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Small town, BIG success

Cody’s Classic cooks up record sales amid pandemic. Old Cars talks with Cody's Classic Cars.

Cody’s Classic Cars in tiny Stanley, Wis., has been connecting collector car consignors and buyers since its founding in 2017. Diehard vintage car enthusiasts Jonathan and Lauren Cody have quickly built Cody’s Classic Cars into a worldwide business out of the little hamlet of Stanley by maintaining a strong online presence and heavily advertising their inventory.

We asked Jonathan and Lauren how the collector car market and their business were affected by the pandemic and what they look forward to going into 2021.

OC: How would you describe business overall in 2020?

CCC: It’s been phenomenal — record-setting. 2019 was a record year for us and we surpassed what we did in 2019 by the end of August, first part of September this year. We started the year off and January had been a record month for us, February and March were right up there... we did have a two-and-a-half-week period in April where it got quiet and we were nervous, but by the end of April, the floodgates opened back up. We slowed down in September, but that was because we ran out of inventory. We were down to 25 cars and we usually run 60-65 cars. Since September, we were just restocking and lining up new consignments and new inventory and then in October, we shattered all of the other previous month’s records with a new record. November was strong, but it was down a little bit. The number of cars sold was down a little bit, but we sold a handful of bigger-ticket items that month so our gross sales were higher with less units, but we should make that up this month. With what sales I have pending and waiting to close, we will exceed last year and make up the difference. We have been very lucky, very blessed.

OC: What changes to your business did you have to make in 2020?

CCC: We didn’t really have to make any changes. We are not a traditional dealership where we would be sitting in our showroom from 9-5; we were always “by appointment” only. The biggest change we made was back in April, when they were telling everyone to stay home. We just literally did that and instead of going to the showroom, we worked from the dining room table and only went down to the showroom if we were needing to receive a car or show a car or if a sold car was getting picked up by the transporter. Like a lot of businesses, we realized we didn’t need to be there to sell cars. We aren’t selling cars to people walking in off the street; we have to be at 40-plus states and we’re probably close to two dozen countries that we have sold cars to.

OC: Did your customer base change in 2020?

CCC: I did sense an urgency at times where [buyers] wanted to wire the money as fast as fast as they could and get [the purchase] to them more so than in years past. We had a couple, I remember one in particular back in late March: he was in Missouri and he bought a car from us and he was worried that the interstate highways were gong to get shut down. He called me and wired the money almost instantly and was worried that the roads would get shut down and the car wouldn’t get to him.

Maybe those that were sitting on the fence, thinking about buying a classic car, saw when the stock market tanked in March and when businesses just started to close, and before the market rebounded, maybe thought they would pull money out and buy an old car. They figured they could get more smiles that way than looking at their Edward Jones statement... But the market came back and we are still selling. You only get one go around and if you always wanted “fill in the blank” you might as well just go out and do it.

We talked to a lot of people and the COVID topic comes up in every conversation and people say, “I just want to be able to cruise around” and that is a safe way to get out.

We just planned a day or two a week and we got in a different old car and packed our deck chairs and would just go for a picnic. I don’t think we are the only ones who did that.

It’s also that an old car is something that you can tinker on. There is always maintenance or restoration that is something a guy could do. Just have something new and exciting to do at home — garage time.

OC: What vehicles were customers looking for in 2020? Any changes?

CCC: Due to the nature of being a consignment dealer, our inventory is so diverse, and the cars come to us. I have been fortunate enough I have not had to really pound the pavement and bug people about consigning. We just take it as it comes at us and it’s a nice variety. So when we do have buyers calling on the cars, I don’t get many people calling and saying, ‘I am looking for this – can you help me find it?’

We know some stuff moves faster than other stuff. The ’20s, ’30s, ’40s doesn’t move as fast as the newer stuff. But we sold some of the ’20s stuff and it didn’t last long. Out of 100 cars, [the one we have] is the only one that the customer would consider. They are buying it for some emotional reason: Dad had one, Grandpa had one, ‘when I met my wife, this is what I was driving.’ So when people are calling, they are calling about a car that we have because it checks off all the boxes for them. Again, we can have a room full of 100 buyers, 99 wouldn’t have an interest in it. That guy or gal, that is the one they have been waiting for.

I gave up a long time ago trying to predict what would be popular and what would not be. Sometimes we will get a car in and we think people will beat the door down to buy it and that one will hang around longer than you think. Then you have one car and you wonder if someone will want that thing and you find out if you had three of them, you would be able to sell them all of them in a week, so I have given up trying to predict a long time ago.

OC: What vehicles were customers looking to sell in 2020?

CCC: I look at the customers and what I call our clients, who are the consignors, and our client is someone in their 70s or 80s that is just looking to downsize or they are getting out of the hobby, and/or widowed spouses that are calling us because the husband has passed away and are looking at selling his car. Our client is trying to take care of the old car in the garage that doesn’t get driven, so they are selling it so their wife doesn’t have to take care of it. We have a real good friend in Wausau that is a collector and he is always buying and selling and he lets us handle all of his selling, and he’s probably bought five to six cars from us. He’s in his 60s, but the majority of our clients are older people who’ve had the car for a number of years and they don’t drive it and use it and they don’t want to let it sit. And they want to sell it to someone who will make new memories with it.

OC: What cars were hot in 2020?

CCC: We did have an ’03 Thunderbird with low miles that we probably could have sold three to four of if we had them. We had a ’55 Ford F250 in that real pretty sea foam green. That sat in our inventory — we had that truck for nearly two years — then back in July or August, all of a sudden I had four to five guys call on it all within a day or two of each other. I had the truck for two years, hardly any activity on it, and I literally called the widow — the gentleman that had consigned it with me passed away by then — with four and then a fifth offer.

The average price of cars we sold this year is $17,000 so we’re selling the driver-quality cars. We sold some, like that 1960 Eldorado Biarritz, we sold that for $123,000 and we sold several that have been in the $60,000-70,000 range, but the average price is just going to be under the $20,000 mark simply because that stuff sells a lot faster. Most of our buyers aren’t dealing with financing because it’s a lot of money, but it’s easier for an average Joe able to come up with that amount of money without financing versus $50,000-60,000.

Cars in the $10,000-20,000 range are the sweet spot.

OC: In this crazy 2020, what surprised you the most?

CCC: We feel so very fortunate. I think that so many businesses are hurting and we were really scared in April when we were quarantined and we didn’t know what our future would be. We are certainly not an essential business and the first thing we thought people are going to do is stop buying vintage cars because they aren’t essential, and we were blown away that that wasn’t the case. We were truly fortunate. I think that people are being told to not do things together and so getting in a classic car and hitting the back roads is something you can do and is a way of getting out of the house and yet remain socially distant from strangers.

Jonathan and Lauren Cody of behind the wheel at Cody’s Classics

Jonathan and Lauren Cody of behind the wheel at Cody’s Classics

Cody’s Classic Cars
307 North Broadway Street
Stanley, WI 54768

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