hen the Great Recession hit in 2008, the impact was swift, severe and surprising, recalled Brian Benstock, vice president of Paragon Honda and Paragon Acura.
Combined sales at the two Woodside neighborhood stores in the New York City borough of Queens plunged 30 percent from August to September. Nonetheless, Benstock stayed the course through November.
"I was slow to react because it was such a quick drop. I thought it would turn around quickly," said Benstock, now 57.
He went through many sleepless nights, buffeted by feelings that bounced between guilt and remorse. Eventually, Benstock reluctantly reduced head count.
Salespeople and service technicians were spared. He needed them to "sell and service us out of this bad economy," he recalled. But a "substantial number" of managers were let go.
The rest of Benstock's management team took pay cuts. His employees understood what was going on and took it in stride. Still, the layoffs took a toll on him.
"It was so painful that I went to a psychologist" to cope with the stress, he said.
"I'm not ashamed" of doing so, he added. "If you're jeopardizing someone's livelihood, sending somebody who was a high earner to the unemployment line at a time when it might not be so easy to get a job and you don't feel the need to talk to somebody, then you have an even bigger problem."
Though he didn't see the recession coming, Benstock was warned about it. A dealership broker, during a dealer meeting he attended in summer 2008, predicted that a "tremendous slowdown was coming," Benstock recalled.
"I guess this was either July or August and I walked out of there thinking, 'I don't really get this,' " he said. He was in the midst of a 2008 that was shaping up to be a record year for the two dealerships — until the bottom fell out in September.
After the layoffs, Benstock regrouped and re-energized. By spring 2009 he was ready to go on the offensive.