Doug Wilson remembers the scene well.
It was May 2009 when the CEO of Wilson Auto Group was blindsided by a letter from Chrysler alerting him that his profitable Dodge franchise in Flowood, Miss., was being terminated — one of the thousands of dealerships wrung out by the Great Recession and the government-led restructuring of General Motors and Chrysler Group.
These dealers and their stories of struggle and survival were the subject of an Automotive News retrospective series in September.
Here's another one to add to the collection.
When he got the letter, Wilson gathered his managers to share the news. Then he laid out a survival plan, unsure whether it would work.
The plan called for a massive sale that would liquidate six months' worth of Dodge inventory within three weeks, and then going all-in on the Hyundai and Kia brands, recent additions to his group that he considered franchises of the future.
Before he knew it, the sale was under way.
After the meeting, Wilson headed downstairs to his showroom where he was greeted by local media outlets that had gotten word that his store was on the chopping block. With the cameras and recorders trained on him, Wilson went from being bearer of bad news to enterprising salesman.
He stood next to a Ram 1500 and declared that starting the next morning, Wilson Dodge would have the biggest going-out-of-business sale that you've ever seen. He then used the pickup as Exhibit A, saying customers could get up to $10,000 off on it if they had a trade-in.
A reporter who was interviewing Wilson at the time then closed out the segment by repeating the trade-in deal. Other outlets would run similar stories.
Then the floodgates opened.
"I have never seen so many people. People were getting mad like, 'You need to have more salespeople,' " Wilson recalled. "We really didn't intend on having this sale."
Wilson and his crew managed to clear the Dodge lot in a whirlwind stretch on the back of the early media coverage and an aggressive ad push on TV and radio touting the clearance sale.