New York dealership group sees big business in commercial trucks

new york dealership group sees big business in commercial trucks

For Basil Family Dealerships in western New York, selling big trucks and vans to commercial clients is big business.

Basil is one of many retail groups across the country to make a successful business out of selling and outfitting light-duty trucks and cargo vans for electricians, plumbers, landscapers and other commercial clients.

From dump trucks and dry freight trucks to cutaway vans and cargo vans, about 1,000 vehicles are sold by Basil for commercial use every year, said Bill O’Brocta, commercial fleet sales director for the group, which has Chevrolet, Buick, GMC, Cadillac, Ford, Toyota, Volkswagen and used-vehicle stores in markets outside Buffalo.

The group also has two commercial vehicle centers.

“We do small fleet, larger fleet, lots of government business and small business,” he said. “Vehicles can range from cargo vans to pickup trucks to cube vans. We’re not No. 1 in one particular area. We kind of spread the wealth around and help everybody in all facets of the commercial business.”

The group’s commercial business provides a lucrative source of income in addition to traditional new- and used-vehicle sales — and it’s been doing so for decades. O’Brocta has been with the commercial business for 28 years.

“With the experience we have, we have a pretty good idea of what most people need, whether it’s a cargo van or an express cargo van,” he said.

The commercial sales unit sells both new and used vehicles and works to “get its hands on any commercially outfitted vehicle” it can, O’Brocta said. Basil outfits the vehicles with interior packages, including those geared toward specific customers, such as HVAC contractors.

A customer who wants a cargo van might have it outfitted with an interior shelving package or a ladder rack, for example.

“That’s a focus we have, to find as many vans as we can and get them outfitted with interior packages so these guys are ready to roll the second they leave the dealership,” O’Brocta said. “You just talk to the customer a bit and get an idea of what they need and build the interior of the vehicle from there.”

While that aspect of the business has remained constant, the way the dealership group connects with customers is completely different from how it did when O’Brocta joined.

Back then, he said, “It was picking up the Yellow Pages and going to landscapers, writing down 15 to 20 landscapers in a certain area, and that’s who you’d go prospect on.

“Now it’s a lot different. You go online, and you kind of do the same thing, but we have a lot more interaction as customers come to us through the website.”

The group’s commercial website is separate from that of its passenger vehicle business and features inventory as well as a page to custom-order vehicles.

“The website is designed to focus on the back end of the vehicle, not the front end,” O’Brocta said. “Nobody goes to the website saying, ‘I’m looking for a Chevy.’ They go on looking for a dump truck or a cargo van or a cube van.”

The commercial vehicles are sold through the group’s two stores, but Basil is taking steps to build a “more unified” commercial and fleet department, O’Brocta said. He has devoted more time this year to acquiring inventory and building out the group’s websites and commercial advertising.
Commercial vehicle production — just like passenger vehicle output — has been hit hard by factory problems including the global microchip shortage, which has cut millions of vehicles from automakers’ production plans. Basil has fewer commercial vehicles than usual in stock, and the wait for new trucks can range from six months to a year, according to O’Brocta.

Commercial vehicle sales dipped to 880 in 2021, accounting for about 5 percent of the 17,000 total vehicles Basil dealerships sold.

Selling commercial vehicles in this environment requires a different mindset for customers and salespeople alike, he said.

“If you need it now, you’re six months too late,” he said. “So take a look at your needs. If you need it right on the spot, inventory is so light that it’s going to be very difficult to do. It’s been tough to retrain our customers and salespeople to think ahead.”

But as Basil manages the inventory challenges, the commercial business remains more important than ever to the group.

“The way things are right now,” O’Brocta said, “it’s about trying to get our hand on any commercially outfitted vehicle we can.”


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