Thursday, May 14, 2009

Tough day in the car biz

I went to bed at around 5:30 a.m. and slept until 10:00, waking with a fierce case of Benadryl head that has made me feel kind of floaty and airy-fairy, but not in a good way.

Especially since this is the day that General Motors is making the first of a series of announcements about which dealerships will be closing.

Dealers to the east of us had their announcements today, and I just listened to the top-of-the-hour news on the radio in which several owners gave some sound bites:

:: "I don't know why they singled us out. We're one of the biggest dealerships in the area, high volume of sales."

:: "I don't know what we're going to do. This was so unexpected. I didn't think this would happen to this dealership."

:: "My family owns two dealerships, one that's been in business since the 1940s and the other since the 1960s. General Motors is closing both of them down."

I can't even begin to describe to you the wrenching pity I felt listening to this. I'm sure you can imagine. If the dealership my husband works at survives, we will be so relieved and grateful, but that still doesn't take away the shock and sadness of knowing that other families just like ours are suffering.

When my husband first started selling cars, it was a great time to be a car salesman. He worked really hard to learn the trade, so to speak, and build a clientele base. He didn't want to be the stereotypical car salesman and all that title implies, and it paid off: He made a lot of money for a blue-collar guy with commissions in the upper seventies/low eighties. Despite making occasional bloopers with money (this was in our pre-Dave Ramsey days), we lived well, although not extravagantly. We had a savings account. We paid cash. We had a 401(k) and enough money that I could be at home with the girls.

Then the bottom kind of fell out, somewhere around 2002. But we've remained determined to stick it out, waiting and hoping for decent times to come back again.

And there are all kinds of people out there today who have lived just like we have lived who are getting some really bad news, making some really painful calls home. It's impossible not to hurt for them and to worry about ourselves: Will my husband be one of the ones making a phone call tomorrow?

Right now, the owners of the dealership -- a father and two sons -- don't anticipate closure. They are very canny businessmen and my husband has really admired their acumen: they don't have big bills with GM that are waiting to be paid. They own their entire stock of used cars, both of which circumstances are unusual in this business: Most dealers have bank notes to cover their used car stock and the new cars they order from GM. The dealership's buildings are all completely paid for and the owners also hold the deed to the land the dealership sits on.

Will this be enough to save it?

No matter how bad times have been, this dealership has always made money. Individual salesmen might have struggled, because that's the nature of commission sales, but as a whole, it has been a profitable business. That seems to bode well. And naturally, the owners being interviewed by ABCNews are hardly going to come out and say, "Well, I understand why we're being shut down because this dump has been mismanaged for years." But still, you have to wonder.

We should know something tomorrow by this time.

If you would, join me in praying for all the men and women employed by the closing General Motors dealerships who will now be joining so many other people in the unemployment lines.

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