BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – It is not an easy time to be an auto dealer. Apart from worrying about when sales will revive, and at what level, Bruce Limbaugh’s biggest worry is access to loans.
“This is a major challenge for our industry,” said the owner of Limbaugh Toyota. “Even more than credit for consumers, I am concerned about the lack of commercial lending for dealers. Local and regional banks in particular are spurning our dealers.”
Limbaugh’s father bought the Toyota dealership that he now runs back in 1989 and sold it to him in 1995. Like the rest of the U.S. auto industry, Limbaugh Toyota has been hurt by a combination of the recession, the U.S. housing crisis and the credit crunch. So far this year new car sales at the dealership are down 22.6 percent. The industry as a whole has seen U.S. sales fall from a peak of 17 million units in 2005 to an estimated level of just over 10 million units in 2009.
“For us, this truly is a Great Recession,” Limbaugh said. “My net worth has been cut in half over the last year.”
That said, Limbaugh said that last month was the dealership’s second most profitable October in 20 years, and that sales were actually up over October 2008.
“Every month since February our bottom line has improved,” he said.
Over the past year Limbaugh has cut his staff to 67 from 75. He would “rather not cut that anymore. But the market will dictate that.”
Long term, he believes the auto industry and sales will turn around for what for him is truly a family business. He has three sons and a son-in-law working at his dealership and another son-in-law owns the advertising agency that handles his marketing.
Photo by Carlos Barria
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“Do I think we will recover? Absolutely,” he said. “I’m banking my family’s future on it.”