"The salesman that I was meeting with called me and told me, 'Hey, I have bad news. The company just went out of business. We're all fired, and there's no way we can help you anymore,'" Lopez shared. "They shuffled all the employees out of there with all their belongings and locked the door."
Lopez has already paid $500 as a down payment to take the car he was interested in off the market. He has struggled to contact customer service and is concerned that he will not get his $500 back. "I'm hoping for the best that I do, but I'm thinking no," he said.
The company broke the news through a message on the company's website, explaining that management is winding down operations. It thanked customers for their years of patronage. (Related: EV COLLAPSE: Electric vehicle manufacturer Lordstown Motors files for bankruptcy.)
Some frustrated customers were forced to leave empty-handed after receiving the news of the sudden closure. Numerous former employees disclosed that they were notified of their termination immediately following a company-wide meeting on Sept. 6.
A total of 466 people were out of work following the dealer's closure. Before stopping operations, the firm had 500 vehicles at its five sites. It also had an operation in Katy, Texas, near Houston with 79 employees losing their jobs.
The company issued a statement outlining the rationale behind its closure, emphasizing that it had explored various strategic alternatives before deciding to shutter its operations.
The statement reads: "The company made this decision due to the significant challenges and competitive pressures resulting from unprecedented changes to the automotive retail landscape."
It further cites inventory shortages, vehicle price increases due to supply chain disruptions, and a multi-year decline in new vehicle production as contributing factors. Elevated prices and escalating interest rates also played a role in the challenging state of the automotive retail market.
A small transition team will oversee operations for the next 30 days until the company's official termination. The laid-off employees will receive two additional paychecks as well as any outstanding commissions.
Off Lease Only has sold over 300,000 vehicles since 2004, according to its website. It has been honored as DealerRater's Used Car Dealer of the Year, an Edmunds 5-Star Premier Dealer, and receives every year a stellar A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau.
Many were surprised with the company's closure after years of being an industry leader in used-car sales.
"I'm really surprised to hear it because I thought they had the market cornered because they always seemed to have the most inventory as far as used cars go and their price you pretty much couldn't beat it," said Brian Cone, a certified master mechanic at a new-car dealership.
Cone said he has been involved in the purchase of at least four cars from the closed dealership.
"It's just the price and the upfront pricing the inventory is really good, too. So if there's a car you're looking at and it doesn't have an interior light or a color or something like that, they usually have something for you to look at," he said.
Off Lease Only founders Mark and Eileen Fischer began with just two cars. They grew their business into one of the largest volume used car dealers in Florida. The Fischers retained 20 percent ownership of the firm with 80 percent owned by New York-based investment firm Cerberus Capital Management.
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