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Brian Carroll had never been fired or let go from a job. Never.

A year ago, he was dumped, very simply, because his boss needed to trim costs. No warning. No dip in performance. Just a handshake goodbye on that Monday morning in late January because the car dealership that employed him for eight years needed to save money.

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“The owner came up to me and said, ‘I’ve been thinking, why should I pay you when I can do what you do?’ And he let me go,” said Carroll, 51, of Macomb Township. “I was driving home, crying my eyes out, to tell you the truth. I thought, ‘What are you going to do? How are you going to make it?’”

He called his wife on his way home.

“It was shocking and overwhelming and upsetting,” Angela Carroll 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 several dealerships in Detroit and southeastern Michigan. And now he was out in the cold. Literally.

Then a guy called wanting a car. Carroll said he didn’t work at the dealership anymore. And the buyer said he didn’t care. Carroll decided then he would go solo. Not as the usual car “broker,” who tends to charge a direct fee to shoppers, but as a car “concierge” who planned to charge customers $0. He 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, not by choice but by necessity. All by word of mouth.

‘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.

Just 367 days after losing his job, Carroll is selling 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 explained: “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.”

Last week, Cox Automotive released the results of a new report titled “Reimagining the Automotive Experience” that suggests Carroll may be a bellwether.

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“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 in releasing the study.

Only one in three consumers is “very satisfied” with the current dealership model, “demonstrating an opportunity and need for improvements,” the research shows.

“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.”

For now, options to visiting the dealership are limited, she said.

Carvana provides the ability for buying used cars at a kiosk or online and the vehicles are dropped off at customer’s houses. There are some dealers offering pickup and delivery options, Krebs said. While car brokers often charge a modest flat fee from buyers who want to avoid haggling, the idea of an independent car concierge working directly with buyers and getting paid by dealers isn’t widely viewed as an established model.

UNCOMPLICATED

Bryan Rief, 52, of Northville, a Planet Fitness franchisee, has purchased a number of vehicles from Carroll and said it’s nice working with someone who doesn’t try to sell customers something they don’t need.

“We give Brian direction and he takes the lead. He’s a good listener,” Rief said. “He’s really good at not turning this into a complicated, convoluted process.”

Rief’s wife, Laura, purchased a 2019 Mercedes GLC from Carroll.

SHOP BY TEXT

Cheryl Ferrara, 51, a secretary from Macomb Township, turned in her GMC Terrain for a 2019 Jeep Compass.

“My father retired out of GM. This was my first Jeep. It was the best price. And I love it,” she said.

“I’ve been leasing for 20 to 25 years and my least favorite thing to do when my lease comes up is go around to dealerships. 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 fiance bought a Ford F-150 from Carroll. His sister purchased a Jeep Compass, too.

“I told him I needed the vehicle in three days, four at the most,” Ferrara said. “There was no charge, no fee, no nothing. My Jeep arrived spotless with a full tank of gas.

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 III 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, 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.”

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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, that he must be getting big money from someone or inflating prices. But what he does is work now with a network of dealers so he can find the best price and offer options.

“I’m not a broker,” Carroll said. “I don’t even use that word. I don’t know that I have a title. But I’ve learned that if you take a little piece of the pie every time, the pieces will add up to a whole pie. A lot of people try to make a house payment on one deal. I want to be everybody’s ‘my guy.’ If you have an accident. If you have a body shop issue? I take care of things. If you take care of one person, it turns into 10. If you do one person bad, it turns into 100.”

UBER HOME

He went on, “People would be sitting in the dealership four or five hours or the paperwork wasn’t right or the car wasn’t ready. Now I take the car and the paperwork to a customer’s house or office, deliver everything, sign it, bring the lease turn-in or Uber back to the dealership.”

On top of everything, he also has access to company discounts that are so popular with automotive industry employees as well as dealer rebates.

Jeff Dody, 59, a voice actor from New York, will be flying 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. And 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.”

NO MORE FEAR

In retrospect, Angela Carroll, 46, said she can’t believe her husband is thriving professionally while spending more time at home. “He got home at 9:30 or 10 o’clock when the kids were in bed. It was almost like being a single mom. This has given him a lot more freedom. It turned out to be the best thing for our children and our family that honestly could have happened.”

©2020 Detroit Free Press

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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