Auto dealer jobs rebound

Published in San Antonio (Texas) Express News, August 12, 2009, Written by David Saleh Rauf, Automotive Reporter

August 12, 2009 - Like most car dealerships across the country, Bluebonnet Motors in New Braunfels slashed its staff last year as sales plunged.

Adjusting to the worst domestic auto sales market in nearly three decades, the dealership closed two used car locations and reduced its total staff by about 50 positions.

But now the dealership says sales are on the rise — up 10 percent last month in a year-to-year comparison — and some of those jobs are being brought back.

“We feel like the market is turning back around so we're tying to attract more people,” said Wes Studdard, general manager of Bluebonnet Motors, which currently has four job openings in its sales division.

The auto industry is battling an epic sales slump and unemployment in San Antonio hit a six-year high in June, but plenty of area car dealerships are hiring for sales and service jobs.

“At many dealers, there were some fairly deep cuts in overhead to keep their heads above water during the downturn,” said Bill Wolters, president of the Texas Automobile Dealers Association. “Now they have the opportunity to restaff and grow their businesses again.”

Some local dealerships just finished hiring: Saturn of San Antonio recently added four salespeople, and Red McCombs Superior Pontiac GMC took on six new employees.

At least another dozen dealerships are looking to hire for sales and service positions.

While it's difficult to gauge exactly what kind of spike San Antonio-area dealers are experiencing because local sales data isn't publicly released, one thing remains clear: The surge has largely been fueled by the “cash for clunkers” program.

But analysts say interest in the widely popular government rebate program is waning and sales are due to drop off.

Still, San Antonio-area dealers say the local market appears to be bottoming and consumer confidence is returning. Plus, San Antonio remains a “hot market” for car sales.

“This market is still doing quite well,” said Ken Villarreal, who offers training for auto sales and service jobs.

Villarreal, who's based in San Antonio, trains potential employees for five local dealerships that are hiring. Each of his newspaper advertisements generates 30 to 50 responses, he said. But only about 10 percent of those who respond actually make it to the sales floor.

That's because the job requires a highly competitive spirit, thick skin and a cutthroat attitude. And for those who can hang, the potential rewards are high: Dealers say a salesperson can make anywhere from $35,000 to more than $100,000 annually.

But experts caution that such jobs usually have high turnover rates.

“Dealerships have a tendency to panic when they don't have enough people to service the customers and close those deals. But many of those people they bring in are going to be unemployed there because they can't last,” said Viraf Baliwalla, owner of Automall Network Inc., a vehicle buying service. “If you're not making any sales in those first couple of months, you don't have a chance.”

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