Car showroom sales volumes are now 21 per cent below where they were a decade ago and sales of new cars in Northern Ireland fell last year by the steepest amount in six years.
However, local car dealerships are implementing new strategies to react to market trends.
Making sure the customer stays in Enniskillen and does not continue on to Belfast is key and requires “keen” pricing, according to Dessie Dolan, Managing Director of Lochside Garages.
Whilst making the most of the current cross border shopping bonanza, Mr. Dolan is aware that it won’t last forever.
He recalls the 2009 recession, which prompted a temporary influx of southern customers to Enniskillen. Similarly, since the Brexit referendum and the weakening of the pound, he is witnessing “a repetition of the trend we saw in 2009.”
He told The Impartial Reporter: “People will look at your website, you have a deal agreed in principle, they will come up, look at the car, they do the bank transfer and away they go.”
He is very aware of his “good loyal local customer base” and is conscious that if there is no trade agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union, a World Trade Organisation tariff of 10 per cent will be placed on cars and a 4.5 per cent tariff on components– driving up the cost of production and the cost of cars for British customers. 
If such a situation arose, he expects he will still need to service his local customer base.
“Car sales are buoyant in Northern Ireland the mood among customers is good. Brexit has softened it a little bit, but not massively,” said Mr. Dolan.
He has not seen the Brexit uncertainty hitting the average husband and wife customer. 
“There is still fairly good confidence there,” he said.
Asked if he was planning for Brexit, he said: “What can we do really? Brexit will be a double edge sword because we will have to wait and see what it does to our new car imports – 90 per cent of new cars are imported from outside the UK. We will also have to wait and see the impact for us on selling used cars into the Republic, where there is already a tariff as the ROI customer pays VRT on bringing a car from NI into ROI.
“Yes, we are exporting but if they slap a tariff on it, we still have our local market to service. We are not reliant on the ROI market, albeit that it is very welcome at the moment and it helps us. The fact we are well established means we have a lot of repeat custom from our local customers.”
He added: “I would be more worried about the knock-on effect the Brexit uncertainty would have on the wider economy. For example, if local manufacturing companies started to lay off workers, that would affect people buying cars etc - that’s where our worry would come from.”
An analysis of the most recent Northern Ireland car sales data by Ulster Bank Chief Economist Richard Ramsey finds that sales of premium cars are up, while non-premium cars are down. Mr. Ramsey writes: “The falling overall market conceals diverging performance at brand level - sales of premium brand cars (Audi, BMW, Jaguar, Land Rover, Lexus, Mercedes Benz, Porsche and Volvo) hit a record high of close to 10,700 vehicles … while sales of non-premium brands saw the pace of decline accelerate last year by almost seven per cent to a five-year low.”
“We would see those trends as well,” agreed Mr. Dolan. “We identified the trends towards premium brands and redeveloped our site last year, creating a used car showroom where the shop and petrol station used to be. We now stock premium used brands and we are finding a demand for them. 
“We are obviously stocking both premium and non-premium and we perform well with both,” he said.
Mr. Dolan came into the family business 15 years ago as a car sales man, following education at Portora and Fermanagh College. The Vauxhall dealership was purchased by his grandfather Desmond Dolan in 1969 and was more recently run by his father Jim and aunt Imelda, until last year, when Dessie took over.
The biggest challenge he has faced along the way is “the internet and people shopping online.”
Mr. Dolan said: “You need to be here and ensure you have the right product offering at the right price, in the right colour. If you have a customer coming from Cork, for example, if they are going to drive from Cork to Enniskillen, they are going to drive on to Belfast if the price isn’t right. So we have to be very keen on our pricing.
“That also applies to local customers,” he said, continuing: “There’s a perception that: ‘We will go to Belfast to buy a car,’ but we have to work very hard to ensure we can offer the same value in addition to the fact we are a local family business and if you do have a problem we will provide after care.”
The recent three per cent increase in the district rate is an unwelcome expense.
“We are not seeing increases in our revenue or margins to warrant that increase,” commented Mr. Dolan.
The father-of-two reflected: “People have a perception that they might buy a car out of the county, but what they are failing to remember is: it’s local companies like us which are also paying the rates that are allowing them to live that better lifestyle here. So, it’s back to the idea of supporting local and looking after your own community.”
The lack of a functioning government “doesn’t help” the business sector, according to Mr. Dolan, who said: “It affects us indirectly. If you hear of infrastructure projects that have been halted – that’s maybe affecting guys who are working in construction, which holds the whole economy back. It affects customer confidence.”
Operating from Fermanagh means “everyone knows each other”, which he says, “is a good thing.”
Looking ahead to next year, when the business will have been in the family for 50 years, Mr. Dolan said: “I am quite lucky that I’ve been doing something that I love and enjoy.”
In his spare time he enjoys spending time with his wife and two sons and following motor sport events.