AutoNation Inc. is among the retailers bracing for Hurricane Irma's impact in South Florida this weekend.
The company told employees Thursday that it's closing all 35 of its stores in Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, as well as Fort Myers, at 5 p.m. ET Thursday. The notice says the stores also will be closed Friday, but it's possible that the closures will last through the weekend, said AutoNation Chief Marketing Officer Marc Cannon.
AutoNation's Fort Lauderdale headquarters closed Wednesday at 6 p.m. ET and will be closed for the rest of the week.
Cannon said the company has a detailed disaster plan in place. Some stores are moving inventory to the multi-story parking garage at The Galleria at Fort Lauderdale shopping mall. AutoNation's corporate headquarters is also housing vehicles in its garage, which has more than 400 spots.
"We take every opportunity," Cannon told Automotive News. "That's part of our plan. Those are things that we secure in advance and that's why we can react so quickly to those things."
The company began Irma preparations on Tuesday while it deals with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in Houston. AutoNation ranks No. 1 on Automotive News' list of the top 150 dealership groups based in the U.S., with retail sales of 337,622 new vehicles in 2016.
AutoNation instructed staffers to unplug computers, printers and any other electronic devices at their dealerships before leaving Thursday evening. In addition, they were told that desktop computer equipment on floors should be placed on desks.
AutoNation also told employees to call its emergency status hotline to get updates on store closures and openings for Saturday. The hotline will be updated Friday at 5 p.m. ET.
JM Family Enterprises Inc., of Deerfield Beach, Fla., is also taking precautions. It owns JM Lexus in Margate, Fla., and Southeast Toyota Distributors, which has facilities in Jacksonville, Fla., and Commerce, Ga.
The company said JM Lexus, which has around 300 employees, will be closed Friday through Sunday. It’s the top Lexus store in the country, selling nearly 8,000 vehicles in 2016. The store had a skeleton crew in place Thursday.
Southeast Toyota distributes Toyota vehicles to dealerships in Florida, Georgia, Alabama and the Carolinas. In 2016, the company said, Toyota dealers in those five states sold 472,596 new Toyotas, including 118,548 fleet deliveries.
Southeast Toyota is halting deliveries in three districts, which cover the middle of the state around Orlando and down both coasts, said Christie Caliendo, a JM Family spokeswoman.
The distributor’s vehicle processing and parts warehouse in Jacksonville will be closed Friday through Monday. If things take a turn for the worse, it’s possible that vehicles could be transported to a safer location. When Hurricane Matthew came through last year, Caliendo said, Southeast Toyota moved inventory from Jacksonville to an inland processing facility that’s about 40 miles west of the port there.
She said JM Family isn’t taking any chances.
“I’ve been here 10 years. This is the first time [our headquarters] closed for several days,” she told Automotive News. “This is also a bigger hurricane than we’ve seen in a long time.”
At Warren Henry Auto Group in Miami, General Manager Larry Zinn said his team has already shut down and locked up over the last few days.
"We have stores in Key West," he told Automotive News TV. "So we were thankfully able to move over 100 cars out of Key West further north to some higher ground to one of our other locations. The stores that need shutters are all shuttered up."