These days much is written about alternative lifestyles, alternative medicine, and even alternative jazz. So, why not alternative car buying?
“Actually, Cartelligent doesn’t sell cars,” insists president and CEO David Shapiro, already an experienced Sausalito businessman at age 31. “We sell a service that provides a better car-buying experience.”
Apparently he’s onto something. Cartelligent’s sales have increased each year since it opened in 2000: in ’04, sales were $1.3 million, in ’05 $1.8 million, and last year they topped $2.5 million. Now Shapiro is contemplating boosting sales staff from 25 to 40 and adding two new Bay Area locations. “This business has tremendous potential,” he says. “Who wouldn’t want to buy a new car at the lowest possible price, get exactly what you want when you want it, and with everything done in a straightforward way with no haggling or hassles?”
So what exactly is Cartelligent?
First, meet David Shapiro. Growing up in Tiburon, while others his age were flipping burgers or lifeguarding for summer jobs, he was working at auto dealerships washing cars, delivering paperwork and learning, as he puts it, “the good, the bad and the ugly” of the business. “On one hand, I loved it,” he recalls. “But I also felt there must be a better way.”
And so, after graduating from Redwood High and UC Santa Barbara, he launched Cartelligent, a one-stop business that, in addition to helping customers buy or lease cars, arranges financing and insurance.
Here’s how the purchasing part works: first you consult ads, the Internet or any other resources you need to “build” the car you want—make, color, model, accessories—and decide what price you’re willing to pay. Next you convey this data to a Cartelligent staffer and pay a service fee, ranging from $300 to $1,000 depending on how esoteric a set of wheels you’re looking for (the average is $500). Then you stand by for a phone call saying your car is ready to buy.
To find that car, the Cartelligent staffer will contact no less than five dealers who handle the ride you’re looking for and negotiate your price. “Though your car will be delivered by us in Sausalito, you actually buy it from the dealer,” Shapiro explains. “And if a customer isn’t satisfied we got the best possible price for the exact car he wanted, we will refund the entire service fee.” That’s only been necessary, he adds, for less than 2 percent of the 6,000-plus cars sold over the past seven years.
Meanwhile, temporary paper license plates reading “Cartelligent: the smarter way to buy a new car” keep appearing on all types of cars throughout Marin—an “alternative” proof of the company’s success.