Every year, the folks at Gallup survey Americans about our perceptions of the honesty and ethics in different professions. These professions are then ranked based on how many of us say the people in that career rate as "very high" or "high."
For the last decade, I've used the poll as a talking point in my public relations class. Nurses usually top the list as the most honest and ethical professionals; in December, they came in first with a rating of 80 percent.
On the other end of the spectrum, members of Congress clocked in at 7 percent, stealing the title of least honest and ethical. But it hasn't always been so; in fact, it usually isn't.
Gallup's historical overview of the poll shows that members of Congress enjoyed double-digit ratings not so long ago — 25 percent of respondents actually rated them high or very high in 2001. Car salespeople, however, have never seen double-digit approval.
This year, they came in at 8 percent.
To find out what life is like on the bottom, I reached out to a few sales managers at used-car dealerships. I got sent to voicemail. No return calls.
So I tried an acquaintance to see if he would chat with me. After a few days of phone tag, that trail ran cold.
(Guess you can't blame people for not being game to talk — journalists aren't exactly earning stellar reviews, either. In 2012, the last year the profession was included, we came in at 24 percent.)
Just as I was beginning to think no one would bite, I got an assist from a couple of people at the Indy and was put in touch with Ben Faricy, president of The Faricy Boys dealership. "I welcome the call," he told me.
Why? He says he embraces the opportunity to talk openly about his work. He's well aware of the stigma around it.
Faricy, 37, says he's seen Gallup's poll pop into his newsfeed before. And he understands why his profession has historically ranked so low. "I think that everybody has had experience or knows of someone who feels like they were taken advantage of when buying a car," he says.
Many people envision the car-buying process as wheeling and dealing, with lots of wiggle room for getting to the final price. But Faricy, whose 70-employee dealership sells new Jeeps and Chryslers and used cars, says the margins aren't what people think. And, he notes, the car-buying landscape has changed.
That point seems hard to argue. Buyers today can easily find nearly as much information online about a vehicle's features and price as the salesmen have. Sites like carbuyingtips.com share strategies for negotiating financing and extra incentives. Plus, web outlets and even Costco offer no-haggle buying options.
When a buyer walks into a dealership today, it's often with a fully formed transaction in mind. And often, that's the transaction that goes down. A 2014 report from the McKinsey consulting firm showed that the average car buyer today visits 1.6 auto dealerships while shopping; 10 years ago, the average was five dealerships.
The way he sees it, Faricy says, there are two types of people in his field: those who have embraced the changes and enjoy the increased transparency, and those who are still hoping it will go away. But adaptation, Faricy says, is nonnegotiable. In his office, he has a framed photo of his grandfather, who started the family business 70 years ago. He's wearing white shoes and a plaid jacket, smoking a cigar, permed hair atop his head. "It's a reminder," he says good-naturedly, "of how far we've come."
Things change. The market demands it. So even if poll respondents don't see it today, people like Ben Faricy believe there's hope for the car dealer. In the meantime, Faricy says, he'll appreciate that car salesmen are no longer at the absolute bottom of the barrel. And he'll offer a little advice for the politicians who have taken that spot: "You better figure out how to justify your existence."
Congresspeople, too, can keep doing things the way they've been doing them and watch their approval numbers fall, or they can communicate better, more honestly and transparently, with those they serve. Those who take the latter approach just may be seen as respectable — even honest and ethical — individuals, rather than as members of a hopeless tribe.
"I think there are good people in every profession," says Faricy, "and bad people in every profession."