ROCKINGHAM — Auto dealers and service stations around the country are staying open despite the coronavirus pandemic.
Like grocery stores, banks and medical facilities, those dealerships provide essential services.
“We are deemed essential for caring for (customers’) cars and getting them serviced,” said Scott Altman, executive owner and general manager off Griffin Nissan in Rockingham.
So while many major automobile production plants around the country have temporarily suspended operations, dealerships are still working to satisfy their customers while taking steps to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.
The dealerships haven’t stopped doing commonplace tasks — sales, trades, test drives and consultations, among other things. But they have had to change how they go about doing those tasks, modifying their customer interactions to comply with social distancing guidelines.
In many cases, that means conducting business online.
“We’ve sold a car and appraised a trade online,” Altman said.
It also means limiting face-to-face interactions by going to the customers, rather then having them come to the dealership.
“We have actually picked up cars from houses,” Altman said. “…We delivered a car in Clinton (S.C.) on Monday, and we drove the trade-in back.”
As for in-person interactions, local dealership managers said the flow of customers has noticeably decreased because of COVID-19.
“It definitely has slowed things down,” said Trey McNair, of McNair’s Auto Sales in Rockingham.
But there’s still customers walking through their doors every day, and dealership employees are doing everything they can to make sure those customers can put their minds at ease. That process includes sanitizing practically every reachable surface.
“We’re cleaning things we never thought we would clean,” Altman said.
“We’re sanitizing everything,” McNair said. “When people get out of a test drive, we sanitize the car.”
Dealership employees have been instructed to do what federal and state officials have been telling the public to do for weeks now — wash your hands, practice social distancing, stay home if you’re sick and take extra precautions when you’re at work.
“I don’t want to call it common sense, because this isn’t a common time,” Altman said.
Dealerships and service stations are remaining open for now. But things could change in the future, as officials on the state and federal levels continue to implement restrictions.
“We are watching how everything unfolds,” McNair said.
In the meantime, their focus is on making the car-buying experience as enjoyable as possible for their customers — while also recognizing that the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t easy for anyone to deal with.
“We are more aware than ever before of respecting people,” Altman said.
“It definitely has slowed things down.”