DETROIT — Selling cars is only part of what Lindsberg Pettway does in his job as a Chevrolet salesman.
A former high school principal who’s now the floor sales manager at Feldman Chevrolet of Livonia in suburban Detroit, Pettway says he brings transparency to the process. This is the basis of his presence on TikTok and Instagram, where in four months he’s amassed a combined 40,000 followers by sharing car-buying tips and offering glimpses into dealership life.
His steady stream of humorous and thought-provoking content covers an array of topics. Pettway, 50, sometimes provides advice for buyers with low credit scores or explains how people with repossessions on their records can get approved for a new car.
One of his more amusing videos shows how a salesman feels after spending eight hours with a customer who then buys from another dealership. A dejected Pettway mopes around in the dealership to the backdrop of “How You Gonna Act Like That,” a heartbreak anthem from R&B singer Tyrese.
Pettway isn’t afraid to wade into more serious themes either. His most popular video shows how Black customers can be stereotyped by Black salesmen just walking into a dealership. That clip has been viewed nearly 3 million times on TikTok and received more than 49,000 likes on Instagram.
Pettway’s videos are produced by Toria Creative Co., a digital marketing company in Detroit. Founder Toria Davis was introduced to Pettway by a store manager after buying a car. Davis’ assistant, Lizz Jones, also helps craft content.
“You have to do something that’s going to separate you from the person sitting next to you and the dealer up the street,” Pettway told Automotive News.
Followers sometimes come in specifically to buy a vehicle from Pettway. He attributes three of his sales directly to people seeing his TikTok videos since starting the account in February and has fielded at least 20 calls from viewers looking for tutelage.
His growing fanbase often asks Pettway for advice in the comments section, which sometimes prompts him to respond with another video. Viewers frequently send messages saying they wish they lived close enough to shop at his dealership or to express their appreciation for how he presents information.
In the ‘unc’ stage now
Pettway has even earned “unc” status from some commenters, a term of endearment that’s short for “uncle.” He says that title is recognition of his maturity.
“I say this very, very humbly, but it’s kind of a reflection of who I am,” Pettway said. “I was in education. Being a teacher, everyone kind of came to me. I was the one that would offer everybody advice and keep it for real, so it feels good. Being 50 years old, having some experience in life … I’m in the ‘unc’ stage now. I had a problem with it at first, but it’s cool.”
Pettway began selling cars in March 2017 after 18 years as an educator. He’d lost his job at a school after sustaining a knee injury breaking up a fight and found himself unemployed for eight months when the car business came calling.
Pettway, who is also a personal trainer, learned of the Feldman Chevrolet job after a client asked him if he wanted to sell cars. The client’s nephew was the store’s general manager.
After landing the sales job, Pettway formed his own brand, 4REAL Automotive. He has since launched a website that includes biographical information and inventory listings for Feldman Automotive Group.
Pettway began engaging with the social sphere early on, starting with posts showing happy customers. He sometimes shared photos of his stylish ties and socks, which garnered enough attention that people would ask what he was wearing each day.
He branched out and began making radio promos and local TV ads that he paid for, touting the 4REAL brand and Feldman Chevrolet.
Then Pettway met Davis, who helped adapt his strategy. Instead of centering on 4REAL, Davis said the focus should be on Pettway because viewers would identify with him, not the brand.
Davis said the inspiration for Pettway’s content is largely rooted in some consumers’ dislike of the car-buying experience and their belief that salespeople are scammers.
“We took the core issues that are front-facing in the industry and then evaluated that against Lindsberg,” Davis said.
“What does he represent? He’s trustworthy. People immediately drop their guard with him and they don’t get that scammy feeling. He doesn’t just sell you a car; he’s interested in making sure that you actually understand what’s going on. He’s transparent about the deal.”
While moving metal is the name of the game, Pettway tells viewers not to buy if their situation isn’t ideal.
He does the same for clients who sit down with him. Pettway will pull their credit report and go through it with them to find delinquent debt they didn’t know about or signs they can’t actually afford the car they want. In some cases, he tells them they may be better off waiting to make a purchase.
Pettway is even open to helping people who are buying somewhere else. He recalled assisting a football player at the University of Illinois by suggesting a few questions to ask the salesman about a purchase. The player used his advice to negotiate a better deal.
Not all observers are thrilled with his methods. “I have gotten criticized for doing this,” Pettway said. “Someone sent all my managers at my dealership, the [general manager], an email saying that they should fire me. Said that I’m a threat, what I’m doing is so unnecessary, but that just goes to show that I’m going down the right path.”