The automobile industry took its licks along with most other sectors of the economy during the recession, with only 10.4 million new vehicle sales in 2009 — a big drop from the peak of 17 million in 2005.
In Laurel, many dealerships, such as Henry Gay, did not survive the recession, or like Fox, were bought out by larger conglomerates.
But not only did Fred Frederick, owner of Laurel's oldest automobile dealership, survive the recession, but he's expanded his operation at a time when others are still recovering.
Last week, with the exception of the body shop, Fred Frederick Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge and Ram's operations moved to a new 14,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility at 39 Washington Blvd.
"There are cars in the old showroom, but the old building (next door at 43 Washington Blvd.) is shut down and everybody works here in the new building," Frederick said. "After working here, they don't want to go back. They (the employees) are tickled to death with the whole atmosphere and they deserve it."
There are two spacious lounges and free Wi-Fi service for customers in the new building for the 53-year-old dealership. The new facility is also in line with local officials' push for environmentally friendly construction in the city. According to Frederick, the facility has numerous green features and processes.
"We don't transfer any environmental waste from the premises. In the past, our waste oil from cars had to be picked up, but now, we recycle it to heat the building," Frederick said. "We have new low-energy light fixtures in the building and on the lot and have reduced our energy use by 40 percent. We also recycle the oil filters before disposing of the metal in them."
Frederick also proudly pointed out that the floors of the facility are warm and heated by a hot water boiler, which he says provides better heating for the entire space. In addition, he said the machinery used to lift cars while they are being worked on is environmentally friendly as well.
"One year ago, the lifts to lift our cars in the air were done (powered) with oil and air, but the new ones we use now use water and air," Frederick said. "We have a water-oil separator too. If you brought in a car today with snow on it and it melts and goes in the drain, if any oil is in that, it's separated out."
Time to expand
Frederick said he has owned the land where he built the new facility for a long time and that the larger building was needed to meet the growing demands of the business.
According to Frederick's son Craig Frederick, the dealership's general manager, after they acquired a Jeep and Dodge franchise in 2009, sales increased significantly, as did the need for more space for vehicles.
"After 2001, when Plymouth was discontinued, we only sold Chryslers, but with the Jeep and Dodge vehicles, and the Dodge truck is a Ram now, our entire product line went up three times," Craig Frederick said. "We were making it work in the old building, but we had outgrown the space and really needed more space to handle our products and the demand for them."
Craig Frederick said they sold about 500 new vehicles and nearly 300 used cars this year. The dealership currently has 20 employees and with the additional staff they plan to hire soon, Craig Frederick predicts their sales numbers will increase.
But even though the dealership is doing well, the Fredericks said that doesn't mean they were unaffected by the recession. Craig Frederick said their used-car sales were stable during the recession, but they moved only about 300 new cars during the economic slump.
"Ten years ago, I didn't think a meltdown like we had then would have happened and at one point, I didn't know what to think," Craig Frederick said.
During the recession, in response to slow sales, automakers discontinued some franchises. Dealerships in the local and surrounding area were affected and the loss of a franchise was the death knell for some operations.
"There was never a thought we would close, unless the franchise was pulled, but I never spent time thinking about that," Fred Frederick said.
Another reason the Fredericks believe they have survived and thrived in Laurel is that they are a family owned and operated business. Three of Frederick's children work in the Baltimore Avenue office and his youngest son runs their dealership in Easton.
Craig Frederick said he's worked at the dealership since he was seven, picking up trash and on weekends, vacuuming offices. He said they all pitch in and do whatever needs to be done. When called for the interview, Craig said he would have to call back because he had to deliver a car to a customer that day.
"I deliver cars daily to customers. I can drive a tow truck, we all fix things and do what we have to do to save money," Craig Frederick said. "I've worked in parts, the body shop and service. Today, we're plowing our own snow. Whenever it snows, if we don't get here early, he'll (Fred) be out there plowing the snow."
The Fredericks also attribute customer loyalty to their success. Craig compared the operation to a barbershop where the same people come all the time. He says in the 33 years he's worked at the dealership, he's run advertising less than five times — a major savings. Fred Frederick added that knowing his customers well has also helped the business thrive.
"I've always had the policy that if a customer called and wanted to speak to the owner, no one asks why, but put them through and I pick up the phone," Fred Frederick said. "I have a state-of-the-art phone system, but I don't allow them to hook it up where customers get (computerized) options, but a person answers the phones."
To show his appreciation for customers, Fred Frederick said he will not have a grand opening for the new facility. He plans to use funds he would have spent on a party to offer oil-changing discounts.
In terms of the company's future, Craig Frederick said with the predictions good for the industry in general, he's expecting the same for their dealership.
"We're very fortunate and I look forward to the years ahead here and selling a lot more cars. We have the best product we've ever had and we're getting trades on a lot of foreign and high-end cars. I've never done that before," Craig said."
As for the old building, the Fredericks say it will be used to store parts and for some repair work. And like that structure, Fred Frederick said, "We are here in Laurel to stay. I've never thought of leaving Laurel. That's not an option."