For months, O.C. Welch and his used-car manager toyed with the idea of holding a public auction to sell his dealership's used-car inventory.
It was finally set for the weekend of June 18-19, Welch says.
Then Ford Motor Co. dropped “that bomb about Mercury going way,” he says. That's when the owner of O.C. Welch Ford-Lincoln-Mercury decided to include 26 new Mercury cars and trucks among the 280 vehicles slated to cross the dealership auction block.
“We might as well throw in Mercurys,” says Welch about putting the 2010 Mercury Milan, Grand Marquis, Mountaineer and Mariner vehicles up for bid this weekend. He says he doesn't believe he will make a lot of money during the event, but he expects to renew relationships with old friends and customers and make several new ones.
The public auction is scheduled for Friday at 5:30 p.m. and Saturday at 10 a.m. at the dealership in Hardeeville, S.C., near Hilton Head. The vehicles will be sold with reserve prices, meaning they may not be sold if the final bid does not meet a price set by the dealership.
Welch says he has sold either new or used Mercurys or both since he started in the retail auto business as a used-car dealer in 1976. He acquired his Ford store in 1985, adding Mercury in 1987and Lincoln in 1988.
Welch says Mercury endured a quarter century of neglect by Ford and he hates to see it go.
“It is the best-selling car in the United States of America when you measure the neglect it has had, and it has the most loyal customers of any brand on the planet,” he says. “We've had the same platform on the Grand Marquis since 1978.”
Nostalgia aside, Welch says he and his staff plan to have fun selling cars and trucks this weekend.
He is spending about $25,000 to promote his auction with full-page newspaper ads, radio and TV spots and 250,000 e-mail blasts. The event promises to take on a festive tone with a professional auctioneer, six radio stations expected to conduct live remote broadcasts, music from a rock-'n'-roll band and two barbecued hogs.
On Wednesday, Welch's dealership began registering customers for the auction, making sure they have valid driver's licenses, vehicle insurance and the financial ability to purchase a vehicle. His finance company, O.C. Welch Motor Credit, will be on hand to help customers with financing.
“When I do stuff, I do it pretty big,” he says, laughing.
And that includes sales of new Mercurys. Welch used to sell about 350 new Mercurys in the mid-1990s, putting his store among the top Ford-Lincoln-Mercury dealerships in the country, he says. His Mercury sales have dropped to about 120 per year.
But the weekend auction isn't the end of Mercury for Welch.
His Mercury sales have picked up, and he says he will buy as many as he can from other dealers “until there are no more to get” for subsequent auctions this summer.
Welch adds: “We'll sell them to somebody.”