Perception Is Reality

I have had an interesting half decade or so to run an experiment on my customers. It wasn’t an experiment I expected to run.

Back in 2005 or 2006 I bought a Hummer H3. Before then I owned three Ford Explorers in a row, all purchased about four or five years apart. After I bought the H3 I started to get lots of questions from my customers, and a lot of times they were almost deriding.

I own a small business, and since I am always the first one there in the morning I park in the closest spot to the front door on one side (so on the other side of the front door the customers get close spots as well) – the point is that you can see the vehicle when you enter the place of business.

When I bought the H3, I was taking a step down in cost of the vehicle – it was a long time ago, but I seem to recall that it was about 10% less then a new Ford Explorer at the time.

Almost immediately, many of my customers would see me and start asking me everything about the H3. When I asked them why the interest, I found out that many thought it was actually an H1 (cost over $100k) or an H2 (cost over $60k). My customers were basically giving me the berries for owning an expensive vehicle – which they thought they were paying for. When I explained to them that it was actually the “baby” hummer and was nothing but a Chevy Colorado pickup with an inline 5 cylinder engine jacked up tall, they calmed down a bit. But I had to go through the story many, many times.

I loved that H3 – it served me well in snow, mud, and was fun to drive, besides the occasional middle finger I would receive from a raging Madison lefty who had decided that the Hummer was the mark of the beast.

But fast forward to last week. I have decided to move on and have bought a new Acura MDX. This thing is like driving a spaceship. It is super fast (300hp), has almost as much room as the Hummer, and is an absolute pleasure to drive. The interior drips with luxury and it has a boss stereo to boot. Bluetooth hands free phone. Beautiful, soft leather seats cushion my weary body after a long, hard day of work. When I back up there is a camera on the back so I don’t even have to crane my neck to see if I am going to run over anyone. Almost all of the controls I need are mounted on the steering wheel so I don’t have to look down while driving. The defrost heats up the rearview mirrors so there is no ice on them. The safety ratings on the vehicle are insane. On and on I could go.

But it has a very unremarkable exterior. It looks nice sure, but to the uninterested eye, it looks like a zillion other cars on the road. And so it does to my customers. Not one person has said one thing about the new vehicle, and I am thinking never will. My H3 received comments FIVE years after I bought it.

So what have I learned with this little anecdotal episode in my life? The world moves fast and not everyone knows – or cares about – the details. Honestly, I am thinking now that I could have had a Porsche parked in the lot and it would have drawn less attention than that $30,000 Hummer. Perception is always reality.

15 thoughts on “Perception Is Reality”

  1. If I were your customer I’d ask why you’d take the parking space by the door and make me walk across the parking lot. Then I’d find a new outlet for whatever you sell.

  2. I think you should park near the front of the store – customers will instinctively know you are open for business. I always wonder why parking lots are empty – Are they closed? Is it a lousy store and no locals want to shop there? Park in front to create the illusion of activity.

  3. About customers responding to a car parked in front; My father had a golf driving range in Park Forest (at Dixie Highway and Joe Orr Road) in the early 1950s. I was a teenager and played golf every day. When I was 14 I played with a group of local pros who worked at the clubs in the area. We would play a tensome on Tuesday mornings for quarter skins. Anyway, when business was slow at the golf range, I would go out and start hitting balls. It never failed that cars would start to pull in and soon we would have four or five people hitting balls.

  4. If you were a real-estate agent you wouldn’t think twice about driving a particular make/model of car (specifics dependent on your market) to present the right image. I don’t think your situation is much different.

  5. In response to the general theme of the thread, it does present the vision of “open” to contractors when they drive by at 5am (or earlier) and see my car in the lot and the lights on. I can’t count the number of sales and friends made by being open that early – most of my competitors don’t show up until 8am and they don’t know it, but they are giving me the opportunity to charge whatever I want (within reason) until that time – an interesting monopoly for three hours a day. Guys are just happy I am here so they can get on with their day.

    As far as the image of the real estate agent – it is different in my business. The people who were giving me the berries about the Hummer consider me one of them – these are mechanics and tradesmen. While many of them make very good money, I found out by having that Hummer out there that you can’t present an image of making too much dough or they think they are getting whacked on price. I asked some of my business associates in other areas of the country about this and it varies. In big cities it doesn’t seem to matter – in smaller towns things are much the same as here.

  6. Years ago I owned a Porsche 944 that I had bought used at a reasonable price. Many of the guys that I worked with at the time had new full sized pick up trucks that they literally paid twice as much for. Most of them wondered how I could afford such an expensive car.

  7. That is funny. The hummer has a very distinctive shape. I believe it was some Italian design guy who said that it engaged the “reptilian” part of our brain.

    I also like that you took my “spaceship” line for this new car. I do think that if you took a person from the 40’s or 50’s for a ride in your new car they’d expect it to take off – really, I am not kidding.

    But as you pointed out a lot of the time it is good to NOT be noticed. After a promotion I have a bigger office that I didn’t request and don’t really need and it is a continuous, distracting conversation starter.

  8. I should have been more clear. I’m sure it’s a good idea to maintain a certain image in your business, but it wouldn’t be the same image that would work for a real-estate agent.

  9. I was in lease financing travelling around rural Louisiana with an equipment dealer in his Mercedes. We stopped to visit one of his customers. Naturally the customer launches into the “I must be paying to much if your driving a car like that” line. The dealer shot back, “I can’t have people thinking my customers aren’t making money! How would that make you look?”

    I laughed. We didn’t close the sale.

  10. When a blogger asks for a second opinion, what is it about the Internet that draws people out of the woodwork to say, “Yeah, well you’re ugly, too!”

  11. Paul you get used to it after a while – just comes with the territory but the pay is good here so I don’t mind. My favorites are those who read half (or less) of the post then rant on you. So it goes.

  12. This is slightly off-topic, but every single time I read about a Hummer I think of the time the man in front of me at checkout at BJ’s paid for his purchases with a benefit card and then proceeded to put everything in his Hummer in the parking lot.

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