Amrhein said the well-timed used-car strategy was the life support that his two stores needed to stay alive, but it didn't fully cover the damage that the recession and Chrysler's bankruptcy was doing to his operations.
In August 2008, Chrysler Financial — which also had been his floorplanning lender — ceased its consumer leasing operations. In most markets, the cessation of leasing was a crippling injury to dealers, but in areas such as Toledo and metro Detroit, where employee leases dominate, it was devastating.
"It cut our new-car business, which was already down, almost in half overnight," Amrhein said.
The outgoing Bush administration pumped a cash injection into Chrysler — and General Motors, which operates a large transmission plant in Toledo — in late 2008 to keep the automakers afloat. Chrysler responded by exerting tremendous pressure on its dealers to order and take delivery of new vehicles that, frankly, weren't selling.
In Toledo, the majority of workers at the assembly complex were laid off, and other Chrysler workers in the region — at a components plant in nearby Perrysburg, Ohio, and an engine plant 20 miles north of Toledo in Dundee, Mich. — were either laid off or working far fewer hours.
Then, on April 30, 2009, Chrysler's entire operations ground to a halt as it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. In metro Toledo, it was as if a neutron bomb had gone off; the buildings and equipment were still standing in most businesses, but the people were gone.
Amrhein and his partners were forced to do something he had never had to do: lay people off. Nearly 20 percent of his salaried employees at both stores were shown the door.
"It was the worst day I've ever had since I've been a dealer," Amrhein said, "because these were our employees, and we knew their families, but we had no choice. We had to get our expenses under control."
In April 2009, unemployment in the county had grown from 7.7 percent the prior September to 11.5 percent. Chrysler's perilous shutdown — as it traversed the bankruptcy proceedings and tried to emerge out the other side in a partnership with Fiat — would see the local unemployment rate spike to 14 percent.
Unlike 798 other Chrysler dealerships that were culled by the automaker during the bankruptcy, Amrhein's two stores survived, but it would be years before they fully recovered. In 2012, still facing limitations on his floorplan, Amrhein cut his remaining ties with the remnants of Cerberus-owned Chrysler Financial and switched to Ally.
His stores continued to recover, and, in fact, grew stronger as the remnants of the recession and bankruptcy faded. A decade on, Grogan's Towne is on pace to have its best year ever in 2018, as is Amrhein 's other store, Charlie's Dodge-Chrysler-Jeep-Ram in the more affluent suburb of Maumee, Ohio. Through July, the two stores combined have sold nearly 3,400 new vehicles and more than 2,300 used vehicles, he said.
But the lessons he learned a decade ago will never leave him.
"I'll tell you what: It made us better dealers," Amrhein said. "There's no doubt about that."