Saving a Dealer

I don't do it often, but every so often, I feel the need to brag. In March, we wrote a story and a column about Tator Dodge in South Salem, NY, one of the oldest and smallest Dodge dealerships in the country. Chrysler LLC apparently had targeted it as part of their dealership reduction plan. (A Chrysler spokesman denied this in March.) Subsequent stories ran in the San Francisco Chronicle and New

I don't do it often, but every so often, I feel the need to brag.

In March, we wrote a story and a column about Tator Dodge in South Salem, NY, one of the oldest — and smallest — Dodge dealerships in the country. Chrysler LLC apparently had targeted it as part of their dealership reduction plan. (A Chrysler spokesman denied this in March.)

Subsequent stories ran in the San Francisco Chronicle and New York Times newspapers.

According to Chuck Tator, the current owner and grandson of the founder, Chrysler cancelled several sold orders without written notification, costing him approximately $60,000. Earlier, Chrysler sent him a letter wanting him to increase his working capital by $90,000, bringing it in line with a franchise selling 150 units a year. Tator refused, hence, the cancelled orders.

In the past, Tator says he would sign the contract and attach a letter explaining why that was unreasonable for his store. Tator says he sold 26 new vehicles last year, Chrysler claimed it was seven.

Our story was picked up by viperclub.org, a Viper owners' enthusiast Web site. The site launched a letter and e-mail campaign along with a petition to save Tator Dodge.

Tator may not sell a lot of cars, but he is known internationally as the guy to service and fix your Viper should it have a problem. People from all over the world jumped on board to help his cause.

According to Tator, hundreds of letters and e-mails flooded Chrysler headquarters supporting him. Some even shipped potatos he says. Tators, potaotos. Get it?

While this was going on, Tator received a phone call from Chrysler Financial's northeast director inviting him to dinner, ironically, because he was one of the finance company's oldest clients.

Tator declined but invited him to visit the quaint store. Not long after, the northeast director along with the Chrysler zone manager came by the store and received the Tator tour.

The end result? Chrysler agreed to renegotiate the contract with Tator. While no agreement has been signed yet, Tator says they are closer to a more realistic working-capital figure that better matches his sales numbers.

Chrysler also restored his financing. So for now, the story has a happy ending. You can read the articles at wardsauto.com. Type in “Tator” in the search function.

The Best in the Business?

On another — and equally happy note — my colleague, Steve Finlay, last month added to his collection of numerous journalistic awards during his 11 years as editor of this magazine.

Finlay won a Gold national award from the American Society of Business Press Editors for a pair of commentaries: “Brand Loyalists Are Rare Breed” that appeared in the July 2007 issue and “The Alan Mulally Book Club” published in the December 2007 issue.

There is more. Finlay also won a Silver regional award for an editorial category for two other columns: “Who Deserves Credit?” (January 2007) and “Ford Dealers a Loyal Bunch” (March 2007).

Four out of 12 columns receiving a prestigious award? That's about as good as it gets in this business.

Congratulations, Steve.

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