A look 10 back after the economic collapse that saw GM and Chrysler cut dealerships

Posted at 5:20 PM, Feb 19, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-20 18:10:34-05

CLEVLEAND — A decade ago Mark Sims was a golden child in the eyes of General Motors, or so he thought. He took over and turned around a Buick dealership in Willoughby which he sold in 2003 and was doing the same thing with a Chevy dealership in Lyndhurst he had acquired in 1999.

Then in 2008 the economy collapsed and left many auto dealers feeling an immediate impact. "Everything slowed up," Sims said. When that happened things tended to pile up quickly, he said, inventories were rising, banks weren't lending, and the value of the used car inventory was declining.

Still, Sims said felt confident his dealership had a workforce that could weather the storm. "In 2009 I was a happy father of five with this successful dealership in Lyndhurst," Sims said. Then came May 15, when GM notified 1,100 dealers across the country, including Sims’ dealership that their contracts were being terminated.

"I definitely thought I was safe, I thought we were in a great location," he said. "They felt that there were too many players in the market, so it wasn't just me, but they cut the number of Chevrolet stores, they shaved off I think 55 percent of them," Sims said. "So here I go from being a favorite too, you know, I got my walking papers."

His thoughts were with the 42 employees and their families he was supporting. "So, you're responsible for, let's call it 200 people."

That though was just the beginning. "I had used my business to guarantee a loan on a commercial piece of property that was fully occupied, cash flowing positive," Sims recalled. But when the bank learned that GM was terminating his dealership contract, they called in the loan. "It had nothing to do with anything; it was just absolutely terrible."

As a holder of a sizable fleet of used cars, Sims was given sound advice from a close friend on how to lease them out, but he still needed a loan from a bank that he would find eventually. "It was the 28th bank that gave me a loan to get going again," Sims said.

A few years later Sims would be put in touch with Mitsubishi who was looking for a partner in the Medina area. A partnership was born, opening up a franchise along Medina Road just east of I-71.

"This is a super unique area, people have no idea how many cars get sold in this little corridor right here," Sims said. His dealership is built on what he said was a former Bob's Big Boy Restaurant. "It's really touching when people come in, and they're like, 'this is where my wife and I went on our first date, this is my first job.'"

"I wouldn't change a thing," Sims said of the lessons learned over the last 10 years. "It's really made myself, my family, better people. You really understand who your friends are."

To add a touch of irony to Sims' story, he still owns the land along Mayfield Road in Lyndhurst where his Chevy dealership once operated and the location that wasn't good enough for GM is now leased to Tesla which uses it for the site of their only dealership in Northern Ohio.

"It's nice to open the mailbox and get a check from them each month," he said.