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As wholesale parts business begins to tail off, cautious optimism prevails

Colorado dealership Perkins Motors makes adjustments to wholesale department operations as state’s coronavirus expects to spike

Colorado Springs, Colo.—Dale Underwood’s body shop wholesale business has remained strong as his customers catch up on jobs and work in progress. But parts ordering is beginning to tail off and he expects a pivot by the end of the month as the pandemic’s wave begins to crest.

Dale Underwood, Perkins Motors

“It’ll be difficult for business to come back all that fast if shops don’t have new work coming in,” said Underwood, who is the collision and mechanical wholesale parts manager for Perkins Motors, a family-owned Fiat Chrysler dealership in Colorado Springs.  

“When the statewide stay-at-home order ends April 26, I don’t think there’s going to be a flip of the switch back to normal. There’ll be an aftereffect before we ramp up to full pace again.

“We’re running a skeleton crew at about 60 percent of our normal staffing.”

Underwood had two employees whose health placed them at risk. “We didn’t want to take any chances with them, so we placed them on furlough,” he said, adding that a few others were concerned about the potential of being exposed to the coronavirus and were placed on furlough, as well.

While business is presently trending down, Perkins Motors is making adjustments to keep operations maximized and maintaining a safe facility for employees and customers.

The dealership’s service department, which is also working with a scaled-back staff, has been successful performing mechanical repair at a relatively busy pace, Underwood said, and picking up customers’ cars and dropping them off, as needed.

“People who have to get their car worked on, still will for the most part, of course. Though if a vehicle is ‘running,’ I think there’s an apprehension out there among people regarding finances and they won’t spend the money unless they have to with a mechanical failure. Maintenance could become a discretionary service for now.”

Perkins Motors is directing all parts ordering on-site to its warehouse in order to avoid foot traffic going through its retail department.

“We’ve also begun doing curb service at the warehouse with signs posted, asking customers to call us when they arrive,” Underwood said.

Perkins, as with many other distributors, has implemented a no-signature policy with its sign-pads as a precautionary measure.

“The warehouse is also disinfected every hour, on the hour — door handles, counters, desks — everything gets cleaned,” he said, adding that much of the facility has been taped off at six-foot increments for social distancing.

“Everyone at Perkins is doing their part to keep everyone safe.”

As of this week, all drivers are required to wear masks and gloves — they are no longer an option. “Certain shops also prefer we leave the parts outside, for which we’ll call them before we leave to alert them that they’ve been delivered — it’s been working well for some of the big body shops.”

In the short term, the pandemic is going to affect collision shops more than the mechanical, he said. “I’m not aware of any shops closing, though some might not be able to weather the storm, but I’ve yet to see it.

“We’ll just have to see what the future brings, but I remain hopeful.”

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