Dealers in the flood-affected areas said that when business died off, they freed their staffs to pitch in on flood-relief efforts, including opening their homes to those in need.
“I had seven people [who were out of their homes] living in my house,” Gardner said. “And I opened up a couple of trailers on my property. I made a lot of new friends.”
Although vehicle sales ended overnight, Gardner kept paying his 50 employees.
“They had enough problems. They didn’t need to be without a paycheque, too.”
When flooding hit the Abbotsford area, Magnuson Ford immediately changed its promotional radio ads. The new message included words of encouragement and offers to service any vehicle “regardless of the brand.”
“When it all happened, we had no business. We lost appointments,” said Magnuson. “We just kind of wanted to offer community support.”
The dealership, which was not flooded, also provided free inspections for partially flooded vehicles, drop-offs and pickups at the town’s airport, and even storage space in its showroom.
A number of key employees, including the main troubleshooting technician, couldn’t get to the dealership because of highway closures. In the future, the dealership will increase cross-training to ensure it is better prepared to manage similar staff shortages, Magnuson said.
DELIVERING, NOT DEALING
Murray Chevrolet-Buick-GMC was just above the flood zone in Merritt. With computers down and business at a sudden halt, Antonenko and his staff devoted much of their time to emergency relief.
Sales Manager Jason Leech brought food to people digging out mud-filled basements. Service Manager Brian Nicolls secured the dealership, which closed for a few days, then shuttled fresh water and food to friends and family.
“I am very proud of my entire team,” said Antonenko. “I myself stayed for three days, assisting friends and shuttling supplies. Then, I volunteered time with Samaritan’s Purse — an amazing organization — assisting with demolition, removal and emotional support.”
The dealership relied on texting to update customers as to when new vehicles would be delivered and regarding delays and the dealership’s reopening. Antonenko also encouraged staff to have one-on-one chats with friends and neighbours whose homes were destroyed.
“For the most part, we just wanted to share with people who have lived through difficulties,” he said.
Parts supplies also dried up virtually overnight in the affected zones because of landslides that impacted — and in some cases closed — all major highways. Magnuson said that when his dealership lost access to Ford’s parts depot in Edmonton, work was either delayed or customers were given the choice to have parts from third-party suppliers installed. Most customers were understanding, he said.
“Everyone out there knew what we were up against,” Magnuson said.
General Motors dealers also temporarily lost access to the parts depot in Langley, B.C., but by early December, the automaker began shipping from Edmonton. When customers agreed to it, the dealership used third-party parts sourced from the Maple Ridge, B.C.-based Lordco aftermarket chain.
The parts squeeze began to ease when the main supply road, the Coquihalla Highway, reopened to essential commercial traffic Dec. 21 after being closed for more than a month.
Dealers are now working to secure vehicles for people who lost theirs during the flood. In Merritt, Antonenko said he has secured two vehicles and expects an additional dozen orders as drivers reach settlements with the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, the provincial insurer.
Antonenko said while his dealership’s generosity helped build goodwill, business concerns took a back seat.
“We were just trying to be friends with people instead of a just a business,” he said. “That’s a small town. “