Local dealerships adjusting to COVID-19

Aug 17th 2020

By Scott Smith

Posted Apr 16, 2020 at 12:01 AM

Some local vehicle dealerships continue to adjust to the ongoing presence of COVID-19, refusing to let the new virus extinguish their wishes to meet and please customers.

Among those becoming even more “customer-focused” are the staff members at Randall Ford Inc. at 5500 Rogers Ave., said business owner Bradford Randall. At this location, employees wear cloth masks and use state-of-the-art, ultraviolet-light equipment on vehicles to help keep customers and workers healthy, safe and happy, he said.

“We’re using ultraviolet-light equipment to neutralize any threats of germs,” Randall said. “The equipment utilizes a high-powered black light, and it goes over things such as the vehicle’s radio buttons, door handles, the gearshift — all of things that you would touch — as well as the headliner, too.

“The UV light will sanitize those areas; it takes 30 seconds to kill germs,” he added. “When we do the UV cleaning, we put a hand tag in the vehicle to show that it’s been UV light treated, and that shows customers that the car is clean. It also shows the mechanics that there’s no threat to them, as well.”

Randall said his company got the idea for using the UV equipment from Best Western Plus.

“Best Western Plus found out that customers wouldn’t return if they thought the place was unclean,” he said. “We saw that as a great idea, and we have been using this equipment for over a month now.”

Randall Ford also is employing the one-entrance plan to encourage social distancing, and each visitor receives a non-invasive scan of his or her temperature. Each customer also is asked a few questions to make sure “everything is safe and good,” Randall said.

“Our sales have remained steady, and we’re offering free pickup and delivery for all services for vehicles,” he said. “For test drives, we can come to the customers. You can get financing and extra warranties online, and we deliver the vehicle to your driveway with an iPad.”

Randall Ford also is offering complimentary maintenance with UV light treatment for senior citizens, with free pickup and delivery, Randall said.

“We’re doing this because senior citizens have suffered the most, with them not being able to get out and about,” he said. “We’re looking at offering this complimentary service for them for at least until the end of the month.”

For Michael Dawson, owner/operator of Broadway Motors at 809 Broadway Street in Van Buren, COVID-19 has forced a few changes during work hours. He said he’s thankful he has yet to “drastically” reduce his business hours, but added that other things have changed.

“I’m keeping customers outside as much as possible, and I’m keeping everything clean with Lysol and wiping things down when people leave,” Dawson said. “I have noticed that people are keeping their distance.”

Dawson then laughed.

“I’ve always been a big hand-shaker; that’s just who I am,” he said. “So, yeah, I’m having a hard time getting used to social distancing.”

Sales at Broadway Motors have decreased since much of the public went into self-quarantine mode, Dawson said.

“For the most part, we’re getting foot traffic still,” he said. “People aren’t working, so when they’re not self-quarantined, they get out and kick the tires a little.

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“But I’d say sales are down about 40%,” Dawson added. “I usually average five vehicles a week, but two weeks ago, I sold three vehicles. Last week, I sold three vehicles.”

An increase in online traffic, due to people being laid off and/or self-quarantined, also has become a new norm at Randall Ford in Fort Smith, said Peter Rossum, an internet manager for Randall Ford in Fort Smith. Although Randall Ford has experienced more online lookers recently, not all of that browsing resulted in sales, he said.

“People have the option where we can do most of the deals online and through emails, phone calls and text messages,” Rossum said. “I sold a pre-owned truck and delivered it to Chester, and I was in a mask and gloves.

“We sanitized the vehicle and brought it to them,” he added. “If more people continue to be locked up at home, I think we’ll see more of this.”

Randall said it’s been mostly easy for him to remain optimistic over the last few weeks.

“The business has changed for the better, I think us, because of us being more customer-centric and more customer-focused,” he said. “That’s a win-win for everyone.

“Our Ford factories will resume production, beginning with a shift at the end of May,” Randall added. “It won’t be full production, but I think that in the next 60 days, we hope that things will get back to being more normal.”

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Dawson predicted that life will return to a more normal state in late May or June.

“I think some things will be more expensive when that happens,” he said. “But I’m not a big worrier, so we’re just trucking along here. I’m appreciating the deals that I’ve been blessed with — I’ve got two sales happening today — so that’s really good.”

Like Randall and Dawson, Rossum believes most or all of today’s uncertainty and anxiety centered around COVID-19 will one day disappear.

“For me personally, COVID-19 is always in the back of my mind,” Rossum said. “I’m not as worried about me being infected as I am worried about possibly infecting others — senior citizens and my family members who are older. I definitely don’t want to be the one who causes someone else to become sick or worse.”

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