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For a Tampa GM dealer, it's life in the slow lane

Roger Rivard, owner of Rivard Buick Pontiac GMC in Tampa, says he understands the need for the restructuring pushed by the president.

MARTHA RIAL | Times

Roger Rivard, owner of Rivard Buick Pontiac GMC in Tampa, says he understands the need for the restructuring pushed by the president.

TAMPA — The name on the sign outside says it all: Rivard Buick Pontiac GMC. It explains why the showroom on Adamo Drive was very still on Tuesday, why the boss doesn't allow TV news in the building, why he is a three-in-one owner/general manager/sales manager, and his wife is the unpaid receptionist.

It explains a lot of other bad things, such as why Rivard doesn't sponsor American Cancer Society events anymore (after raising $115,000 last year), why its donations to Hillsborough Boys and Girls Clubs have dwindled, why a kids softball team lost a coach.

Roger and Kimberly Rivard are the mom and pop behind the dealership. They've been together since high school in Detroit. They bought into the company in 1992, then took full ownership after five years. Roger is a Brandon Rotarian, a past president. He's old-fashioned, likes to keep his name listed in the Riverview phone book. He boasts he has never been sued, never had a BBB complaint. He gave up coaching softball at the Academy of the Holy Names last year because he started working seven days a week.

Everything he and Kimberly have is rooted in General Motors.

"This is our entire life," Roger says. "I'm 50. If GM goes down, we go down."

• • •

Here's how the Rivards get by: They get up. They come in to sell cars, like always. He and Kimberly mean business, even when there isn't any. Roger wears a crisp white shirt and tie. By late Tuesday afternoon, he had sold one Pontiac G6. They avoid too much news. Roger heard little about President Barack Obama ousting the GM chief Monday. He shouted in the car the other day after a news-confused radio DJ said Chrysler was dumping Pontiac.

Last summer, Roger would find employees standing in front of a TV in the showroom, gaping at bad news. He ordered the channel changed.

He kept the news off after work, too, couldn't stand it after 12-hour days.

"Best thing I did," he says, "was turn off the TV."

Roger has 47 employees, 13 fewer than last year.

• • •

Hardly anybody goes crazy for a car the way folks used to. Selling a car is usually a two- to three-week courtship. "People are very cautious," Roger says. They're waiting to see if GM survives. Roger's sales pitch: The product's good, even if the company's tanking. He's quick on defense. "Buick is rated No. 1 in quality by J.D. Powers." … "The G6 gets 36 miles per gallon."

But the usual response is, "I'll wait."

Loyal customer Gregory Pelini stopped by in the Yukon XL he just bought last week. It weighs 7,000 pounds. He likes a tough vehicle. It's his fourth Yukon. Always buys from Roger because he's a straight shooter.

The only other customers in the showroom were a nervous elderly couple who looked a long way from signing any dotted lines. Idle salesmen outnumbered them 3-1.

Roger's three children have all worked for him. He told them they are free to buy Japanese cars if they so choose.

"But if it is not a Buick, Pontiac or GMC," Roger warned, "it will cost you one-third of anything your mother and I have left."

• • •

The Rivards understand the GM restructuring that the president is pushing. They agree that a "surgical bankruptcy" is GM's best hope.

Before Monday, GM had offered to cut a third of its 6,200 dealers by 2014. Obama wants more closed than that. But Roger says that because he sells Buicks and GMCs, his dealership is "supposed to stay." It would be different if he sold Saturns and Hummers, two GM brands in deeper trouble.

Roger has his own game plan.

"All we can do is show up every day."

For a Tampa GM dealer, it's life in the slow lane 03/31/09 [Last modified: Saturday, April 4, 2009 11:31am]

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