Printed in Automotive News Aug. 23, 2010
Sales at Brian Benstock's Honda and Acura dealerships soared last summer because of the cash-for-clunkers program, in which customers received thousands of dollars for trading in vehicles for more fuel-efficient models.
Wait, wasn't that in 2009?
Benstock liked the federal government's 2009 clunker program so much that he ran his own program last year at Paragon Honda and Paragon Acura in the Woodside neighborhood in the New York borough of Queens.
Instead of destroying the cars traded in, which the federal clunker program required, he got lots of used cars -- enough, he said, to make him the country's top Honda and Acura certified used-car dealer. Honda confirmed those rankings.
Benstock offered customers 20 percent, or $3,800, whichever is less, over the Kelley Blue Book value of their trade-in. Any new or used vehicle on the lot was eligible as long as the purchased vehicle has better fuel economy than the trade-in.
Benstock said he paid the bonuses even on relatively new trade-ins -- vehicles whose fuel economy was too good to qualify them for the federal government's cash-for-clunkers program.
The clunkers program, which ran in July and August last year, accounted for about 30 percent of sales at both stores and helped boost new- and used-vehicle sales.
Benstock said he's profitable because of high volume.
"My business philosophy is if you want to make a lot, make a little," he said. "You can make a little many times."
He's also convinced that buyers want to be in and out of a dealership with little fuss and without lengthy negotiations.
"Most of our arrangements are done over the Internet before the customer comes in," Benstock said. "We even have the trade-in and finance information, and that gives us an edge over the competition."
Customers said they wanted better service hours, so Benstock decided to mirror competitors Pep Boys and Jiffy Lube, staying open seven days a week. Service hours on weekends are 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday.
Saturday and Sunday have become Paragon's most profitable service days. Said Benstock: "We see license plate frames from all over the metro area -- the dealerships where they purchased the cars that are not open."