SCV dealership sales volume returns with reopening

Maintenance worker Rene Martinez sprays BioPledge AntiMicrobial Protection spray on the interior of a car at Valencia Acura on Wednesday. Dan Watson/The Signal
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After being closed for two months amid the coronavirus pandemic and statewide stay-at-home order, dealerships in the Valencia Auto Center reopened with a robust sales volume, according to a local trade group.

In the first weekend open, dealerships reported 245 units sold, a difference of only one unit from the same weekend in 2019, according to the Santa Clarita Auto Dealers Association.

“We were so excited, and it felt like we’re back in the car business,” Valencia Acura co-owner Cheri Fleming said, chuckling. “We’re so grateful to have showrooms back open and very happy to see the number of sales on our street, which is great tax revenue for our city.”

Don Fleming, president of the association and Valencia Acura co-owner, who has been in the car business the majority of his life, said he never could have imagined dealership showrooms being ordered to close, adding the number of cars sold last weekend was the closest thing to normal they’ve experienced since the shutdown.

While dealerships were allowed to keep service and parts open, showrooms and sales were shut, a decision Frontier Toyota General Manager Bob Corson says the dealership fully supported amid the current health crisis. 

Maintenance crew member Berta Ortiz, left, cleans the one of the customer safety shields as Sales Manger Kabir Bahroos, center, Internet Director Drew Katigbak, and Internet Manager Belen Gonzales, right, prepare for customers at Frontier Toyota in Valencia on Thursday, May 07, 2020. Dan Watson/The Signal

“We kept it closed for as long as we thought was feasibly possible,” Corson said. “We’ve been getting great feedback from our customers that they were grateful that we were closed when we were closed and adhering to the more conservative policy approach.”  

Both dealers took the closure in stride, navigating the newly developing coronavirus landscape, though it was uncertain when they would be able to reopen. Instead, they spent that time implementing necessary changes to follow the health guidelines. 

The Valencia Acura dealership underwent a deep cleaning, and they’ve purchased new cleaning equipment for the cars, rearranged furniture to allow for physical distancing and employees have implemented public health guidelines.

“I think making people feel comfortable that it’s safe to come here is paramount,” Cheri said. “And No. 2, I think it’s important that our employees feel like it’s safe to come to work.”  

Similarly, the Frontier Toyota dealership implemented a number of changes, including posting notices on doors, enhancing cleaning protocols for both the building and the cars, and setting up plexiglass protective shields between employees and customers.

Maintenance workers Eugenio Ramirez, left, and Leonel Guerra clean the showroom at Valencia Acura on Wednesday. Dan Watson/The Signal

“First and foremost, adhering to the city, county, state and federal guidelines was our paramount focus,” Corson said. “We want to be able to make everybody feel comfortable.” 

While changes have been implemented quickly at both dealerships, both feel as though they’ve become almost routine.

“Honestly, I think a lot of these practices are good practices,” Cheri said. “We probably should have been doing these kinds of things a long time ago, (as) we have a lot of people that come through our dealership … So, I’m happy in one small way that we had to go through this because it gave us some time to sharpen our pencil when it comes to disinfecting and making people feel safe.” 

“We’re proud to be a part of this great community, we’ve been here a long time and we’re looking forward to always evolving and changing the business to make it easier for our community,” Corson added.

Auto dealers such as these two and others in the Valencia Auto Center are an important part of the city’s sales tax revenue.

Maintenance crew member Berta Ortiz, sanitizes the door handles as the employees prepare for customers at Frontier Toyota in Valencia on Thursday, May 07, 2020. Dan Watson/The Signal

In 2018, auto sales and leases totaled $7,036,337 in sales tax, representing 21.7% of the city’s sales tax revenue that year, while vehicle sales in the association generated more than $69 million in tax dollars from 2007 to 2018. 

“I think it shows in the traffic that we have this weekend, and the cars that were sold here on our street, that people feel safe,” added Cheri. 

“This is a great piece of positive news that provides encouragement (that) we may be entering our new normal,” Holly Schroeder, president and CEO of the SCV Economic Development Corp., said in a prepared statement. “With the auto center as a major generator of sales tax revenue for the city of Santa Clarita, the dealers’ strong reopening weekend is an economic indicator that demand is there, and residents understand the importance of supporting local businesses.”

As Memorial Day, which has historically been the highest weekend in auto sale volume of the year, quickly approaches, the Flemings say they’re looking forward to allowing buyers to release the pent-up demand.

General Manager Bob Corson, left, and Sales Consultants Bien Tarroza Jr. and Genardo Calzadillas stand next to a plastic customer safety shield as they prepare for customers at Frontier Toyota in Valencia on Thursday, May 07, 2020. Dan Watson/The Signalr customer

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