At a time when vehicle sales are in sharp decline as the COVID-19 pandemic carries on, local dealerships are looking to weather the storm.
While April numbers are not yet available, DesRosiers Automotive Consultants estimated that Canadian vehicle sales in March plummeted 48% from March 2019, the largest such drop since 1997.
However, Foundation Squamish Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram bucked the trend, reporting a sales increase of 22%, according to PR and marketing manager April Chandler.
Chandler said the dealership laid off some of its employees in mid-March at the outset of pandemic precautions, but as things levelled out and improved, workers were brought back.
"As we got into April, it's actually been the best month for sales in the history of this dealership," Chandler said. "People still need cars during this time."
Chandler said the dealership is taking several precautions to keep staff and customers safe.
"We reorganized that actual space within the building to make sure that it is safe. We've got people going around sanitizing," she said, adding that the self-serve beverage station has been removed and that employees are offering drinks instead.
Chandler said that the dealership has started up charitable contributions, donating food to the Squamish Hospital and embarking on fundraisers for the Howe Sound Women's Centre and Squamish Food Bank, noting dealer principal Adam Mounzer will match donations. Anyone who cannot come by the dealership to make a food donation can call 604-892-3394 to arrange a pick-up.
Up at Greg Gardner GM, dealer principal Greg Gardner said while he didn't have current numbers, sales have taken a significant hit. March's numbers were OK thanks to a strong start, but April was much slower.
However, service demand has remained steady at about 85% of normal volume.
Gardner said some staff members have requested a layoff because they live with older family members and don't want to risk their health by working with the public. There have been "three or four layoffs that are not voluntary," he added.
With salespeople likely taking a major hit to their income in the past few weeks, Gardner said the business will check in and see if any assistance is necessary.
"We'll be looking at how they're doing just now and seeing if any of them need some help," he said.
In terms of on-site precautions, Gardner said the response was swift when it was clear that adjustments were necessary.
"We reacted pretty quickly and put some sanitization procedures in place. For example, we are putting plastic covers over steering wheels and gear shifters. There's very regular sanitization, including every key we touch," he said.
In terms of physical distancing, Gardner said markers are in place to keep customers from coming too close to the service and parts counters.
To help the flow of sales continue at a time when families may be avoiding a major purchase, Gardner's shop, among many others, is offering a six-month payment deferral on new vehicle purchases.
"Hopefully, that will give some people the confidence to move forward," he said.
"I think right now, people are starting to realize that life has to carry on. Not the same as it's been in the past —we all have to be more careful — but we do have to carry on with our lives."
Gardner said support for the business is coming on several fronts, including the federal government's wage subsidy, banks deferring mortgage payments, and General Motors deferring some monthly dealer charges.
The Chief reached out to representatives from all Squamish dealerships, though not all responded before press deadline. Squamish Toyota referred comment to a national spokesperson who did not respond to an interview request.