On Sunday sales, color Colorado auto dealers blue

There’s a time and a place for everything, and Colorado’s auto dealers think that Sunday is not the time for their businesses to be open. Not surprisingly, their refusal to go along with the rest of the retail world has made for some pushback, not least from Colorado state regulators.

There are several good reasons for staying closed on Sunday. 

The single biggest reason is that it actually saves consumers money. There are various estimates for how much, but the figure is probably between 11-14 percent on the price of a new car because of the increased overhead and personnel costs associated with opening Sundays. On the cost of apparel, toiletries, groceries, or even household appliances, all of which are available on Sunday, that extra cost isn’t a huge amount for consumers to deal with. Add it to the price of a $30,000 automobile, and it becomes a steep price to pay for the privilege of a Sunday purchase.

Mike Feeley, a former Colorado legislator and now an attorney in Denver and the lobbyist for the Colorado Automobile Dealers Association makes the case. “Ultimately, it’s for the protection of the consumer. Given the low margins that exist in the industry, and the additional cost of opening a seventh day, the only people who would pay for it would be the consumers,” he said. “All the [dealers] sales and service agreements say that if you’re open under state law, you have to be all open,” which would mean not just the showroom for sales, but the service and parts departments, as well.

Colorado dealers are experiencing a shortage of qualified automotive technicians. It’s already hard to find employees to staff the dealerships six days of the week. Many simply refuse to work on Sunday, which is often considered “family day.”

Even if dealers were to open on Sunday, it would be difficult to conclude a sale, since lending institutions and insurance agents are not available to provide the necessary legal underpinnings for a new vehicle purchase.

Many people like the ability to visit a dealership on Sunday, when there are no salespeople, so they can look over cars at their leisure without being interrupted or pressured to buy. If they like what they see, they’ll probably be back. As Feeley notes, “They [dealers] won’t sell any more cars in seven days than they do in six days.”

The internet has radically changed the nature of motor vehicle sales. In the not-too-distant past, it was common for  consumers to visit four or five dealers of different brands in a quest to find just the right vehicle at just the right price. It wasn’t unusual for it to be a family outing so that spouses could agree on what they wanted and the kids were entertained by climbing in and out of various vehicles as an extra benefit. Nowadays, the majority of consumers are shopping vehicles online and narrowing the possibilities down to just one or maybe two. After zeroing in on what they want, they’ll come in for a test drive. Increasingly, dealers will bring a vehicle to consumers’ homes or businesses for a test drive and conclude the deal on the spot, making a visit to the dealership unnecessary.

While online shopping can take place on Sunday, a test drive – whether it starts in the dealership showroom or the customer’s driveway – can’t. Most dealers would like it to stay that way.

Colorado’s ban on Sunday sales was enacted by the Colorado General Assembly in 1952 and there have been several attempts to repeal it. In 1957, Max Mosko, co-owner with his wife, Lillian, of Max Mosko Auto Wholesale, challenged the constitutionality of the Sunday sales ban in court.

Among other things, the Mosko suit contended that auto sales were singled out as a class for special treatment. The case ended up in the Colorado State Supreme Court. In its explanation for ruling against Mosko the court relied on a New Jersey decision that stated, “The statutes in question here apply to all automobile dealers within the state, with no distinction as to class, type, location or otherwise. All are required to close. … No economic advantage can be gained by any one with in this State by reason of the Sunday regulation because no persons other than those covered by the enactments can engage in the business of selling motor vehicles.”

Since then, there have been several attempts to overturn the ban on Sunday sales, including one in 2005 and most recently in 2017. After the 2005 attempt, which CADA lobbied hard against, I would run into lawmakers in the corridor at the State Capitol who would greet me, “Hi, Tim. Never on Sunday.” It’s like we’re branded because we’ve lobbied so intensely over all these years. This story was recounted in an “Automotive News” wrap-up about Sunday sales throughout the U.S.

Colorado’s 2017 attempt was put forth by the Department of Regulatory Agencies’ Office of Policy, Research and Regulatory Reform as part of a mandatory 10-year Sunset review of the Motor Vehicle Dealer Board. The Colorado General Assembly is required to reauthorize the board every 10 years or it would be eliminated. According to Mike Feeley, “One of their major findings was that the department wanted to repeal the ban on Sunday sales.”

Feeley said, “It is funny. We’ve seen people’s minds changed. We’ve had [legislators] come up to us and say, ‘Hey, you want to get rid of that ban on Sunday sales? I can help you with that.’ And by the time our conversation is over they … well, it’s ‘Never mind, now I understand.’ We’ve actually seen that lots of times.” One reason they change their minds about Sunday sales is that the Colorado Automobile Dealers Association works very hard throughout the year to get together with all state legislators to educate them about our industry. These Legislative Grassroots Meetings have been an invaluable tool for us on many issues, not least of which is Sunday sales.

The state regulators presented their argument in 2017, which according to Feeley and CADA’s other lobbyist, Melissa Kuipers, basically amounted to a philosophical one: Blue laws are archaic and consumers should have a choice. “Most bills have an argument for the consumer, one side or another making the argument. For this one there’s no coalition of consumers seeking to have dealers open on Sunday,” Kuipers said.

The ban on Sunday sales of vehicles was compared by the regulators to the ban on Sunday liquor sales, which was repealed in 2008. According to Feeley, “They went back and said, ‘There used to be other blue laws … One by one they’ve dropped by the wayside and from their perspective it [the Sunday Sales ban] should be dropped, as well.” The difference is that the liquor stores wanted to be open, and automobile dealers largely do not.

CADA’s lobbying effort paid off and the repeal of the Sunday sales ban did not pass in its initial legislative committee consideration. We will continue to oppose it, knowing it probably will come up again, even before the next Sunset review.

Blue laws, or Sunday laws, grew out of the religious practice of observing the Sabbath, as set forth by the Fourth Commandment in the Old Testament of the Bible. The practice of closing on Sunday really gained traction under English and Scottish Reformers, known as “bluestockings,” hence “blue laws.” More than a dozen states join Colorado in keeping the Sunday sales ban on motor vehicles.

The question of constitutionality – as in the Mosko case – has arisen often. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1961 that blue laws are constitutional. The court said that, “as presently written and administered, most of them, at least, are of a secular rather than of a religious character, and that presently they bear no relationship to establishment of religion.”

Some automobile dealers use Sunday to go to church. Others just use the time to rest and spent time with their families. We believe we have better relationships with our employees because they can rely on having Sunday to spend in the way they wish. They come back to work on Monday feeling more rested, relaxed, and ready to serve Colorado consumers looking for  new cars to drive or to do maintenance on their existing vehicles.


About timwjackson

Working every day for a better Colorado.
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