Jack Holt, President Murray & Holt Motors, Inc.
Murray & Holt Motors, Inc. is a retail automotive company serving Central Oregon. We buy, sell, consign, finance used vehicles and broker all makes of new and used vehicles. Our Service department services all makes of cars, trucks, SUVs and vans. The Parts department handles AC Delco and aftermarket parts and service products.
Murray & Holt was established as a Pontiac, GMC dealership in 1957 and has held franchises for Pontiac, GMC, Buick, Oldsmobile, Hillman, Opel, Toyota, Suzuki and Detroit Diesel/Allison. The company tendered its GM franchise back to General Motors in February of 2009 and has been an independent dealership since that time.
How has your business been impacted by the economic downturn?
Nationally, in 2008, the writing was on the wall. In a little over a year, the annual new car sales in the U.S. went from 17,000,000 to a less than 11,000,000. A 35 percent drop in market volume in such a short time is like falling off a cliff and creates knee-jerk reactions at the dealer, finance and manufacturer levels. The valued and long-time partnerships between those three entities went from two-way conversations and an historically acceptable level of cooperation to arbitrary, one way conversations from the corporations (GM and GMAC) to the dealer. In addition, GM and GMAC were often at odds as the top priority for each was saving their own skin. Rule making and new standards were imposed at will by those with the hammer and with no consideration other than self-preservation.
To make matters worse, you may recall the rumors of GM bankruptcy that started surfacing in late fall of 2008. This was hard to comprehend, as bullet-proof GM had been the largest corporation in the world at one time, and GMAC had been consistently a primary profit-center. However, those “in the know” felt that BK was a distinct possibility for GM and GMAC and that only a reorganization would right the ship(s). Trust was certainly compromised. A time-tested principle is that the best contracts (franchises) are only as good as the partners, and the partners were looking pretty shaky.
Add to that the economics Central Oregon was dealing with. Somewhere between 15 percent and 20 percent of our local economy was dependent on the building trades. As with car sales, this industry hit the wall and also saw an almost complete retraction of capital. This did not look like a quick turn-around with all the pressure banks and buyers were under.
The effect of this economic conundrum is still with us. There remains lower new car demand with 2012 sales projected to be a little over 14,000,000 vehicles. That means fewer used cars available than five years ago because of fewer trades, less leasing and a greatly reduced fleet business. While demand is down for used as well as new, supply is down even more. On the other hand, service business has been up markedly. Folks are maintaining their cars and trucks more diligently than ever as they are keeping them longer. The age of the U.S. fleet is at record highs. As an independent, having OEM (AC Delco) plus competitive aftermarket parts gives us the ability to use replacements that represent ‘best value.’
How have you reinvented yourselves to stay in business?
New car franchises require many more people than an independent operation. With this dramatic change, head count is the solution which was the most painful part of our ‘reinvention.’ With the announcement in 2009, employees were quite supportive, even encouraging, when learning of the decision to tender the franchise and have been very loyal and stayed the course. After the layoffs, most of the hands-on folks that remain are the ones our customers were used to doing business with in ‘the old days.’ Employee loyalty made reinvention possible.
The times really dictated what steps we needed to take. We had location, location, location going for us and it has been a prime spot for a dealership for 55 years. That in itself is unusual as most communities have ever changing neighborhoods that dramatically affect business markets and viability. The parkway changed some of the traffic flow and dealerships have moved out of the central area, but the location ‘Right on the Corner’ remained very viable.
We can be more objective now. Whether it’s brokering a car, truck, SUV or van or performing service work we are not tied to a recommendation by franchise. The opinions we have are based more on customer needs and product quality and application than ever before. We can focus on what’s hot and forego what’s not. Our partnerships are now ‘Want to’ rather than ‘Have to.’
Our time is more focused on WIGO (What Is Going On) than before which is a key to survival in difficult times. Those things that are value added and critical to our core business are the areas we can focus on. Previously, we marched to different drummers and spent a great deal of time complying rather than concentrating on the most important things.
What are your goals going forward in our present economic climate?
Best value service. We have a lubrication promotion second to none and follow that up with a high quality, best price maintenance and repair program. We do it right now and have an extensive parts department that facilitates that.
A car, truck, SUV and van inventory that features some unique products that are beyond the commodity cars available. A selection that reflects the market and our direction is the goal as we recognize we can’t have a car for every niche. We will continue to provide financing and Zurich extended warranties to facilitate the purchase. Developing sources for this inventory is an ongoing effort.
The third generation, Norm and Tim, will continue to operate in this facility in the foreseeable future. It is a well known and established location that, in todays world, would be difficult or impossible to duplicate.
What have been the keys to your continued success?
Being in business for 55 years, professional employees, and having a loyal customer base are assets that cannot be underestimated. They cannot be taken for granted. Taking all reasonable steps to keep our customers coming back to us, with an emphasis on service, professionalism and value, is critical. That takes some real initiative as you don’t have the recognition of a new car franchise working for you any longer.
Social media and the access to the internet are clearly the avenues of effective communication and marketing, like it or not. The marketing landscape has changed and knowing what, where, when and how to market, communicate and advertise is a real challenge. This will continue to be an area we’ll monitor as ultimately, results rule.
It’s a people business in a family operation. While there is a corporate and chain direction in the new car business, we will continue to focus on being “Up close and personal” with the Central Oregon community and each one of
Going forward we will have to continue to run a tight ship, be flexible, react in a timely manner, keep our professional team running on all cylinders and give our customers reasons to keep coming back. It is critical to keep the following in our direction and decision making: “No customer, no business.”
Murray & Holt Motors Incorporated, murrayandholt.com, 541- 241-2866, 181 Ne Franklin Ave, Bend.