By Lawrence Papoff
Long-time Pontiac dealer Dale Wurfel got the news on May 12: despite the fact 2008 had been his store’s best year ever, his Pontiac dealership, located in Strathroy Ont., had no future.
Of course, GM Canada gave him the chance to hang on until October 2010, but successes were in the past, he reasoned. Besides, GM was out of the minivan market, and minivans were a big seller for him. And 2009 sales had fallen way off.
It was time to move on. And so Dale Wurfel Pontiac became Dale Wurfel Chrysler
Dodge Jeep with a grand opening on Oct. 13.
From the frying pan into the fire, right? Well, let’s hear what he has to say.
“Chrysler was at the top of our list. We chose Chrysler because it fit our demographics. We are in a rural area (Strathroy is midway between London and Sarnia) and we sell a lot of vans. They are our number 1 seller. Pickup trucks would be number 2,” he reasoned. “Chrysler is the only domestic player that offers a van and a pickup truck.”
He knew his area and his customers. There were OEMs that offered both minivans and pickups, but theirs weren’t as affordable as Chrysler’s and Strathroy is an area where affordability is key. It is also an area where driving a domestic was still a “cool thing” to do, he said.
Yes, there had been a Chrysler store in the area. And yes, it had closed five years ago. But that wasn’t a deterrent.
“We have a better location and great staff, facilities and processes – the total package. It was just a better fit.”
He also did some research. Data from GM and Poke revealed there were still quite a few Chrysler owners in the area, despite the fact there wasn’t a dealership. In fact, there were as many Chrysler owners as GM, he found.
“That showed me there was an active, loyal base here, and service business. That raised the flag to say Chrysler is the business you should be going after.”
Some aspects of the transition were painless, that is to say, they didn’t cost much. Signs and the like, the cosmetic side of things, weren’t too expensive, he said. He didn’t have to layoff anyone – he actually added a service manager with 20 years of Chrysler experience.
Of course, he’s still doing non-warranty GM service work. He also owns the AC Delco franchise and the work that goes with it.
“We will lose warranty work, but we will try to keep in touch with our old customers to do brake work, etc. And when they are in the market for another vehicle, they can get in touch with us and we will keep contact with them to let them know we still care.”
He’s also optimistic about winning over those Chrysler loyalists.
Still, there were costs. Scanners, tools and software demanded a “substantial investment.”
But the big shock came when he turned to GMAC for a floor plan loan (GMAC now is Chrysler’s finance arm). Since he has been a longtime GM dealer with a solid business reputation known to its finance arm, he thought getting credit was going to be a snap.
“It wasn’t automatic at all. ‘You might have done great as a GM dealer, but you are now a Chrysler dealer. Why should I loan you money? How do we know you are any good?’ So we had to do a business plan. It wasn’t something that would take two days to get approved,” Wurfel recalls.
Then there were the other irritations: new sales and garage licenses, stationary. It was complex, he recalls. But it’s over and now he’s a Chrysler dealer.
“I’m ecstatic about this because Chrysler has great product for us to offer. It fits our demographic. Adding Fiat to the lineup makes it even more powerful. So there’s a silver lining in the cloud. People may wonder what I’m doing. But I see a solid future. On May 20, I was 101; today, I’m 21!”