The people selling cars in Stark County in northeast Ohio say their market has been shaken and stirred by the shuffling of dealerships brought on by the Detroit 3, which closed nine dealerships in the market since 2008.
Shaken, they say, because some longtime names in the local auto business are gone; stirred, because with fewer dealers vying for customers, profits are outpacing sales -- and both are on the increase.
After consolidating dealerships and eliminating several brands, General Motors lost share in the Canton, Ohio, area. So did Chrysler Group. But Ford Motor Co. and some of the import brands picked up share, based on retail registration data from R.L. Polk & Co.
GM dropped to 18.3 percent of retail registrations in 2010, down from 26.5 percent in 2007, before its bankruptcy. Over the same period Chrysler dropped from 13.3 percent of the Canton-Massillon market to 9.0 percent. Ford share rose to 22.8 percent, from 20 percent in 2007.
"We were one of the dealers that took a hit with the bankruptcies, but it turned out to be a plus for us," said Doug Waikem, president of Waikem Auto Group in Massillon, which with nearby Canton make up much of the local metro area.
Business is getting better for the survivors.
Waikem says sales are up 47 percent in the first four months of 2011 compared with the same period of 2010, and profits are up 78 percent. He says he's selling about 500 new and used cars a month so far this year.
Waikem, like other dealers in the county, lost some of the nameplates he had been selling in the wake of the Detroit 3 restructurings. In his case, gone are a GMC truck franchise, a Buick franchise and a Chrysler-Jeep dealership. He fought the losses at first, taking GM and Chrysler to arbitration. That move got him more money, but he still was disappointed to lose the dealerships, he said.
"GMC and Chrysler picked good dealers," Waikem said in referring to Massillon rivals Progressive GMC and Marhofer Chevrolet, which were chosen as survivors. Because those were good dealers, Waikem said he understood the decision.
"If they had picked dealers inferior to us, it would have hurt. But they didn't," said Waikem, who said the local dealership network needed to be downsized.
"There were too many dealers, and we weren't making money," he says.
Waikem retained the seven brands he carries today: Ford, Subaru, Hyundai, Kia, Nissan, Honda and Mitsubishi. He says he's growing now because those brands are picking up market share and because he has fewer competitors.
"When you're stuck with Honda, Ford, Nissan and Subaru, it's not all bad," he said.
Stark County is varied in its geography and demography. But from the new residential developments on the north end of the county south through gritty Canton and on to the dairy farms and cornfields that make up much of the rest of the county to the south, surviving dealers say business is good, and improving.