Texas car dealers clean up wintry mess

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Steve Wolf, the dealer principal, said the store lost power for several days before it returned Feb. 17. The store had to thoroughly check out its dealership management system, Internet and phones before starting back up, and Wolf is now thinking about getting a generator for his store as a precaution.

Employees started returning Feb. 19, a Friday. Things were largely back to normal the next day as transport trucks started delivering new vehicles and customers poured into the store.

“We were back,” Wolf said. “Saturday was rockin’. ”

Friendly Ford of Crosby near Houston made it through the icy period unscathed. But many employees incurred broken pipes at their homes along with the power and water outages that plagued so many.

To help them through this time, Austin Salinas, the general sales manager, said the dealership paid its workers for days they missed. The store was closed for three days before returning with a skeleton crew Feb. 18 and 19.

Friendly didn’t see the sudden influx of store traffic after the storm that Helfman did. Salinas attributed the slower days to people needing to tend to damage at their homes first.

The cold stretch, Salinas said, halted momentum in what had been a nice month for the store. He believes the store lost about 40 sales during its downtime.

Ford can blame the winter storm for at least one lost Bronco sale. Salinas said one customer backed out of a Bronco reservation after pipes failed at her home and she needed to use the money for repairs.

The power outages across Texas have demonstrated the usefulness of a new built-in generator option on the redesigned F-150. Some owners used the feature to power their homes until electricity was restored.

“Our guys have used that as a major selling point this week when they’re presenting this new truck [and] showing everybody the benefits of this new generator,” Salinas said. “And our customers now see the value in that.”

Fernando Varela, who owns four dealerships near Dallas, said the roof of his All Star Ford store in Palestine sagged under the weight of the snow and ice that had accumulated. The roof has since been inspected, and the store is open again.

Varela is focused on taking care of his employees who lost several days of pay, including some who were out for a week. He said the company was “trying to be creative and be fair with some of them because obviously they don’t have control over the situation.”

Helfman’s Luther had a generator at his home that he used to keep some lights and the TV on, though it wasn’t strong enough to deliver another luxury that few Texans previously viewed as essential: heat.

But after the weather warmed up, he said life returned to normal quickly.

“I went out to a couple of restaurants over the weekend, and they were just jampacked,” Luther said. “It was like COVID was over. Every table in the restaurant was full. We haven’t had that in a while.”

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Saurabh Shukla

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