This story is the first in MTD’s exclusive series of articles about how the COVID-19 crisis is impacting independent tire dealers. Stay tuned to www.moderntiredealer.com for more!

Craig Tate, president of Tate Boys Tire & Service LLC, which has seven retail locations throughout Oklahoma, said the impact of COVID-19 on his dealership was nearly immediate.

Tate Boys Tire & Service LLC has been advertising its "safer at home" program via social media and other channels.

Tate Boys Tire & Service LLC has been advertising its "safer at home" program via social media and other channels.

“The first week of March, we were off to a great start for the month,” he says. “Business was normal. Then what we call ‘week zero’ – the second week in March – hit. We started to see an impact on our key performance indicators, including customer count.

“The third week of March is where we really started to see a drop – in everything, right across the board. We’re running at about a 40% decline right now.”

 ‘Safer at Home’

Initially, the dealership – which employs more than 100 people – went into “hunkered-down mode,” he says. Then, seeing opportunities for action, Tate created a crisis management team, consisting of key members of his staff.

“I challenged them and said, ‘The whole objective of our company has changed. There are two things we are going to accomplish. The number-one thing is that we have to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 among our teammates, our customers, our communities and our suppliers. Number two, we have to become a better company on the back end of this thing than we were when it started.’ We’re reviewing every process and are turning over every stone.”

In late-March, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt issued a “safer at home” order, which is similar to “stay at home” and “shelter at home” edicts in other states.

Tate Boys immediately instituted its own “safer at home” program to “stay contactless with customers, so they don’t have to come into our stores,” he says.

“They call a store, schedule an appointment, a designated driver picks up their car and brings it back to the store, the car gets serviced, we sterilize the car and take it back to the customer. We’re even putting key fobs in Ziploc bags.”

The service – which the dealership is advertising via social media -- has been very well-received, he says.

Tate Boys also is taking safety precautions at its stores, all of which remain open.

“We’ve always met customers in the parking lot. Now more than ever, that’s really important. We wear gloves with every transaction. We’re putting credit cards in Ziploc bags. In our showrooms, we’ve spread customers’ chairs apart. There are x’s behind the counters where customers stand. We’re putting visual reminders in our stores to make sure we are maintaining social distancing, not just for our customers but also for our teammates.”

Taking care of employees

While trying to reassure customers, Tate also has had to ease employees’ fears about the virus. “There was a lot of anxiety” when COVID-19 news began to ramp up.

The dealership now provides its workers with regular news updates based on Centers for Disease Control, state and local government announcements. “We’re serving as an information resource for them. We are communicating safety messages to them every day. That has really helped.

“We’re also not cutting back hours,” he says. “We’re paying our people the way they got paid the first 12 weeks of the year. If we’re going to convince them that they are essential service providers, what message does it send if we cut people back to 20 hours? The last thing I want is people worrying about their paychecks.”

Tate is convinced that his dealership will be in a stronger position after panic around the virus subsides.

“This is going to change how business is done – whether it’s parts deliveries, the food sector, medical care, any industry. There are ‘aha’ moments that will come out of this that will change how everyone does business, moving forward. I’ve challenged everyone to find our ‘aha’ moment.”

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