It's been three years since the near-collapse of two American automobile manufacturers led to Gary Alcombrack losing his Dodge-Chrysler-Jeep dealership in Grass Valley.
And the man can't stop smiling.
Dressed in a crisp, blue-and-white shirt, white shorts and sneakers, Alcombrack pulled open the door of a scintillating yellow, 35th anniversary Nissan 350Z — logically set at the entrance to Liberty Motors on Freeman Lane in Grass Valley.
“Look at that interior! Beautiful!” Alcombrack's joy matched the coupe's sparkle. “You can still smell the leather. It's an '05 — 23,000 miles.”
Internet sales, a new Web page launched June 5, and a no-commission sales strategy wrapped around a fixed price, six-month warranty and full service have helped spread Alcombrack's happy contagion.
Buyers come up from Auburn, Sacramento, Lincoln, Lake County, Red Bluff, Sonoma, Fort Bragg, Richmond San Carlos, Chico, Susanville — even New Jersey.
In addition to competitive, haggle-free prices, they're also coming for hard-to-find items. Alcombrack showed off a two-door, four-wheel-drive BMW sedan, a 1999 Mercedes-Benz E-Class with just 62,000 miles or a pearl-white convertible 2003 Ford Thunderbird.
Part of Alcombrack's fun is hand-picking the fleet himself. He looks for great condition, clean history and low mileage, he said.
That package drew one customer from Saskatchewan, Canada.
“I really appreciate the great service, both online and in person, at this dealership,” wrote Al Martin, new owner of a 2008 Dodge diesel truck, in a post-sale customer survey.
On Thursday, a handwritten thank-you note arrived from Chris Vloedman in Martinsburg, W. Va., who flew out to Reno to pick up another Dodge truck. General Manager Joe Nicholas had put his customer up for the night at his own home.
“I wanted to thank ya'll for the excellent hospitality,” Vloedman wrote.
That's the kind of customer service not likely found at a new-vehicle dealership in the big city, Alcombrack said.
And a stress-free conference room
His gains are hard-won after the emotional and financial blow of losing the last new car dealerships in western Nevada County.
“Horrible,” he said.
Plummeting sales tax revenue to the city of Grass Valley followed, and this year, city officials are taking the tough steps of axing police and firefighter positions in a third year of budget cuts.
At Liberty Motors, too, staff has declined. Alcombrack employs just two salesmen, down from 13, and he joins the crew to work seven days a week.
New jobs have gone to mechanics who bring experience not found at a narrowly focused agency, Alcombrack said. (He also invested in getting them all certified, he added.)
A year after he implemented the new strategy, “our sales are up 50 percent,” Alcombrack said. Sales and service are up as much as 40 percent, he added, pointing to a white-board where he keeps track of service hours by month.
Readers of The Union voted Liberty Motors “The Best of the Best,” and Alcombrack is proud of it.
“It really tells me our business plan ... is becoming fully effective,” he said.
It's also come full circle: Alcombrack started in the business selling used cars more than 40 years ago.
But he'll keep his new conference room: A table and chairs set up patio-style in front of the business' big bay windows, a barbecue ready for Friday afternoon grilling.
“I've never been happier,” Alcombrack said.