Gulf Coast dealers try to salvage weekend sales in wake of hurricane
Photo credit: Bloomberg
Hurricane Isaac has dissipated after a week of floods and power outages, and now dealers on the Gulf Coast will try to rebuild sales over the Labor Day weekend.
Some dealers had to move their inventory to safe ground as Isaac -- whose winds reached 80 mph at peak strength -- dropped a foot of rain in many areas in Louisiana and caused flooding.
Some dealers in New Orleans and Baton Rouge still weren't answering their phones today, although one manager at a Baton Rouge dealership said his store was without power.
Roberto Rocha, sales manager of Veterans Ford in Metairie, near New Orleans, said today the city is still in hurricane mode with several areas dealing with flooding.
The store was closed Tuesday through Thursday and reopened this morning to several reminders of Isaac's wrath.
Two vehicles took damage from flying debris; a light pole was left hanging on a power line; an awning collapsed; and the roof leaked in multiple spots, including the showroom.
He said residents aren't concerned about buying cars right now and are focusing on essential items such food and gasoline.
"I'm expecting next week to start selling cars," Rocha said.
Dealerships in Slidell, La., and nearby Mandeville reported only minor damages to store signs and light poles, said Bob Israel, president of the Louisiana Automobile Dealers Association.
Slidell is a low area on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain, about 35 miles north of New Orleans, and Mandeville is located just west of Slidell.
Some Slidell stores had to move their inventory off-site before Isaac struck, but Mandeville dealers didn't have to move any, Israel said.
"Sales will be impacted for a few days. They'll have very reduced traffic because people are handling their personal issues, their residential issues," Israel said. "After that, we'll have to see what happens as people will be replacing personal vehicles."
Less impact in Ala.
While Louisiana recovers after taking a direct hit from Isaac, dealers in lesser-impacted Mobile, Ala., remained open albeit with lower store sales and traffic.
Craig Mathews, general manager of Lexus of Mobile, said the dealership moved around 100 "high-dollar" vehicles such as Lexus models from low-lying areas into three buildings on their property.
Mathews said Isaac cost them ongoing sales momentum and August sales may end up 20 percent lower than usual.
The store, which had flooding in its lot, was open Wednesday when Isaac made landfall in coastal Louisiana. A few people came in to get work done on their vehicles and some customers called in to do business over the phone, he said.
Mathews said the storm's timing was far from ideal, but business should see a boost this weekend.
"It's a shame that it came at the end of the month. It cost us the day before [Tuesday] because no one really wants to come in and get a car before the hurricane. Then [Thursday], service is way off," Mathews said in an interview Thursday. "It disrupts getting inventory here. We've got cars that are sold that we can't get here because bridges have got water on them. It certainly cost us some momentum."
Springhill Toyota, also in Mobile, is less than 20 vehicles away from its monthly sales target, and Sales Manager Jeff Harman said they're going to do whatever they can to hit it.
They closed Tuesday because of a power outage, but Harman said it wasn't related to Isaac. Customer traffic suffered throughout the week, he said.
"We lost this whole week from Saturday on," Harman said in an interview Thursday.
A sales manager at Bay Chevrolet in Mobile said the staff had to get a few cars away from a drainage ditch just in case it flooded.
Bay Chevrolet remained open throughout the week.
The sales manager, who declined to be named, said the dealership is now preparing for its end-of-the-month sales push.
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