East Ridge car dealership survives on rentals

East Ridge car dealership survives on rentals

February 12th, 2012 by Dave Flessner in Business Around the Region

Todd Watkins, GM of Tweety's Automart, left, and Wes Williams, CEO of Tweety's Automart speak about how they have changed the focus of their car dealership from strictly sales, to sales and rental to survive through the recession.

Todd Watkins, GM of Tweety's Automart, left, and...

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

At Tweety's Automart in East Ridge, car sales hit the brakes in 2009.

"There were days when we weren't sure we were going to make it," co-owner Wes Williams said. "We realized we had to make some changes or we wouldn't survive."

As a buy-here, pay-here dealer, Automart relies upon new buyers of its used cars and ongoing payments from those who have already bought their car and are financing the purchase through the dealership.

"A lot of our clients lost their jobs or had to work fewer hours and make less money when the economy slowed," said Todd Watkins, Williams' brother-in-law and co-owner.

The solution for the 21-year-old family-owned dealer was to try renting cars, as well as selling them.

The rental car venture began with four cars and a sign hung out on Ringgold Road to promote the rental car business. After buying another East Ridge car rental business, Donna's Rent-a-Car, Automart has grown its car rental business to include a fleet of nearly 50 late-model used cars.

"We decided to offer the same service to people that needed to rent a car, but did not have a credit card," said Terry Smith, a finance consultant for the dealership. "That's surviving!"