To stay in business, you need the drive

Morton McArthur sells used imports in Cincinnati, OH. His sales have fallen, as people hold onto their cash or run into trouble getting loans.

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Bill Radke: It's time for the next stop in Marketplace's series Road to Ruin. Our Amy Scott is out on the American road. Today, she introduces you to a small business owner she met in Cincinnati who is taking a direct hit from the financial crisis.


Amy Scott: Hearing Morton McArthur list the merits of this '96 Toyota Land Cruiser, you can tell he's a natural salesman.

Morton McArthur: If you look up on Consumer Reports, these are the ones that they'll say that you know, if you can afford the gas mileage, it's one of the best vehicles in its class.

McArthur owns Mort's Imports in Cincinnati. It's a small used car dealership. McArthur used to work as a finance manager for a large dealer. He was the guy who helped customers get car loans. But he had so many fights with salesmen over customers with bad credit, he took a different approach to his own business.

McArthur: So when I started this up I thought you know, I don't think I'm even going to mess with it. I'm gonna direct people to go to their own banks, credit unions, get their financing, if they can fine. But if not, for the most of these cars, for $5,000, go to Grandma.

The strategy worked great for about three years. But then the housing market took a dive. The economy slowed down. And credit from the bank or Grandma started drying up. To stay in business, McArthur hasn't paid himself a salary in months.

McArthur: I'm losing money paying my advertising and staying in business. And I wanna stay in business, and I think used cars are gonna do good. But at the moment, very few people that can afford a car are willing to make the decision to part with the money to get one.

McArthur has one thing going for him: Many dealers have to borrow money to buy the cars they sell. McArthur doesn't. But he says he's had some friends in the business go belly up because they couldn't keep up with their loan payments.

At the end of another day, McArthur zips up the bag with all his car keys for the night.

McArthur: We'll put 'em back here in the safe.

He's optimistic about the car business. After all, he says, no one's come up with a real alternative to driving.

McArthur: It's going to eventually come back. All I need to do is just withstand.

He figures he can withstand another six months, living off his savings. But if the business doesn't come back by then, he'll have to close shop.

In Plainville, Ohio, I'm Amy Scott for Marketplace.

About the author

Amy Scott is Marketplace’s education correspondent covering the K-12 and higher education beats, as well as general business and economic stories.

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