How one used car dealer stayed alive during the pandemic

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by Drei Laurel | Jul 15, 2021
PHOTO: Marcars Trading

Toyota, Ford, Nissan, Suzuki: Yes, these companies all took a hit during last year’s COVID-19 lockdown.  You don’t go an entire quarter with no customers and walk away from that period unscathed, after all. But if you think these businesses faced a challenge, just imagine what smaller-scale operations like used car dealerships had to endure just to stay afloat.  

In an interview with Top Gear Philippines, local automotive dealer Marcars Trading owner Marc Martinez shared that keeping operations alive wasn’t just a matter of cutting down the marketing budget or slashing an extra expense or two. For buy and sell players like him, sacrifice was in order.

“During the lockdown and these times of pandemic, [business] from 100% is like 10% to 20%. Still, I’m happy because yung 10% na yun pang sweldo ko na rin sa staff, pang monthly na kinakailangan natin,” Martinez told us.

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“We didn’t profit during those times, but it adds up for the monthly expenses that I do. Na suffice niya yung gastos. Ang monthly expenses natin is about, during the lockdown maliit lang naman, maybe P300,000 or P500,000 a month,” he added.

The way Martinez tells it, Marcars’ situation during the lockdown doesn’t appear too bad. The business was kept afloat by a steady demand for higher-end models like the Nissan GT-R and Chevrolet Corvette, and the business was able to gain momentum once the economy began to open up in the middle of the year. There was a period, though, when his operation’s outlook looked bleak.

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“Pagdating ko ng July, yung losses ko ng three months, yung July ko times three ng quota ko. Dun ako parang ‘pucha ang bait ng diyos.’

“Pero eto, nagtotal ako ng cars na binebenta ko per year, kalahati for 2020. For example nakakabenta ako ng 100 cars a year, naging 50. Nung time talaga na lockdown, hindi ko na iniisip mag market eh. Gusto ko lang na sa utak ng tao nandoon pa din si Marcars.,” Martinez said, stressing he just wanted people to know the business was still around.

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For some companies, letting go of staff was one of the first orders of business when the situation worsened last year. Martinez said, though, that this option was not really on the table as many of his employees had been around since Marcars was first starting out.

“I started from nothing. Lumaki ng lumaki, dumating ang mga staff namin na magagaling, nag train and all that—and then nag lockdown. Nung nag lockdown sila onti-onti bumababa, tayo andun pa rin. So what I did was, my wife and I, all of our staff, maybe that’s about more than 20 or less than 30, medyo tinamaan kami pero it was our time to return the help that the staff gave us since Marcars was born,” he explained, adding that he and his wife made sure to provide staff with P2,000 per week during the lockdown and let those who couldn’t go home stay in with them.

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“If I remember it, grabe. Nung June natapos yung lockdown, nagtotal kami ni wifey. Almost P400,000 yung linabas namin for the staff. Siyempre hindi ko muna sinabi sa staff na libre. I want them din to diskarte by themselves,” Martinez shared.

Pagbalik nila ng June dineclare ko na all the money we gave we will give to you as a thank you. Pinapakita namin ng Marcars na we love our staff. You gave us good business before the lockdown, without the pandemic, you did your work well, you did your job great. Without you, we won’t reach this.”

Martinez made sure to let sellers know that he would be willing to take their vehicles off their hands in the event they needed money for emergencies, too. Sadly, keeping operations viable during the pandemic meant cars were being taken in at well below market value.

Dumating sa point na, halimbawa may nagbebenta ng Ford Ranger. Eh yun nga yung category na hindi masyado sellable at that time. Maski yung market value, hindi mo na mabebenta ng market value kasi it’s not sellable eh,” Martinez explained, adding the standard market value of the used American pickup was at around P700,000.

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Sabi ko ‘boss hindi kasi gumagalaw yung auto.’ Naintindihan naman niya.  May nagbenta rin ng mga Nissan Teana na worth mga P400,000. Binibili ko yun before P400,000. That time nabili ko pa ng mas mababa talaga.”

Martinez also shared that some dealers took the pandemic as an opportunity to pull ahead of the competition, going out to meet potential buyers and sellers, while most other used car players are fearful of getting exposed to COVID-19.

Maraming tao na ayaw lumabas. Even me. Before the pandemic, if you’re a seller I’d go to your house and I’ll check it, we’ll have a coffee, we’ll talk, we can eat merienda anywhere. Ngayon wala. Pero may mga iba pa rin dealers na yun ang lagare nila,” he told us.

Tinake nila ngayon ang opportunity na lumabas ng lumabas at pumunta ng pumunta kasi alam nila maraming dealers na katulad ko na hindi pupunta. Yung malakas ang loob at willing ma-expose, doon sila nakakabawi.”

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For his part, Martinez appears content carrying over what he’s learned over the past year and a half to the next stage of the nation’s COVID-19 recovery. According to him, you need to be flexible and, just as importantly, should value your employees.

Ang natutunan ko na isa, kaya ko pala mag negosyo na staff lang ang gagalaw. During the pandemic hindi ako gumagalaw. Nakikita ko sa CCTV, ‘sige deal mo na.’ Marami ako staff na natuwa ako, lumabas skills nila nung pandemic. Kasi hindi ko sila tinutulungan,” he said.

Sabi ko nga sa secretary ko, magre-resign dapat ngayong June eh, ‘kung kailan magaling ka na ngayon ka pa magre-resign? Napansin mo na ba na gumaling ka na? Na nakakabenta ka na ng magisa na wala ako? At tsaka ka aalis?’ Maya maya ‘boss hindi na ako aalis talagang gusto ko dito, inalagaan niyo ako.’ Lumabas ang skills nila.”

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“Business aside, naging solid talaga ang family.” In the case of Marcars, though, it appears the two are one and the same. Tell us, what have you learned since COVID-19 first hit the Philippines in March 2020. Let us know in the comments.

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PHOTO: Marcars Trading
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