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Federal Way car dealership falls victim to the economy
A vacant lot, bolted gates and years of memories are what remain of the long-standing Pacific Coast Ford car dealership.
Owner Floyd Little and general manager Scott Hogue made some hefty business decisions this past year. On July 15, nearly 19 years after the dealership opened in Federal Way, they closed its doors for good. The dealership, located at 33207 Pacific Highway S., was most recently known as Pacific Coast Sales and Service. Customers were loyal, but the economy was more powerful.
"I can't control what's happening," Little said. "The economy tanked."
Like other dealerships, prior to its closure, Pacific Coast Ford was having a difficult time moving new vehicles. The economy slowed sales, Hogue said. An estimated 70 percent of customers hoping to buy a vehicle faced credit challenges, and lenders were harder to come by, he said.
Meanwhile, Pacific Coast Ford was paying in the range of $40,000 a month to keep new Ford vehicles on the lot.
"The economy, at that point, was spiraling; the automakers too," Hogue said.
In December, Pacific Coast Ford separated from the Ford company. Hogue and Little struck out on their own as Pacific Coast Sales and Service — a used car dealership.
"Franchises are closing every day," Little said. "We thought we got in front of the train."
The dealership had a loyal customer base and a vested interest in the community. Little moved to Washington to start his business in 1990.
"I always wanted to be a Ford dealer," he said. "(The dealerships) are very difficult and hard to come by."
Hogue worked at Pacific Coast since it opened. The two men, combined, have nearly 70 years of experience in the car business.
"The community supported us and we wanted to continue to be here for them," Little said.
They rearranged the business's operating structure. They sold inventory to other dealers and replaced it with used vehicles. They purchased seized drug cars from Skagit and Snohomish counties.
Seizures can only be sold at auction and, by law, they must be sold to the highest bidder. The seized vehicles were displayed in clear view of passersby on Pacific Highway South. They brought more customers. Some visitors took an interest in non-seized vehicles.
"What we were trying to do was bring awareness to the dealership," Hogue said.
It was not enough to sustain the business. Reluctantly, Little and Hogue made the decision to shut down their operation. They notified employees at the beginning of July. Little put his property, roughly 5 acres, up for sale.
"It's been a good life," Little said. "I can't be angry. I can't be bitter."
Now, the buzz of humming electronics and a former salesman making last-minute phone calls are the only sounds inside the sparse showroom. Years worth of plaques, recognizing the business and its employees, still hang on the walls. Soon, the building will be vacant.
Pacific Coast was not alone in its struggle against a crumbling market. In June, sales tax on major auto sales in Federal Way was down $89,000 (55 percent) from year-to-date 2008 revenues, finance director Tho Kraus said. The numbers illustrate a decreasing buyers market. The city anticipates Pacific Coast's closure will create a deeper dip in sales tax revenues from this category, she said.
Many of the dealership's 30-something employees have already found work elsewhere, Hogue said.
Little is unsure what his next step will be. He is a man losing a business he's labored over for two decades, but he remains calm and collected. He'll take some needed rest. He may embark on another business venture if his property sells, he said. Little is sad to see his business go, but comforted by the fact that he did everything he could to keep it thriving.
Hogue appears calm as well. He is not sure where to go from here. He has a toddler at home and must find work elsewhere. Whether he will stick with the car business is uncertain. Many things must be wrapped up at Pacific Coast Sales and Service before Hogue can really begin planning his life from here, he said.
"I don't know if there's really time right now for emotion," Hogue said.