Valley car sales are rolling again
Hard to believe a car dealership that tops 500 sales per month had to withstand hard times.
But that's just what David Marchitello, general manager of C. Harper Auto Complex in Rostraver, said the large-scale business had to do after the recession hit more than four years ago.
“In 2008, when the market got bad, we were holding a lot of inventory and just sitting on it because we had to,” Marchitello said. “The bigger you are, the more at risk you are, but we weathered our way through it. We maintained our size. We didn't cut down or lay a lot of people off.”
New and used car sales might not be high as they were even 10 years ago, but after bottoming out in 2008, things are looking up nationally and locally. Nationwide auto sales in March 2013 showed a 3-percent increase in passenger cars and 10-percent jump in light trucks compared to one year ago.
In addition, the year-to-date sales by the two largest domestic car manufacturers – General Motors and Ford Motor Company – have jumped 9.3 percent and 11 percent respectively from 2012.
“Business has been very good for the last year and a half,” Marchitello said. “It was a tough fight for two whole years, but we survived the market.”
Barry Tregembo, owner of Tregembo Motors dealership in Bentleyville, took several chances in the past, but none bigger than in 2008.
That's when the company sold its Ford franchise and became an independent distributor of certified pre-owned vehicles with full service department.
“In recent years, we've focused our business on helping credit-challenged customers buy quality used cars,” said manager Billie Sue DeForest. “The recession hit a lot of honest people in a hard way, and most car dealers won't approve sub-prime credit scores for an auto loan.
“Unlike the typical ‘buy here, pay here' dealerships in Washington County, Tregembo Motors can guarantee approval for an auto loan, so that you can get a car and start rebuilding your credit with affordable monthly payments.”
The approach has worked, De Forest said. And with more traffic coming through the nearby industrial park and planned Bentleyville interchange, DeForest anticipates even better times ahead.
“It's starting to really rock,” she said of the area. “The economy is bad, times are still tough and a lot of people need help. We realized that and decided to focus on helping customers build and rebuild their credit. It's been a win-win.”
DeForest said the majority of vehicles at her dealership must pass thorough 125-point inspection prior to being certified and listed on the website. She said Tregembo deals with 18 different banks while averaging 30 unit sales per month – some for as little as $1000 down payment.
“It is fun most days because we get to help people. Most of our customers are hugging us when we leave,” she said. “The first two years were very challenging, now that we found our niche, things are going well.”
Things are going so well for C. Harper, the company is building a new Honda store on Route 51 behind the Ford store. Construction is due to be completed by the end of February 2014, Marchitello said.
“I've worked for (owner) Casey Harper 36 years, and when we started, we sold 50 to 60 cars a month,” Marchitello said. “A lot of it was reinvesting in the facility and the community. We have 235 employees right now. We've grown our business and we've grown it piece by piece.
“It's been a slow-growing process, but we feel there's still room to grow and our potential is around 700 units.”
Marchitello said no other auto dealer sells more General Motors on the eastern seaboard.
“We sell more cars than probably five to six dealers combined,” he said. “It's not an easy process, but the more cars you sell, the cheaper the product comes so we can pass the savings onto the customer.”
Marchitello said, whether in a good or poor economy, volume always remains the key.
“Wherever people get the best deal, they'll go,” he said. “Look at Walmart and Sam's Club … it's strict volume. We don't look at one deal or one repair, we look at the big picture. The more we sell, the better price our customers get. It's that simple.”
Marchitello, in the car business since 1977, ranks the recent recession third on the scale of recent historical events that wounded the auto sales industry.
“It wasn't as bad as when there were gas lines in the ‘70s and then the General Motors strike (in 2007), but it was in the top 3,” he said. “To be honest, the bank industry is what really hurt us. They couldn't give customers loans, which made the car industry at the mercy of the banks.
“The economy has made the turn and with low interest rates, money is freed up and the banks are a little more customer friendly. … That's probably made the biggest difference.”
Rick Bruni Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-684-2635.