By John Burton
MIDDLETOWN – The distance between finally taking ownership of a new car – or at least one new to you – and the stress and frustration that comes with looking, researching and haggling for a vehicle can often be long and far.
But Tom Paolella has another idea.
Paolella says it can be an easy trip using a new service he’s now marketing.
Paolella, a township resident, has started a sideline he’s calling Car Concierge Plus, through which he becomes the point man for people considering a new or used car purchase. For a fee, Paolella works with the client, determining the type of vehicle and costs and will do much of the research and negotiating if the client wishes.
“Based upon my knowledge of cars, the car industry, my relationships and my negotiating skills, this is a real service people would pay for,” he said he has discovered in the very short period he’s started Car Concierge.
Paolella, who’s day job is in corporate communications and public relations, has been a “car guy” his whole life, attending the New York Auto Show and classic car shows with his father growing up and keeping up with what new models are coming out, knowing the stats and features, the way some guys follow sports. His wife jokes that he’s a walking Edmunds auto guide.
“Because I can tell you about every make and model and price and gas mileage, what the ratings are,” he said. “It’s something I just stay up on.”
Over the years, Paolella has researched and negotiated for some friends and family members, helping out when they were car shopping.
Recently, he helped a cousin, whose car was damaged in Super Storm Sandy. The cousin then suggested Paolella consider doing this for a fee for others. A lightbulb went off for Paolella who then did some homework, created a website and logo, and started his firm. Since creating the business about 10 weeks ago, he has helped 10 clients, including his wife’s friend, who lives in Colorado.
In July, he helped friends Len and Adele Ruggieri of Lincroft, navigate their way to purchasing a new Subaru Forester. Len Ruggieri, who had talked to Paolella at a barbecue, had been thinking about a new car as the warranty was expiring on his leased Toyota Rav4. He “didn’t want to get stuck paying to fix something I didn’t own,” he said.
Ruggieri had done some research and was considering the Subaru. Paolella then did the phone calling, talking to salespeople. “That can all be a hassle,” Ruggieri said, who was glad to deal with Paolella. “I didn’t have to be bothered.”
Dealing with a car dealer – even visiting an auto showroom – can be an intimidating process, even for those who have confidence in their professional lives, Paolella has seen.
“It’s amazing to me, how sometimes very smart, educated, Ivy League-school people wind up feeling inadequate, feel nervous, the second they walk onto a dealership’s lot,” he said.
Many of those people make mistakes when car shopping, including not coming prepared, he said.
Something else people should do – but usually don’t – when they trade in their current vehicle is to negotiate on the trade-in separately, after a price for the new car has been established. That also goes for any add-ons the shopper is considering. “Everything should be negotiated on its own,” he advised.
A lot of the dealerships have welcomed his efforts, Paolella said.
Some have acknowledged that he is bringing a better-informed consumer to the door – and maybe making it a little harder to get the higher price. But others have told him, “You are bringing us qualified buyers who are ready to buy, have done the research, and sales only have to set up the paperwork,” he said.
No one else seems to be offering this type of service, at least not on the Northeast, he noticed. There are companies, located on the West Coast or Midwest, who serve as brokers and charge on a sliding scale based upon a percentage of the car’s cost and extras.
Paolella said he charges a flat rate from about $300 to a high of $700 or $800, depending on the extent of services provided. Paolella will even pick up the car and bring it to the client for a test drive.
If the client is someone who likes to do the work and enjoys the negotiating, Paolella will work with the client and see if he can get a better price. If he does, he charges half the difference or nothing if he doesn’t get the lower price.
“I love, love the negotiating,” he said. While he likes helping clients, another benefit of the venture will be for his toddler son. The money he’s earning is going into a college fund.