Dealerships adapt to pandemic

Published 6:00 am Wednesday, April 22, 2020

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Car dealerships in the area have made adaptations to meet the challenges of conducting business during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s basically just been an ever-evolving change every single day,” Haley Auto Mall General Manager Chris Call said. “We’ve adapted well. We are adhering to all the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines and social distancing guidelines and the different enforcements and rules that have been put in place by the state and stuff of that nature.”

Haley Auto Mall has increased cleaning throughout its entire facility, Call said, including sanitizing common touch areas in all vehicles between showings of those vehicles.

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“So we’re limiting the number of people that we can have in our facility at a time to the 10 guests as required, that type of thing,” he said.

He noted in terms of sales, Haley is doing more business electronically now.

“We’ve had several transactions where we’ve conducted (them) completely off premise with the customer electronically and just simply delivering the vehicle to them once it’s all said and done,” Call said. “We’ve sold several cars to customers that have yet to even step foot in the door.”

Haley is offering a complimentary pickup and delivery service for all of its customers, he said, a service that applies to both the sales and car service sides of the business.

He stated that on the sales side, sales consultants are no longer going on test drives with customers. They simply verify the customer’s identity and insurance.

“What we’re doing is we’re completely sanitizing, disinfecting the vehicle, giving the customer a clean key and basically saying, ‘Here, take this vehicle for a drive by yourself, get acquainted (with) it, whether it be a 10-minute test drive or an overnight test drive,’” Call said. “And then either they’re coming back to the dealership or, again, finalizing that transaction electronically in another way.”

On the car service side, he said Haley is going to the customer’s driveway, disinfecting the vehicle and bringing the vehicle back to the dealership where the vehicle changes hands from the person that picked it up to the technician.

“It’s re-disinfected,” he said. “The technician is repairing the vehicle, then cleaning it again. It goes back to the customer’s house. It’s disinfected in their driveway, and keys are left there for the customer. In most cases it can be a touchless experience, with the customer at least.”

Call affirmed car service has been one of the more active parts of the business right now given the slowdown in sales.

“We’re still seeing people that have the need for automotive repair,” he said. “We’re seeing people that are coming in for less necessary repairs, though, possibly prolonging maintenance and things of that nature. But unfortunately, vehicles do still break down, so we’re still seeing customers here that need to have their vehicles serviced, and we’re providing that service to them.”

Davis GMC Truck Owner and Operator Wayne Davis said his dealership has been offering delivery and pickup services on both sales and service.

He noted that his business had previously done some pickup and delivery in town, but it has now expanded that service during the pandemic.

“We’ve gone as far as 10 miles out for some of the older customers that don’t want to be exposed to any of this stuff and don’t want to come out, but seems like a lot of them are getting bored sitting at home, so they’re willing to take a chance and bring it in anyways,” he said.

Davis stated his dealership is doing a lot of business online now.

“We’re probably doing more now than we’ve ever done,” he said. “It seems like everybody’s shopping online. When they’re coming in here, they’re ready to buy.”

The car service part of his business remains busy.

“We were backed up beforehand, and we’re still backed up,” he said. “We’re probably a week out as far as work goes as far as ahead of time, and then what I’ve really noticed is that the used car market has picked up a lot and the new car market is down. So people are still buying used stuff, but the new stuff, I think people are thinking a little more about getting into a bigger loan than they were thinking.”

Tri-County Ford Inc. President Mark Harding said the novel coronavirus pandemic has definitely hurt car sales in Keysville.

“People aren’t coming out like they normally do,” he said. “This is usually a busy time for us, and it’s definitely depressed traffic — no doubt.”

Tri-County Ford, located at 1348 Four Locust Highway in Keysville, has staff working to clean and maintain social distancing, he said.

“When we present a vehicle or whatever on the lot, we’re keeping our distance as best as possible, and the sanitation that has come with it, we clean and sanitize multiple, multiple times a day in all the common areas and try to keep everything as safe as possible for everyone,” Harding said. “And then also we will deliver to your home. We offer test drives with no salesmen, and we’ll pick up and deliver vehicles back to your place too, so you don’t have to come out.”

He noted Tri-County Ford had offered overnight test drives before, but now they are a little different.

“Before we had a policy that you had to have a deposit and or an approved credit app in order to take it overnight,” he said. “Now, we’ve kind of waived that policy, and yes, we’ll leave it at the house, if necessary, and they can drive it overnight, and then we’ll come back and pick it up at an agreed upon time the next day.”

He said this arrangement has made some customers feel more comfortable.

The internet is also helping Tri-County Ford do business right now.

“We can take a lot of the information through online credit apps and stuff like that, so we can have a lot of the work done before we ever have a customer wanting to finalize a deal,” Harding said. “And then we can have everything printed and completed before they ever get here — or if we take it to them — so that there’s minimal contact with each other.”

He noted there are four facets to Tri-County Ford’s business — part sales, service, the body shop and new/used vehicle sales.

“Each one depends on the other, but as a dealership, we depend on all of them,” he said. “Service has always been a big part of what we do and part sales, so that part is remaining steadfast and true. And then hopefully they’re going to be able to carry a little bit more of the burden here for the next couple months until things get back to somewhat what normal is. I don’t think it’ll be an immediate rebound when the time comes because there’s so many people that are losing their jobs or spending their savings while they’re out of work that may not be able to think about a car for a while.”

Harding said Tri-County Ford is maintaining the same hours and same staff.

“We’re going make sure that we have good people, and we’re going to make sure they’re all here when this is said and done,” he said.