BEST PRACTICES

Is Saab defunct? Not at this dealership

Store aims to serve orphaned customers with parts, service, cars

General Manager Jeremy Morrissey: "It amazes me the loyalty customers have" to Saab.
Still going strong: Park Ave Saab treats its customers as if Saab were still in business, offering a dedicated store with service, parts and a good selection of reconditioned Saabs. The goal is to retain customers and eventually move them into one of the group's other brands.

Published in Automotive News Dec. 29, 2014

Nearly all Saab dealers reached a dead end after the Swedish brand's bankruptcy in 2011. But not Park Ave Saab in Maywood, N.J.

The dealership, about 10 miles from Manhattan, bought the customer lists of several defunct Saab dealerships in the New York City area.

Then it moved into a closed Suzuki store and started courting Saab drivers in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. With ads, service coupons and emails, it offers readily available parts, service and a selection of low-mileage used Saabs.

Park Ave's website is a portal for all things Saab, such as the latest news and rumors from Sweden, updates on parts and alerts when a used Saab is for sale.

The store's ultimate goal, explained General Manager Jeremy Morrissey, is to keep Saab customers happy. And when they are ready to quit their quirky Swedish cars, ease them into one of the company's other brands. The Park Avenue Auto Group handles Acura, BMW and Lotus at other stores nearby.

Die-hard loyalists

There are more than 10,000 Saab owners in the New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania area, according to the customer lists, giving Park Ave a solid customer base.

The store's used-car and parts-and-service business has been strong, said Morrissey. In 2014, the store has:

• Averaged monthly sales of between 30 and 50 mostly high-end used cars.

• Billed between 600 and 700 hours per month in the service department. Park Ave employs two full-time technicians and a service writer.

• Boosted its parts business by targeting Saab owners and independent repair shops.

The store is posting a monthly operating profit of between $20,000 and $50,000 after all the bills, rent and wages are paid, said Morrissey, who has sold Saabs since the late 1980s.

"The Saab customer is very interesting," Morrissey said. "They are very emotional about Saab, and it amazes me the loyalty customers have to that brand. They'd rather pay top dollar for a used 2011 than buy a new 2014 Volvo."

So far, few die-hard Saab fans have quit the brand at his store. But that will change as the cars age and wear out, said Morrissey. He said customers often trade high-mileage Saabs from the 1980s and 1990s for newer models, such as the 9-5 from 2008-11.

About 450,000 Saabs are still in daily use in the United States, according to an estimate by Saab Automobile Parts North America, the Swedish-government owned business unit that distributes original equipment Saab service parts to 200 factory-authorized service centers in the United States.

"When [Saab] customers have had issues with their cars and are at the end of their ropes, they know this is the best place to trade their car because of our affinity to the brand," said Morrissey. "We give them top dollar for their car. We treat them and the car as if the brand is still in the United States."

Clock is ticking

Morrissey said he can sell all the Saabs he can get that were built in 2008 and later. He scours the Internet daily, goes to auctions and buys late-model Saabs from other dealers. He buys Saabs from all over the country and ships them to New Jersey. He also ships used Saabs to other states and to Europe.

Morrissey said the plan to service Saab customers is working well. But he realizes that the clock is ticking. Eventually, even the last Saabs built in 2011 will become too old to recondition and sell at a sufficient profit, Morrissey said.

"I expect the business to decline. Everything has a time limit," said Morrissey. "I think there will be a time period when we can ride the wave, maybe another two years at the best. Then you have to figure something else out."

Still going strong: Park Ave Saab treats its customers as if Saab were still in business, offering a dedicated store with service, parts and a good selection of reconditioned Saabs. The goal is to retain customers and eventually move them into one of the group's other brands.
You can reach Richard Truett at rtruett@autonews.com

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