Sales are up at Ray Varner Ford, and that’s good news because the 30 days from mid-March to mid-April were the slowest Ray Varner has seen in 34 years in the car business.
“We were slow in sales and in service (during the pandemic shutdown). It was a tough stretch,” said Varner, who has weathered two recessions, multiple flu outbreaks and 911.
In late April, the dealership saw an uptick and “we’re in a little hot streak,” he said in a telephone interview on May 15. “We need it to dig out of the hole. …”
Ray Varner Ford stayed open throughout the pandemic shutdown, as car dealers were deemed essential services. And Ray says he didn’t cut pay or lay off any of his crew.
He expects a resurgence based on pent-up demand and low interest rates. He is offering zero percent interest for up to 84 months on new 2019 models and zero percent interest for up to 72 months for new 2020 models, both deals excluding Super-Duty trucks.
Varner said he’s stepped up cleaning and sanitizing his dealership since the COVID-19 outbreak and can pick up and deliver for those who continue to shelter at home.
“Trucks rule the day,” he says. “It’s East Tennessee,” as if that’s the only explanation necessary. He said Escapes have been popular of late and SUVs always do well. Ray usually sees 30 or so vehicles per day in his Quick Lane – for oil changes and minor service needs with no appointment necessary.
And he’s quick to brag on his staff of Ford-certified professionals in both sales and service.
Ray Varner Ford is one of the few remaining locally owned and operated dealerships in this area. When you phone or walk in to the dealership and ask for Ray, he’s there to talk.
Ray grew up in North Knox County, a member of the Varner family on Brown Gap Road. His uncle Jack Varner mentored him at the former Dean Stallings Ford dealership. Now Ray is mentoring Jack’s two sons, Dan and Travis.
“The car business is in our blood,” says Dan. The brothers graduated from Halls High School and East Tennessee State University. Dan worked for his dad in summers. It’s been 12 years since Jack died of cancer. Ray Varner took over management of the dealership in the spring of 2009 and the name was changed in July 2010.
Ray Varner also graduated from Halls High. He started in the car business in 1986 “when I was 3,” he laughs. Another Halls guy, Fred Kitts, specializes in auto finance.
“We still operate on a handshake and have customers who are friends for life,” said Ray. “But the Internet plays a role. We can handle both.” Ray Varner Ford has an internet manager and a presence on social media: Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Info: www.RayVarnerFord.com or 865-457-0704.
Sandra Clark is editor/CEO of Knox TN Today.