Cars and Concepts

It takes a hurricane to halt haggling — at least in hard times

Albert Einstein said: "In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity."

Auto dealers along the storm-wrecked East Coast have an opportunity to make a long-lasting impression on customers struggling to rebuild their lives by showing them that car-buying can be a pleasant experience.

Some savvy dealers are doing that by putting a halt to haggling over vehicle prices.

When managers at Lester Glenn Auto Group in Toms River, N.J., saw the devastation Hurricane Sandy caused to their community, they quickly decided to discount vehicles to folks replacing cars totaled by the storm.

"It wasn't putting a hangtag on the cars with a fixed price," said Adam Kraushaar, president of Lester Glenn. "It was more an informal policy. I thought customers would appreciate not having to go through that brain damage of having to negotiate."

Kraushaar left "some money on the table" in the process, he said.

Likewise, Gearhart Chevrolet in Denville, N.J., and Schumacher Chevrolet in Little Falls, N.J., are trying to accommodate most buyers' price targets, said the stores' owner, Judy Schumacher-Tilton.

"You want to make it easy on them," Schumacher-Tilton said. "Usually the customer comes in with the price they want to pay. You try to help them out, or meet it, but try to do it without haggling over the price of the car to help them make it through the hard times."

And customers appreciate it. But because of narrow per vehicle profit margins on new cars and a competitive landscape, these dealers can't afford to do it for long.

As Schumacher-Tilton said, the practice is not the "best way for the business" financially for the long term. But, she adds, "It is the best way in these hard times."