Dave Croft was disappointed when Chrysler cut him and hundreds of other dealerships earlier this month. Croft sold cars for the auto manufacturer for 33 years before Chrysler cut ties after the automaker filed for bankruptcy. But Croft has moved on as a used-car dealership. He recently talked to business reporter Will Buss about the change:
Q: When did your association with Chrysler officially end?
A: "The official termination date was June 8. I could not sell the cars. I could sell them, but they had no warranties, no incentives. I couldn't sell them."
Q: How has this affected you and your business?
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A: "It's been devastating to me because I'd been a Chrysler dealer for 33 years. It's going to take me a few months to get acclimated to the change. Chrysler went out of its way to give the public an open letter to say that I was out of business by sending a letter to customers. ... That's the way they handled it. I was left with the decision that if I wanted to stay in business, I had to stay in something, so the used-car business is what I know."
Q: What was business like leading up to the bankruptcy?
A: "It was getting harder and harder to make a profit in new cars with so many rebates. Chrysler sales were off 50, 60 percent when we used to sell 165 to 170 new cars a month, it was down ... so getting into the used car business was probably something that I was going to end up doing in the future. But I wasn't going to just stop overnight. I have no way of getting rid of inventory and parts, especially tools. They just didn't handle it very well."
Q: What is your focus for your business now?
A: "What we're going to attempt to do is have inventory for 120 used cars and hopefully get my sales up over the next several months ... all cars, makes and models. My mechanics are certified. And once we've sold the Chrysler parts, we'll try to get a parts store down here to do business. But it's going to take a few months to convert it over and a lot of hard work because Chrysler dumped my inventory and gave me no assistance and wouldn't buy the parts back. That was the devastating part. After 33 years of my life, how they treated me and almost 800 dealers across the country, that's a shame."
Q: How did you first get into the dealership?
A: "I was a banker with Southern Illinois National Bank until 1976. There already was the Bitzer family, who were in business since 1914 and was looking for a partner. We formed a partnership in 1976, Bitzer-Croft Motors. In 1980, Earl wanted to retire and get out of the business. I bought him out and at the time changed it to Dave Croft Motors. About 1979, I believe, we moved out to our new location here after we had been downtown. He had a great time, a great business, and I thought that by the time I was 64, I would probably be retired and sitting on a beach somewhere drinking a beer. But Chrysler had other plans. But there are worse things in life. I have my health, and I've got a great family. Things will turn out all right."
Q: What is your goal with your business at this point?
A: "My goal is to have a well-established used-car business and to get my service department back up and running again and get some parts business in here like Pepboys, get a parts company in here and established and get my life back together."