Prep work helped dealership group weather the storm
George Liang, DCH Auto Group president: "A few years ago we had a storm in the New York area and we had 50 to 60 vehicles damaged by flood. We learned from that experience and we made sure all our storage lots were not located in a designated flood area.”
On the morning of Tuesday, Oct. 30, George Liang was in the dark, literally and figuratively.
Liang, president of DCH Auto Group in South Amboy, N.J., sat in the shadows of his powerless New Jersey home and led an urgent 7 a.m. conference call with his store managers. He wanted to learn the extent of damage Sandy had inflicted overnight on the dealership group's stores.
DCH has 15 dealerships with many millions of dollars in inventory in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Nine stores were in Sandy's path.
But DCH was spared devastation. At the end of business Thursday, Nov. 1, only 35 of the dealership group's thousands of vehicles were known to have been damaged, company executives said.
DCH was still assessing building and vehicle damage, but six of its stores in central and northern New Jersey remained closed without power, two others had opened without damage and the other store's service center remained closed without power.
DCH executives said they avoided much damage because of lessons learned from past natural disasters. Liang said new lessons were learned in Sandy's aftermath.
"We could have prepared a bit better," Liang said. "We could have made sure we had generators available in case of a power outage. That's the No. 1 thing we're going to look at. We also need to inform our associates to make sure they are prepared. Some realized they didn't have enough gas in their cars."
DCH Kay Honda in Eatontown, N.J., sits near the shore about 70 miles north of Atlantic City -- the area Sandy hit the hardest. As of Thursday, DCH still did not know the extent of damage to that store, said Roy Bavaro, DCH's director of corporate marketing.
Bavaro said that as of Thursday, DCH also was unsure of Sandy's impact on its other five closed dealerships because power outages, downed wires and other effects of the storm made transportation dangerous.
Some employees lived close enough to walk to a few of the affected stores for a cursory look and from a distance reported they saw no signs of serious building damage, Liang said.
He credited the company's apparent good fortune to closing Monday, Oct. 29, to prepare for the storm -- a lesson learned from the past.
"A few years ago we had a storm in the New York area and we had 50 to 60 vehicles damaged by flood," Liang said. "We learned from that experience and we made sure all our storage lots were not located in a designated flood area."
After that storm, DCH moved about 20 storage lots to higher ground near its dealerships, he said.
Before Sandy hit last week, DCH also moved many vehicles indoors and away from trees or other objects that could cause damage during the storm, Liang said.
DCH owns 29 U.S. dealerships. Liang declined to disclose the group's annual sales volume.
He said about 1,000 employees work at the nine East Coast stores that were in harm's way. Liang said those employees were his first concern. Once power was restored at DCH's corporate headquarters, the company called all employees to check on them. None were injured, so DCH next considered how to help employees who suffered severe losses, Liang said.
Most employees could not get to work even if their stores were operational. Travel was hazardous and few fuel stations were open. Those stations that were open had long lines of customers. So Liang allowed employees to work from home.
Meanwhile, a few customers trickled in to DCH's showrooms and service centers in stores that were open. Late last week, his managers started discussing incentives or a marketing initiative to help reignite business.
If needed, Liang will extend service center hours into the evenings once customers return, he said.
"We expect business to resume in a few days, I hope, I hope." Liang said. "We will be ready."
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