New offerings emphasize safety;
vehicle demand remains strong
IMLAY CITY — Buying a vehicle looks different during the coronavirus pandemic but, as they’ve proven in the past, local dealerships are more than capable of adapting to change for the sake of their customers.
Like other businesses, they’ve encountered closures and remote working conditions but along they way they’ve developed new services and programs that have enhanced the buying experience while keeping everyone safe and healthy.
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Milnes Chevrolet closed their showroom in late March but sales staff was able to assist customers over the phone or online. Brooke Milnes, Executive Manager, admits that there were some kinks to work through at the beginning.
“Working remotely was something we have never done before. For the most part people were very understanding and patient. They too were going through some unknown aspects in their life so it was nice to all be in it together,” Milnes said.
“We did learn quickly how to adapt to the new normal and we have actually implemented a lot of what we learned from that short period. It has actually made business easier for us and our customers.”
They were able to reopen for sales in late April and returned to their regular hours in early June. With safety top of mind, Milnes Chevrolet offered customers things like contactless sales, home delivery and curbside services and Milnes said, those offerings are here to stay.
“When we were closed during the stay at home order we had a professional cleaning company come out and do virucide treatment on all touch points in the entire building,” she said.
“We purchased hand sanitizers, masks and sneeze guards to get ready to let people back in the building. We also are doing disinfectant in the vehicles.”
While the pandemic-related closures and new sanitizing protocol posted a challenge, the outlook for car sales seems quite positive.
“Michiganders are definitely eager to do some car shopping. This June we delivered 140 vehicles. It was the best month all year,” she said.
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Imlay City Ford was closed for sales for approximately three weeks this spring. When remote selling was allowed, General Manager Paul LaFontaine Jr. said they reopened their doors and brought back a portion of their sales staff.
“The demand for cars was there and there was a lot of online customer traffic so we ended up bringing our full staff back into the dealership and we’ve been pretty well fully staffed since May,” he said.
For several months now, Imlay City Ford has offered customers a range of options when it comes to buying a vehicle. Submitting information for financing can be done online, vehicles can be delivered to the buyer and paperwork can be completed at home or in their vehicles and returned to the dealership without having to meet face-to-face with an employee.
“Accommodating customers has really been key,” LaFontaine said.
In many ways the pandemic has advanced many of the car buying trends that dealerships are already familiar with, he said. Stuck at home, potential buyers hopped online to look at inventories and research the ideal make and model and with a strong online presence, Imlay City Ford was still accessible even when their showroom doors were closed.
“In that way it was kind of seamless since we were already set up for online sales,” he noted.
With easy access to so much information about vehicles, LaFontaine believes the average customer is very “empowered” when they’re ready to make a purchase.
“They are really informed and typically have as much knowledge about a particular vehicle as we have. That helps makes the sales process a lot easier. We’re here to facilitate it all for them,” he said.
LaFontaine said it’s not surprising that interest in SUVs and any adventure sport type vehicle has been particularly strong in recent months. Social distancing, special event cancellations and the like mean local residents need to find their own entertainment this summer but again, he notes, that vehicle market was already strong before the pandemic.
“The new Bronco lineup that Ford has is really making a push into the SUV market. We presold 21 of those Broncos through online reservations alone,” he said, noting the relaunched SUV has a camera mounted on the front to record off-road excursions.