According to Patrick Lewis, it should take 60 minutes, tops.
"You look for a car, you see it. There's an invoice. There's a trade-in...then there's financing," said Lewis, a big man with a big voice. "The whole deal from beginning to end really shouldn't take more than an hour."
All those who have bought a car will dispute his claim. Between the research, actual search and aggravating limbo game of "how low can you go" most people will spend half a day purchasing a car. But Lewis is playing in an entirely different ballpark when it comes to buying cars. Fortunately for car buyers everywhere, he's on your team.
Lewis is the owner of Napa Valley Automotive Consultants at 513 Lincoln Ave. Suite B., a one-man business focused on becoming the middle man between a customer and their car. For just $199, Lewis will find you a car that matches a client's specifications for the lowest price possible.
"I'm only getting paid by my clients--not by the dealership--so I'm not trying to sell them stuff that is off somebody's lot," said Lewis,who has one of those exuberant personalities that could pull a hermit crab out of it's shell. "When you hire me, I'm there to save you as much money as I can."
First, Lewis meets with a client to gather all the necessary information on the desired car (color, interior, accessories) and then he starts calling dealerships. Once he finds the matching car, he begins his speech which starts with, "Hi, I'm Patrick Lewis, I'm a licensed auto broker."
He offers a price--typically a couple of hundred dollars over or sometimes under invoice -- and if the dealer agrees to it, he consults with the client and within days the transaction will be complete.
Joe Stornetta, operations manager at Paul's Trucking in Napa, first hired Lewis to Purchase his car after overhearing a conversation in a store, "I heard [someone] talking about using a broker instead of buying it yourself. I was looking for a pickup at the time, and I asked him about it. He told me to go see Patrick Lewis and I did," said Sornetta.
In one day, Stornetta had a new truck. He was so impressed he hired Lewis to purchase trucks for Paul's Trucking.
"Instead of us doing all the legwork, he does it for us. We just tell him what we want or need and hang up the phone," said Stornetta of their working relationship. "He calls back in two days, which is unheard of."
But what's to stop the average person from walking onto a car lot, summoning similar chutzpah and demanding similar deal?
"You know something, I don't know that they will sell it to you at that price. You just cant go in and say, 'I want this car for $200 under invoice.' A lot of places will just blow you off. They're not just going to do that," said Lewis.
The key resides in the relationship Lewis has developed with dealerships. Essentially, clients shell out $199 for his experience in the industry. Lewis is self-admittedly ignorant when it comes to car parts, but he's the master of the sale. He's been selling cars and managing dealerships in Napa for over two decades.
"I enjoy selling," said Lewis. But my heart has always been on the side of the person buying the car. I straddled the fence in that the dealership paid me a salary so I owed a certain amount of loyalty to them. But then you owe a loyalty to the people you are selling to in the sense that you to want provide them with good service."
Ultimately, Lewis chose the clients when he opened Napa Valley Automotive Consultants in March 2001. It was a risk; he was 51 years old and starting a new career. In the first few months, his income dropped drastically. He combat was to advertise daily in the newspaper and on television. Day by day, relying mostly on the referrals of satisfied clients, his business picked up speed in a year.
Todady, Lewis still advertises in the paper and on television. But he claims that more than half of his business comes from referrals.
"I don't mean to sound [like a] braggadocio, but you could phone any client that I've overhead, and they will all tell you the same thing. If I don't have a happy client, I won't have anything to do with it," said Lewis.
If his assertions do sound boastful, it's only because Lewis is very confident in his abilities. True to his Lewis won't charge a fee if a customer is unhappy or if he is unable to deliver on a promise. In the case of Paul's Trucking, Lewis not only researches car purchases for the company, he also secures the loan.
"What he does for us is that he goes out and finds the cheapest loans for us, on the trucks. That's the deal," said Stornetta.
Lewis's efforts, while sometimes deleterious to his wallet, have earned him respect. Clients describe him as honest and a good comunicator.
"He made the process so easy and bearable," said Debbie Egan, who purchased a Mercedes Benz through Lewis earlier this year. "I'm trying to think of a great word to describe the experience ... simply great!"
Other benefits included in the $199 fee are financing service and assistance on trade in vehicles. As a licensed dealer, Lewis is able to obtain excellent interest rates from the bank. He then offers the same rate back to his clients without a markup (to qualify, clients must have stellar credit). Lewis will also market a clients trade-in car to several dealers and wholesalers until he obtains the best price.
The business, the way Lewis is running things, is a peculiar mix of capitalism and profitless community service. But Lewis doesn't seem to be in it for the sheer profit. His drive appears to lie in the redemption for an industry tainted with ill repute.
"I get people who come in, these single ladies, or I get a a guy and his wife who are 76 years old. He has played the game of life straight all his life. And now he's going to buy he's last car. He's not as sharp as he was when he was 20. And not every dealership, but there are a lot of dealerships that will absolutely lay this guy away," said Lewis, getting more worked up by the minute.
"And by the grace of God, he hears of me."
Again Lewis doesn't mean to sound like a braggadcio. But a guy who saves the average consumer hundreds--maybe thousands of dollars--is allowed to blow their own horn once in a while.
"I feel good about what I do I sleep well at night" said Lewis "I snore a little, but I sleep well."
Call Napa Valley Automotive Consultants at 707- 255-AUTO/2886 for more information.