by Geoff Fox
For 86 years, Douglas Motors has been a staple in Hancock as a car dealer selling Chrysler and Chevrolet vehicles, used vehicles, and servicing those vehicles. But at the stroke of midnight on Monday, March 28, Douglas Chevrolet will no longer exist.
In its place will be Hancock Chevrolet at the lot on Resley Street and Bath Auto in Berkeley Springs. Owner Steve Douglas sold the family dealership to Rick Kelly who also owns Hagerstown Ford.
Douglas wasn’t sure if the current model – Hancock lot selling new vehicles and Berkeley Springs lot selling used – will stay as it is or if the new owners will put some new on the Berkeley lot beside the used.
When selling the business, Douglas was also looking for someone who would keep a car dealership in Hancock and provide the maintenance and repairs so folks wouldn’t have to drive a distance to get what they need.
Douglas said the staff currently working at his dealership will be staying on board and, as time goes by, more will be added.
When everything becomes official on March 28, Douglas said people from General Motors would be in for a couple days to get everything flipped over, from signage to employees to inventory. Kelly will start on April 1.
While this sale is official and almost complete, it’s not the family’s first attempt to move the dealership into new hands.
Last year, Douglas had the dealership sold to a prospective buyer, but the deal fell through.
Douglas said he and the buyer were on the same page and paperwork complete, interviews complete, logos made, attorney work, and other work that needed to be done, but GM had the final say, as the automaker owns the franchise, not Douglas.
Someone could offer $10 million and he’d take it, but that person wouldn’t be able to get in as a GM dealer as the automaker wants someone who has been in the business and can run it correctly.
Douglas said the business is representing Chevrolet Motor Division and they want somebody who’s going to be up front, going to be honest, going to sell vehicles, take care of Chevrolet and dealership’s customers, and service vehicles under their warranty program.
“It’s a lot of paperwork,” he said, adding the public has no idea how structured the business is for a Chevrolet or Chrysler dealer.
When it came time to retire and sell the business, Douglas said he “never knew when the button would go off but it did in the last few years.”
Douglas turned 70 last September and prior to that, COVID hit and the car industry took a hit from the pandemic.
The car dealership was closed for 60 days, but the repair shop was still open as it was deemed an essential business.
He credited the Paycheck Protection Program, which helped them hang on after having to close the showroom.
“Between that, my age turning 70, and this chip shortage that we’ve been going through for a year and half or so, really made me start thinking,” Douglas said.
There’s also the coming of the electric cars. Douglas said he’s old school with the way he does things as business has now become electric and it’s all computerized.
“I get it, it’s a good thing but I have my style, way of doing things the way my dad taught me and those days are the old time,” he said.
While most dealers in the Washington zone have already sold out or forced out of the business, Douglas was still hanging on.
“I thought if I don’t sell now, at my age in small town dealership USA like this, I’ll never get out,” Douglas said.
Douglas said the secret to success when you’re an entrepreneur or your own businessperson, after 49 years of working hard on the company and investing into it, is to sell the business.
Douglas also said he wanted 10 to 15 years of retirement “if the good Lord will give it to me” and having piece of mind.
“It’s been a good ride. I’ll miss the people,” Douglas said. “Never thought I’d say that, but I will miss the people.”
Douglas said over the years he’s had a great clientele and making friends.
“It wasn’t just all business, it was friendship,” he said. “Everybody knew everybody. It was personal.”
The customers knew him, the people in the service department, and salespeople.
“It was family to us,” he said.
Being in a small town helped that, he added. Douglas also wondered how the bigger dealerships could have a relationship with the customer when there are over 70,000 people in the customer base.
He said everything today is get bigger or get out, like in farming.
When a farmer has 50 head of cattle with 200 acres, it won’t make any money today. They need to have 2,000 acres and 500 head of cattle.
Douglas said he’s also going to miss his employees coming in at 8 a.m. and also coming in and “shooting the bull” with his buddies.
“Fishin’ stories, huntin’ stories, we got this whole economy figured out, we’re going to fix the elections. We know everything out there,” Douglas said with a laugh.
It also makes him feel good about the number of friends he’s made as seen when the first candidate to buy the business was turned down.
Douglas said people were coming up to him telling him they were sorry it didn’t work out but at the same time saying they were glad things weren’t going to be changing.
Douglas said he feels he’s been good to everyone and has a clear conscience and has done everything he should do.
When he’s done with the business, Douglas said he’s got to be doing something, which a lot of people know about him.
He said he could be mowing his lawn one day and then taking one of his multiple weekly walks or some golfing and getting his grandson into the sport and things to do around the house as well.