Another One Bites The Dust
Friday, October 20, 2006
Cherry Hill dealership to close
Scott Eckenhoff, owner of the Buick dealership across Route 38 from the Cherry Hill Mall, will close the store next month.
The number of dealerships for each General Motors brand in North America:
Total: 7,235 as of Aug. 31, 2006
Eckehoff's decision to sell was influenced by GM's drive to diversify the selection at its dealerships.
October 7, 2006
By EILEEN STILWELL
All those Toyotas, Hondas, Subarus and Volkswagens have finally driven Scott Eckenhoff off Church Road.
He will close his Buick dealership, which sits on 6 acres of prime real estate across from the Cherry Hill Mall, next month and move to Jenkintown, Pa., where he has franchises to sell a variety of General Motors products, including Buicks, Pontiacs, GMC trucks, Cadillacs and Hummers.
He sold his South Jersey Buick franchise last week to Burns Pontiac in Marlton for an undisclosed sum. Now, it will be Burns' turn to service warranties of customers Eckenhoff has courted for decades.
"It was the hardest decision of my life," said Eckenhoff, a third-generation car salesman whose grandfather, Alvin, sold big-finned Cadillacs in Philadelphia more than 40 years ago. In 1982, his father, Ted, opened a Buick franchise in Moorestown. Sixteen years later, the father and son team moved the business to a golden location they believed could not fail.
Then the imports buried the American auto industry.
Eckenhoff's exit is largely driven by General Motors' strategy to decrease the number of dealerships -- now at 7,235 in North America -- while increasing the number of GM products they sell. In plain language, this means Buicks alone won't cut it. Customers want more variety.
This year alone, General Motors has completed 151 consolidating transactions and is anxious to do more, corporate spokeswoman Susan Garontakos said.
"Our goal is one-stop shopping for customers to look across GM's eight products. We're working with our dealers and our goal is the same as theirs: to increase profitability," she said.
Though the company posted a $10.6 billion loss last year, its restructuring program that includes massive layoffs and plant closings seems to be reversing the trend, according to July earnings.
Eckenhoff was unable to buy another GM franchise in South Jersey, so he decided to sell what he could and pour all his energy into the five Jenkintown franchises he bought two years ago.
Ideally, he will find another car dealership to take over his showroom, but if not, he's open to selling the land to the highest bidder.
"The future is not a single-line Buick store," Eckenhoff said. "Years ago, Buick offered as many as 15 models. Now, we're down to four: the Lucerne, Lacrosse, Rendezvous and Terraza."
The 46-year-old Lumberton resident said he won't miss his $132,000-a-year property tax bill, the cost of health care in New Jersey and paying interest on $4 million worth of inventory in Cherry Hill. He will miss his customers -- those who won't make the 15-mile trek to Jenkintown -- and his staff, down to 55 from about 85.
"We hope to absorb about one-third of our staff for those who want to relocate. But, I'm honestly not worried about their employment. They are all top notch and in demand by other dealerships," said Eckenhoff, who routinely ranks among the top Buick salesmen in the country.
Still, sales have dropped from a high of 1,000 cars per year to a low of 500.
"Buy American," Eckenhoff urges.
Eckenhoff's Showcase of used cars will remain on Route 38 in Maple Shade. He is prevented from moving that business to Cherry Hill because a local ordinance does not allow a stand-alone used car business. It must be secondary to a new car franchise.
"The Eckenhoff family and Buick complex has been a hallmark of Cherry Hill and I am sad to see them leave. They have always been good corporate neighbors to the township and we wish them luck in the future," Cherry Hill Mayor Bernie Platt said in a written statement.
Weather, said Eckenhoff, was a factor in his decision.
"December through February is tough in this business. I didn't think I could stand another winter and run the risk of losing everything."