Carlson, like many of his peers, also renegotiated and rebid his contracts with vendors to ensure his business stayed afloat. He continues this practice even now, re-evaluating vendor contracts every 18 months.
"We resized ourselves and resized our expenses and took a hard look at everything," he said, compressing "the operation down to where we could be profitable — albeit for a while, marginally profitable."
Carlson also cross-trained his employees as he decreased his staff by nearly half, to 80 employees from 150. He found controllers who could run two stores at once, for example.
"We're constantly looking for ways to drive expense out of the operation," Carlson said. "We're very careful in how we structure things. We're very careful anytime we add any expense" and ask "if it's absolutely necessary."
Carlson also credits his business longevity for helping him survive the downturn. After all, he had seen economic recessions in the 1980s.
"I was a young dealer then, and I gotta tell you, all of the scars of those days were helpful in making it through in 2008," Carlson said. "We knew we had to cut because we had seen it before. ... We had experience with the bottom falling out."
Carlson described his operations as "a bit of a hometown store" and said that throughout the recession, he took risks, continued to maintain a high level of service and kept loyal customers despite the uncertainties that were looming in the industry.
"Nothing was pleasant during that time period," Carlson said. "It's not pleasant to tell people that they didn't have a job. It's not pleasant to have to unwind things. It's not pleasant to have bankers threatening you."