Friday, March 6, 2009

Local Auto Dealerships Remain Optimistic

By Larry Favinger & Magen Petit
Staff Columnists
Although there seems to be bad news for the auto industry on the national and international level almost daily, that is not necessarily reflected locally.
While there has been an acknowledged drop in new vehicles sales, local dealers are very optimistic and are compensating in other areas, including the sales of used units and the quality of their service.
“New car sales are definitely off for us,” Steve “Hoaty” Houghton, general manager at Starkey of York, said, “but not as far off as nationally.”
Sid Porter, corporate director of sales, leasing and finance at Dick Bournival Dodge of York, said “business, traffic wise, is a little bit off” but used car sales are holding, or, in some cases, are going up.
General Manager of Somersworth Nissan, Dan Forget, mentioned sales were “actually pretty good” during President’s Day weekend.
“We are down a little from last year, but we sold almost 70 vehicles,” said Forget.
Over at Dover Auto World, General Manager Curt Sylvia said he’s “doing better than in 2008”.
“During President’s Day weekend, we sold about 15 percent or more from last year,” said Sylvia. “They were mostly used, but that’s expected. In these economic times, affordability payments are an issue. Eighty-five percent of sales are used cars.”
John Hayes, owner of Village Motors of South Berwick, a dealer who sells only used vehicles, has seen truth in that statement.
“For us, I would say we’re a little recession resilient,” Hayes said, sitting in his office at his Route 236 sales and service facility. “We do actually, a little better, usually, during these times for the simple fact that people either fix the cars they have or buy used.”
At times like these, former customers and referrals become even more important than usual.
All the negative publicity nationally has an impact on the walk-in or impulse buyers Porter said. “You have to divert your energy to your repeats and referrals. We’d love to see more walk-in business, but we’re getting by with our data base, our own owners.”
“Our repeat and referral business is double the national average,” Houghton said. “That puts us in a unique position and gives us a little bit of an edge in the current economic climate.”
Adding to that, Sylvia claims he’s had very low turnover.
“I think that plays into relationship building,” expressed Sylvia. “We build a lot of tenor here. We have a lot of repeats and referrals. This market is in hard economic times, so that’s the best source of advertisement.”
“This time feels a little bit different than the other two recessions I’ve been through,” Hayes said, “but business has been steady, if not a little up tick for us.”
One area in which national news has had an impact is the feeling of the general public toward financing.
“That’s a whole other category,” Houghton said.
In the last quarter of 2008, he said, “It was difficult to get financing for people who should have had no trouble getting it.”
But since then, Houghton said, things have loosened up a little bit and banks are lending more money.
“People with good credit will not have trouble getting a loan,” he said. “Difference is, if you have poor credit, you’re going to have trouble getting financing.” He said. “People who have the best credit will get the best rates.”
Dover Auto World is offering zero percent financing.
“We have rates as low as 1.9 percent,” explained Sylvia. “It’s all about mathematics because when the payment is calculated, it seems too high for folks.”
Forget’s keynote way of doing business is “you pay, we pay”.
“We’re selling cars at invoice price, which costs less than rebates,” explained Forget. “This also helps save time because there is no hassle or negotiations as well as saving money.”
Hayes said there are people who think financing is not available even though it is.
“They have raised the bar,” he said of the financing institutions. Among other changes, he said, is that the banks “want more money down.”
This part of the country is lucky in that there are more community banks and credit unions. “Those guys are still lending,” he said. “They haven’t been hit like the big guys.”
Overall, the auto industry, from a local standpoint, isn’t as bad as it could be.
“It’s no shock, right around October, we took a decline, but there are positive signs, too,” said Forget. “February was a great month, so hopefully that’s a good sign.”
Sylvia added, “It’s not as bad as one would think. We focus on being positive and focus on taking care of the customer. We have the ingredients that makes us successful.”

Center Provides a Place for Youths, Teens

By Magen Petit
Staff Columnist
One effective way to get youths and teens off the street is by providing them with a place to go when they aren’t in school or at home. In 1998, South Berwick Police Officer Peter Gagnon and a group of high school students started the South Berwick Youth Teen Center, located across from The Lunch Box on Agamenticus Road in South Berwick.
Gagnon approached the Town and asked them if the Center could use the old red barn for a place for youths and teens. The Town agreed and gave the front half of the barn to the Center.
The Center provides a place for the youths and teens to do many activities such as quilting, homework, cake decorating, candy making, scrap booking, and many other crafts. Many games including board games, foosball, pool, and air hockey are also available to the kids.
Other groups also use the barn as a place to meet, such as Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, and Cub Scouts. The Center also opens its doors to an autism group, which meets once a month, local sports teams, home school groups, the recreation department, and a summer camp.
Now, Louise Cole-Anderson is the director of the non-profit organization and wants nothing more than to continue keeping youths and teens off the street.
“I’ve always been involved in volunteering, especially with the Center,” said Cole-Anderson. “I saw the kids growing up and volunteers leaving, but I stayed. I wanted a place for the kids, but I realized I needed to get a younger group of kids to start coming.”
Cole-Anderson reached out to kids as young as the junior high level and eventually to the fourth and fifth grade level.
A few years ago, Cole-Anderson wanted to expand the Center for the kids as they were outgrowing the space.
“Jerry Easter of the Knights of Columbus gave me the encouragement to get this done,” remarked Cole-Anderson. “He told me the Knights of Columbus were looking for a project and he chose us and he told me that this could be done.”
The efforts of the volunteers resulted in raising about $5,000 to replace the roof as well as gutting out the back room and re-doing the wallboards.
“The whole process started about two-and-a-half years ago,” explained Cole-Anderson. “We ran into a few delays with Mother Nature coming earlier than expected that year and making sure everything was weather-tight. We were able to finish smaller projects before starting on the bigger renovations.”
Instead of just a front room, there is now a back room, which was divided in half to two rooms. The back rooms will be for quilting and sewing as well as a living room area with a television and the popular game Dance Dance Revolution. The front room will be just for games.
The renovations are still not complete.
“In essence, we have two more projects remaining,” explained Easter. “We will be expanding the kitchen and re-doing the bathroom.”
Easter started the renovations and as he put it, “I’m a jack of all trades, but a master of none.”
Greg Paquette of Maplewood Construction in North Berwick took over the project and Easter noted, “He’s the master.”
“You know that saying, “It takes a village…” well, it really does,” said Cole-Anderson who donates about 20-24 hours of her time a week just toward the Center. “If it weren’t for Jerry or the volunteers or Ann Hussey and Dr. Mike Nazemetz of the South Berwick Rotary or my husband supporting me 100 percent, none of this would have happened.”
Cole-Anderson is hoping to have the rest of the renovations completed this summer. She is very appreciative of all the support and donations people have given to help the Center and keep it open.
For more information on the South Berwick Youth Teen Center, visit the 3 Willow Drive (just off Agamenticus Road) location or call Louise at (207) 384-4731.
Photo captions: The backside of the barn after the renovations were completed to the Center... Jerry Easter receives an award from South Berwick Youth Teen Center Director Louise Cole-Anderson for his time and dedication to the youth and the community of South Berwick. (Weekly Sentinel photos)