Sunday, July 10, 2011
Follow me back in time, lets say, oh, to 1994, that’s where the story begins. My husband and I went to a car dealership to trade in our car for a new one. The loan officer pulled up what we owed and asked to see the papers on our old car.
She ran some numbers and told us that the last dealership had pulled some rather unethical practices, not only on the car we were trying to trade in, but on the car before that as well. All together we lost around $10,000.
To make a very long story somewhat shorter we found out that this particular car dealer had TONS of complaints with the attorney general’s office in Washington and Oregon for the same thing that happened to us, plus many more highly questionable practices. A typical dealership might have one or maybe two complaints. This dealership had hundreds.
We were first pretty civil. We called the General Manager and told him our story. We wanted to give him a chance to take care of things. We were told “I don’t care what happened. I’m not afraid of you and I’m certainly not afraid of the attorney general. God bless you.” With that the general manager hung up the phone. Well that pretty much pissed me off and sent me looking for an attorney.
We found an attorney and contacted the hundreds of people that had filed complaints against this dealership. We formed a non profit corporation that would fight back. We started only to get the dealership, whose advertising featured a man (the owner) that was in every one of his commercials wearing his signature eye glasses, to make right the wrong that was done. He always promised “If you don’t come see us today, we can’t save you any money.” Ha, ha and HA!
As a group we decided to put together a picketing campaign. We started out with about a hundred people that were dedicated to the same thing we were. We wanted the people that were harmed through unethical practices to get their money back. We didn't want anything more than was fraudulently taken.
For eight straight months we picketed. We picketed in pouring rain, snow, ice and sunshine. Nothing kept us away from our weekend picketing campaign.
We did TV news interviews, newspaper interviews, magazine and radio interviews. The dealership hired PIs to follow us trying to intimidate us. They planted “bugs” in the plants, along the sidewalks we paced with signs, to hear what we were up to. They tried to scare us, they belittled us, they bullied us, they tried everything to get us to stop. Nothing worked. We kept picketing and did so until justice was served.
We had some killer signs. We had a huge shark, one of my favorites. One of our guys had a sign that read “This guy screwed more people than Wilt Chamberlain.” Even our little 3 year old carried a sign from his stroller. It read “My daddy says lying is wrong.” We had a huge toilet sign, we even had a “wall of shame.”
On the wall of shame we posted all of the bad deals that had been made. We handed out fliers that outlined how to buy, or lease, a car without being taken to the cleaners. At the time the State of Washington had very lax leasing laws that the car dealers used to their advantage. The consumer was at a huge disadvantage.
For eight months this dealership took us to court and for eight months the courts ruled that we had every right to picket and alert consumers to the shady practices the attorney general had already identified.
In the end every consumer that had been harmed got every cent back that they’d lost. How they lost the money, and the practices used by the dealership, would take several more posts and this post is just giving you the background so you can understand the significance of what happened this morning.
In the end the dealership paid out over $12 million dollars in fines, restitution to consumers and lost revenue. In the end we got the laws in the State of Washington changed. In the end our little non profit group helped turn around countless questionable car dealerships. In the end we got the owner of the dealership to agree never to sell cars in the State of Washington again, ever, without our consent. In the end the consumer won.
This morning when we walked into Starbucks a man was watching us as we entered. He watched as I said “Hey, look, that’s ..................” He watched me as I said his name, he heard me as I said his name. He probably thought I recognized him from the commercials he had done after being “let go” by that dealership we picketed. He ended up coming to Oregon and bought his own dealerships. He made his own commercials. I know he thought I recognized him from those commercials.
We decided that after 17 years it was time to bury the hatchet. We walked over and you could tell the man recognized us, but he wasn’t sure where from. As soon as he heard our names his countenance changed.
But we were friendly, even shook his hand. He told us that he just moved to our little town and named a street he lived off of. “That’s funny. We live off the same street.”
“Oh really? Where?”
“The first cul-de-sac to the left.”
“Oh, I see lots of children playing there when I drive by.”
“Those kids are our children and grandchildren.”
He then told us exactly where he lived, kind of funny for some one that had once been our sworn enemy.
He, the ex-general manager of that first store our little group picketed, lives right across the street from us, behind our friends’ house. His family moved in just last week.
This week I’m going to put together a “welcome to the neighborhood” basket for him and his family. I think it’s time to begin anew.