Slave Lake auto dealers dealing with changed business model

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

It’s a new world, says Whitecap Chev, Buick etc. owner Colin Parada. “We’re changing the way we do things.”

The same goes for his colleagues/competitors in auto sales and service in Slave Lake. For example, customers have the option of putting their keys in a slot if they don’t want to come inside to arrange a service for their vehicle.
For quicker lube jobs, “we ask them to stay in their vehicles,” Parada says.

What else is new?

“We tell people we can pick their vehicle up (and drop it off),” Parada says. “And people are taking us up on it.”

On the sales side, business is different as well. It’s fair to say it’s down across the board, but people still need vehicles. One way of showing people a vehicle without the in-person contact is something Parada calls “a virtual test-drive.” This is done on line. A few have tried it.

Service is the big thing right now. Auto repair shops are deemed essential services, and that means they have to keep at it, while doing what they can to keep customers and employees safe.

“We’re following Alberta Health (guidelines),” Parada says.

Alberta Health may not have said anything about sanitizing keys before (and after) a test drive, but that’s one of the measures Revolution Ford is taking. General manager Chad Babiy mentions following Ford of Canada protocols, which besides swabbing surfaces includes new-vehicle purchases that can be entirely done online. The only physical interaction is when the vehicle gets dropped off at the buyer’s location of choice, and that doesn’t even have to involve face-to-face contact. Babiy told The Leader last Tuesday (April 14) that the first transaction of this type he expected to be completed shortly.

Sales have been pretty slow generally, though. Owner Stefan Plouffe of SL Chrysler says that has been true of the past six months, with the COVID effect being “the icing on the cake.”

His dealership is inviting people into the showroom in person, but in a very controlled manner. The doors are locked and visits are by appointment only. There was some apprehension about this at first, he says, but “it’s worked.”

Business generally is tough. Plouffe gives credit to the federal support program as making the difference between being able to keep people working through this difficult period, for as long as it lasts. Now more than ever, though, he says shopping locally will really help keep businesses like his going.

“We plan to keep as many people working for as long as we can,” Plouffe says.

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