Local dealers discuss impact

Published 4:05 pm Friday, December 19, 2008

As talk circulates about the big three auto companies—General Motors, Chrysler and Ford—discussing mergers, bankruptcy and bailouts—local dealerships explain their affect on the local economy and how they, much like many local businesses, have dealt with tough economic times.

Reggie Dean is the owner of Dean Chrysler Dodge Jeep, which employs 15 people, including his two sons, Shawn and Reggie.

Dean estimates car sales at his business are down between 30 and 40 percent compared with 2007. Dealing with the struggling economy and a decrease in sales, he said they have worked to keep their expenses down to keep afloat in the tough market. A major way they have cut costs is limiting their advertising.

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An unfortunate aspect of cutting cost has been the number of their community donations the dealerships provides. Dean said some of the civic organizations and community events (pageants, local sports, school trips) they have traditionally sponsored, had to be cut out of their budget.

Dean also pointed to the impact dealerships have on state and local governments providing 3 percent of sales to local option sales taxes such as the Special Purpose for capital improvements, Local Option for local governmental operations and Education Option, which is earmarked for capital improvement projects related to education such as the construction of the new Bainbridge High School, as well as 4 percent of sales revenue to the state government.

He said the credit market is the major obstacle the auto industry is facing today.

“The bailout package hasn’t done what it was designed to do,” he said. “It’s not that people don’t want to buy cars; it’s harder to get them financed. It’s just not as easy as it was six months ago to get them financed.”

He explained that his dealership has been fortunate to have lenders outside of Chrysler that have been more lenient with retail agreement contacts. Dean noted the parallels between the automobile market and the housing market with lenders implementing stricter guidelines and higher interest rates.

Riverbend Ford, which employs more than 30 people, has also made efforts to cut costs.

Regionally, Southern Ford dealers have reported that through September sales were down 34.9 percent compared to 2007. Dealing with reduced sales, Sales Manager Garet Franklin said they have spent time looking at their forms of advertising, trying different mediums and cutting back as a whole.

“We are looking at every expense and seeing how we can reduce it,” Franklin said.

Franklin explained the market is there and people want to buy cars, but it has become harder to get people to commit to buying a car.

“People are scared to spend money with the market the way it is,” Franklin said.

Riverbend Ford also sponsors numerous community-wide events, from the Sheriff’s Golf Tournament to the Bainbridge High School football programs. Franklin said they have continued to provide support, but much more attention is paid to what and how much they sponsor.

Overall, both Dean and Franklin expressed optimism about the future saying that cars are selling and business has again begun to pick up, both saying, “We’re selling cars.”