As Lehigh and Northampton counties inch toward moving into the yellow phase of reopening under Gov. Tom Wolf’s stay-at-home order, the area’s automotive sales and service-related businesses are modifying their operations to accommodate business while maintaining the health of employees and customers.
JCL Automotive, an independent BMW service specialist and dealership based in Hellertown, has moved to a “drop-off” only method of service.
“The customers don’t come in the building, it is a no-contact experience,” said Steve Bartholomew of JCL.
Bartholomew said customers may either drop off their keys in an overnight deposit box or give them to a JCL employee who greets them outside with gloves and a mask on.
The technicians then complete a thorough sanitization of the vehicle to ensure their safety.
“We actually wipe the key down as soon as we get it,” Bartholomew said. “When the techs go out and grab the car, we sanitize the interior of the car.”
The technicians complete one more sanitization after all work is complete on the vehicle, and payment is processed over the phone.
JCL has also been making use of an ozone machine to disinfect vehicles. The machine was originally purchased to be used on car motors, but the technicians have been putting it to use on cars coming from “hot spots,” such as areas that are hit particularly hard by COVID-19.
In addition to sanitizing vehicles, the employees at JCL have been thoroughly sanitizing all office supplies that come in contact with people, and employees who do not feel well stay home from work.
“I’ve personally felt very secure with the situation,” Bartholomew said.
Sales, meanwhile, have been more complicated, Bartholomew has noticed. JCL has had to switch to an electronic notary system called DocVerify, and Bartholomew finds that the service can be difficult to navigate for non-tech-savvy customers.
JCL is also not allowing test drives on vehicles, which presents hurdles for prospective buyers.
“Who wants to buy a 30-something-thousand-dollar BMW and not be able to take it for a test drive?” Bartholomew questioned.
Fortunately, JCL is lucky to have an abundance of loyal repeat customers. Bartholomew said that even with business being slow, they have had customers bringing cars in to keep giving the shop service work to complete.
“Dealerships couldn’t pay enough for the loyalty of our repeat customers,” Bartholomew said.
Visit the JCL Automotive website to schedule a service appointment or browse their inventory of cars.
For Pinnacle Luxury Car Care, a detailing service in Hellertown, the spread of COVID-19 has forced a temporary suspension of business. Owner Steve Housenick, however, is making preparations for when the business will re-open.
His standard detailing service will come with a sanitization of every surface, free of charge. Customers interested in a more thorough sanitization will have the option of upgrading to the use of a special new product by CeramicPro for a small extra charge.
“It uses this crazy science called photocatalytic effect,” Housenick said of the CeramicPro product. “It prevents microbes and viruses from growing on surfaces.”
He said he believes so strongly in the product that he plans on reaching out to local schools about possibly treating school buses with it.
CeramicPro’s website says the product is non-toxic and designed to “purify surfaces from bad smells, disease causing pathogens” and mold. Whereas other common sterilizing products can also kill the majority of bacteria and microbes, the pathogens resume reproduction soon after. CeramicPro on the other hand says its product will prevent growth for up to six months.
Housenick plans on wearing a painter’s suit, which will keep him covered and protected from head to toe. He also will provide suits for employees when they return to work.
At this point he is not sure when Pinnacle Luxury Car Care will resume its detailing operations, but safety is his primary objective.
“I just want to play it as safe as I can,” he said.
Some local car dealerships are providing insight into how they will be reopening for in-store sales with new safety procedures in place via instructional YouTube videos.
The Koch Automotive Group in Easton said it has “completely overhauled” the way it does business in one such video uploaded May 9.
“The Koch Automotive Group has spent the last eight weeks instituting new safety protocols in order to ensure the safety of our employees and our customers by instituting and adhering to CDC and Pennsylvania Department of Health guidelines,” the video begins.
The video then outlines numerous operational changes the sales department will be making once they are allowed to have customers on site.
For example, the dealership is designating a greeter who will be responsible for allowing a reduced number of customers to enter the showroom. The greeter will only allow customers to enter who are wearing a mask, and if they do not have a mask the dealership can provide one.
The dealership has spaced sales associates’ desks six feet apart, and the desks have a clear barrier between the associate and the customer.
The staff will always be wearing gloves and masks, and desks and door handles will be sanitized before and after each customer interaction, according to Koch Automotive Group.
Customers will even be allowed to test drive a vehicle without the sales associate in the car. At the conclusion of the test drive, the dealership team will sanitize various parts of the vehicle such as door handles, steering wheel, gear shift selectors, seat belts and radio knobs. They will also provide one-time-use disposable covers on the steering wheel, seats and gear shift.
Once a car is sold, the sales associate will pull up in the new vehicle, and the car will be sanitized one last time before leaving the keys on the front seat.
“We are confident that all car dealers will be able to implement and adhere to all these protocols,” Koch Automotive Group said, “allowing the Pennsylvania consumer a safe and enjoyable experience across the commonwealth,”