In late 2008, Dan Roseland wondered whether his Sonoma Chevrolet dealership would survive.
Business already had started slowing down during the first quarter of that year at his store in the small but popular tourist town in northern California. Roseland sensed the service business would be increasingly important as consumers held on to their vehicles.
He set out to remake his service department. The key? The staff, says Roseland, 53.
He hired a new service manager with a track record of the highest customer satisfaction scores in the region. Good technicians followed. All brought loyal customers with them.
In May 2008, gasoline prices hit $5.13 a gallon in northern California, and sales, which largely had consisted of big vehicles in Sonoma's rural market, cratered.
"The world stopped turning for us," Roseland said. But "people started fixing their cars, and we were ready."
In the past 18 months, Sonoma Chevrolet's service revenue increased by one-third. By contrast, overall dealership revenue dropped nearly 40 percent during the last three years.
Roseland, who previously worked for General Motors for 14 years, about half of that time in fixed operations, calls the upswing a combination of luck and strategic thinking.
It kept the store in business.
"If our service had not started going up then, I wouldn't be here," he said. "Those extra service dollars kept me open. God, it was brutal."