with someone who knows what’s going on,” he said. “I want to negotiate a deal that is fair for everyone. I’m not trying to cut the salesperson out of his commission, and I’m not trying to cut the dealer out of his profit. My ultimate goal is a deal that satisfies both the consumer and the dealership.”

Dealers don’t have any problem with Weinberg’s involvement, said Rob Stewart, the general manager at Lupient Buick/GMC in Golden Valley. In fact, the dealership has a table with a couple of chairs that Weinberg, who served as the manager for a Lupient dealership, is free to use as a makeshift desk.

Car sales at some dealerships are nonnegotiable, but that policy applies only to the cost of the new car. If the potential buyers are trading in a car, Weinberg steps in to haggle over how much the dealer will give them for it.

He also can negotiate the payment plans. Maron drives a lot for his job, and he gets a car allowance from his employer. He has asked Weinberg to arrange for financing in which the monthly payments are as close as possible to that ­stipend.

“That actually is more important to me than the final price,” he said.

Weinberg deals with an average of six clients a month. Some of them are like Maron, who knows exactly the model and options he wants. Although Weinberg visits at least three dealerships to get competing offers, those transactions typically go fairly quickly.

It can take longer if the client is considering multiple vehicles.

“They have to figure it out,” Weinberg said of his clients. “I can suggest cars, but I would never say, ‘This is what you should get.’ ”

His ultimate goal is to make everything as painless as possible for buyers who are not looking forward to the process.

“I get comments like, ‘You made it so easy for me to accomplish a task I really hate doing,’ ” he said. “That means a lot to me.”

 

Jeff Strickler • 612-673-7392

 

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