Auto Dealers Bullish As Showrooms Reopen

Auto Dealers Bullish

As Showrooms Reopen

With People Avoiding Airplane Travel,

Travelers May Drive On Local Vacations

Ben Guenther surveys his Five Star Subaru lot, where 20 of 100 cars have been sold since the pandemic started. (Ian Austin/

By LIBBY CUDMORE – Special to

Tom Armao discusses implementing the new state guidelines at Country Club Automotive.

INDEX – Kevin Harris believes that the road trip is due for a resurgence.

“There’s reluctance for people to fly or do cruises,” said the proprietor of Kevin’s Royal Automotive here. “But they still want to travel, and I think that bodes well for us in the third and fourth quarter.”

In a surprise to many, on Thursday,

May 7, Governor Cuomo lifted restrictions on auto dealerships statewide, allowing in-person sales – by appointment; sales had previously been restricted to online only.

But even online-only didn’t stop determined buyers completely.

At Country Club Automotive, Oneonta, April sales were down 55 percent from last
April. “It’s better than what I thought it would be,” said Tom Armao, proprietor.
Many customers had leases that expired in March, or needed more work than the car was worth.

“We’ve been busy,” said Ben Guenther, Five Star Subaru. “We had 100 cars on the lot, and now we’re down to about 85. The problem is going to be getting inventory, now with the factories shut down.”

Stefan Segeken, Country Club Motors, cleans a car ahead of a test drive. The car will also be cleaned afterwards, and a steering wheel protector put in place.

Five Star, Country Club and Royal Ford had been selling cars online for years, but online sales took away the best part – getting to take it out for a spin.

“When you’re buying a new car, it’s low risk to not be able to test it,” said Armao. “But we like it better when we can take a test drive.”

“Online sales are a small percent of our business,” said Harris. “What we eliminated was the person who had a Saturday off and wanted to swing in to look at a few cars. But would you buy a car without seeing it first?”

Financing and trade-in values were handled online or over the phone, and cars could either be delivered, or picked up quickly in person. “We put out a long table in the center of the room so we could sign contracts and maintain social distancing,” said Armao.

“We’ve put new tools in place to make it easier for the customer to buy a vehicle online,” said Guenther. “They can get a lot further along before they need to come in. But it’s easier to talk to a person, so our salespeople could work by phone too.”

But as the dealerships reopen, new protocols are in place to protect the buyers and salespeople.

“Masks are where our personalities can come out,” said Armao. “We’ve spread out the chairs so we’re able to maintain social distancing in our waiting room, and put up plexiglass barriers between our customer service representatives and the customers.”

Additionally, when a customer test-drives a car, the car is disinfected before and after, and a disposable steering wheel cover is used. “We’re not looking for people to come down and test drive three or four cars,” said Armao.

At Five Star, Guenther said that when a customer made an appointment to test-drive a car, a salesperson would retrieve it, then sanitize and let it sit for a few days before the customer could take their drive.

He also said that technicians would let a car sit for two days before working on it, and then sit for another two days before the customer picks it up, sanitizing before both interactions. “There’s a lot more waiting time,” he said.

“We want to make this convenient,” said Gunther. “But still have everyone’s best interest in mind.”

Similar protocols for social distancing and sanitizing are in place at Royal Ford, but Harris stresses that he will not require customers to wear a mask.

Armao, Harris and Guenther all see their dealerships as essential services.
“We’re hoping we can help people who need a car,” said Guenther. “But my priority is to do so in the safest manner possible, so we don’t create a burden on our medical workers.”

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