Steve Seltzer: Leaner, meaner dealership in 2011

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Store shot, Steve Seltzer Honda.

Steve Seltzer, owner of Steve Seltzer Honda in Altoona, Pa., reflects back on 2010.

“Ah, what’s the saying? ‘If I had known then what I know now!’ The big mistake I made was not trimming expenses to the bone in 2009. I kept thinking, ‘It’s got to get better.’ It didn’t. ‘It can’t get much worse!’ But it did.

“Another mistake I made: assuming that 2009 was the ‘bad’ year. Turns out 2009 was a good year compared to 2010. Indeed, October 2010 was the second worst month we have ever had since I have owned the business (five years).

“MIC data for Pennsylvania is not encouraging. Our November door count was down 24 percent over last year, which was down over 2008. We’re down in P&A and sales. Service is flat. I cannot buy pre-owned utility ATVs and make enough money selling them, so our pre-owned sales are really hurting this fall.

“While I am one of the most positive people you will meet, I finally realized that it was not going to get better ‘next month.’ We started by eliminating the poor performers and nonperformers from our ranks. Payroll went down, and quite frankly, those who are left seem happy to fill in the holes. I hope we don’t need to make further personnel cuts, but I will do what I need to do to help our business survive. I am now handling the accounting functions. I hate accounting, but you do what you have to do. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. We have put a new person in our F&I position. We are recruiting one new tech, a parts person, and will look at our sales department over the winter.

“We will be leaner and meaner for 2011. We must do this if we are to survive. We’ve renegotiated our bank loans, reduced interest rates there, renegotiated our rent, and we’re looking at every dollar we spend. It’s tough to make cuts, but we either do that, or the whole ship sinks. I don’t care how much I like the owner of the bottled water company, we’re switching to tap water, which should save us about $100 a month. Every little bit helps. What’s the old saying about watching the pennies and letting the dollars take care of themselves?

“I wish I had made these cuts earlier. I wish we had reduced inventory earlier. Even if business were booming, the people who are gone needed to be gone, so the tough economy forced me to make tough decisions, but I waited too darned long. On that point, there is no one to blame but me.

“We are watching closely what we spend on advertising. We are trying to do what seems to bring the greatest return, which has traditionally been direct mail. We have a holiday coupon out now giving people a $20 discount that they can use between now and the end of the year. I am seeing those coupons every day when I do the deposit, so I know they are working. The rest of the stuff we were doing it seems to me like we were peeing in the wind. All I was getting was wet. So we stopped much of the other marketing we were doing. We were advertising to an empty showroom.

“2011 is a crucial year for our business. We’re planning on a flat year and praying that we get our butts kicked because we are so darned busy. Time will tel l— spring is right around the corner.”

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