Houston Car Dealers Face Stormy Times

“We’ve had floods, lightning, wind, hail, mosquitoes, but when the rivers turn red, I’m leaving,” dealer Carolyn Cross said the day before a bayou turned red. She stayed.

Lillie Guyer, Correspondent

June 14, 2016

3 Min Read
Poststorm ldquothere should be an uptick in businessrdquo Cross says
Post-storm, “there should be an uptick in business,” Cross says.

Carolyn Cross has had her share of experience running a car dealership under stormy circumstances.  

She is general manager and dealer operator at Joe Myers Ford Lincoln in Houston, a storm-prone city that has been hit this spring by a torrent of bad weather. That includes heavy rains, flash floods and a major hail storm that damaged 800 inventory and customer vehicles at the dealership.

“I got a call from a friend who said ‘Boy, Houston is getting its clock cleaned by these storms,’” Cross recalls. “I said, ‘We’ve had floods, lightning, wind, hail, mosquitoes, but when the rivers turn red, I’m leaving.’”

The next day Buffalo Bayou turned red. “No joke,” Cross says. “It was some kind of algae outbreak.”

She stayed though. She leaves explaining the vagaries of violent weather to meteorologists.

Of the hail storm, she says, “The strange thing is that vehicles can be parked side by side, and one vehicle gets really hammered and the one next to it has no damage at all. I guess that’s something for the weather people to answer.”

Storm issues obviously interrupt business, but she credits staffers for getting through it. “I can attribute our success through thick and thin to our associates’ attitudes and efforts.”

Customers who visited Joe Myers Ford under those circumstances were met with “smiles and kindness, not complaints,” she says. “That gives the customer the confidence to pursue purchasing a new vehicle.”

She explains: “We don’t want to keep talking about how bad something is. We recognize the catastrophe, offer something special (a vehicle incentive) and then move on.”

Storms slow down business. But typically things pick up post-storm as people go to dealerships for a delayed purchase and to replace or repair damaged vehicles.

“You can measure a decrease certainly as the storm or flood is going on,” Cross says. “Once it’s over, there should be an uptick in business.”

Some things are harder to cope with, such as losing electricity. That can bring business to a near standstill.

It’s almost impossible to do business during a power outage, Cross says. “We have cell phones set up to at least answer our customers and inform them that the power is out and we can take a message.”

About 50% of the dealership’s customer outreach is by phone.

She credits her factory representatives for their aid. “We are blessed to have great Ford factory reps jump in and help wherever they can.”

At crosstown Joe Myers Toyota, residents whose cars were damaged came in for repairs or vehicle replacements, says Mike Grewenig, new-car sales director. Rainy-day specials helped draw them in.

April and May were dicey months for his dealership because of storms, he says. “We were extra busy after the storms in April.” Then the May storms came.

On the brighter side, he anticipates a 15% sales increase after things settle down and more customers venture forth.

Alex Weir, Internet sales manager at the Toyota store, says storm activity can result in more online engagement with in-market car consumers who stay home riding out the bad weather but still digitally shop for cars.

Joe Myers Ford is No.15 on the 2016 WardsAuto Dealer 500 ranking with vehicle sales of 6,245 and total revenue of $259.6 million last year.

Joe Myers Toyota held the No.20 spot on WardsAuto Dealer 500 with total revenue of $243.5 million. It sold 8,764 new and used units in 2015.

Both dealerships are part of Berkshire Hathaway Automotive group.

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