Idaho GM dealership survives cuts

May 20, 2009

This is part of a series of personal accounts about small business and the recession. The writers are contributors to Associated Content.

by Shirley Thagard

The president of a northern Idaho Chevrolet dealership said she’s not particularly nervous about the closing of almost 1,200 General Motors dealerships.

That’s because Eve Knudtsen, the third-generation president of the family-owned Knudtsen Chevrolet in Post Falls, Idaho, did not receive notice from GM on Monday morning that her dealership would be on the automaker’s list of closures.

Even so, the economy has been tough on the business.

I have been a customer at Knudtsen Chevrolet for 20 years. I know many of the employees, so I was curious if they had to lay off any workers recently. She told me they started streamlining about three years ago.

“I wanted to get lean and efficient,” Knudtsen told me. “We did eliminate some positions then and have since restructured some management positions, but we have not laid off any employees recently.”

In reviewing some of the criteria GM used in closing dealerships, Knudtsen says her business is strongly above the curve. Sales, above all, tell the story: The 1,100 dealerships that closed represent 7 percent of GM’s volume.

While sales for new cars have dropped dramatically on the lot, it’s surviving, Knudtsen says, thanks to strong customer satisfaction marks and its multifaceted business model. Used-car sales remain consistent. It offers a car-rental service and a body shop. The staff has also implemented numerous benefits, such as free neck and back massages on Thursdays, shuttle service for long appointments and the use of computers and Internet while I wait.

There is much negative news about the auto industry and GM in particular. But if other dealers can bring in multiple income streams and practice common-sense business — like my hometown car lot — I think they can sustain a solid business in a bad economy.

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It offers a car-rental service and a body shop. The staff has also implemented numerous benefits, such as free neck and back massages.

This is diversification in the true sense of the word, it also gives a whole new meaning to the word body shop!