This story is the latest 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!
Jarid Lundeen owns and operates four Tires Plus stores in North Dakota – many miles away from COVID-19 epicenters like New York City, Seattle and Detroit. But his dealership has felt the pandemic’s impact in a profound way.
“Initially, there wasn’t that much of an effect on things but over the last two weeks it has dramatically affected our volume,” he says.
“It went from a little blip to a dramatic shutdown across the board. We went from seeing 60 customers a day at one location to probably 10 or 20. We’re probably 70% down.”
More with less
Lundeen’s stores, one of which is located near a military base, are “high-volume locations.”
Several weeks ago, he says, “it became pretty apparent that consumers were changing their patterns. We made some aggressive moves before the market” went downhill.
This included laying off 15% of his workforce.
Lundeen took that action after he proactively sent other employees who were experiencing “cold-like” symptoms home. “We gave them 14 days off for quarantine. Some of those have returned” after being cleared by their doctors.
“I’m calling our (laid-off) people to see how their spirits are and aside from being bored, they are doing well.”
Regardless, he says the decision to lay off so many employees was gut-wrenching. “Never in my life had we done that before.”
Then came the challenge of moving ahead with a smaller staff. “Once we decided who was going to come back, we created two different shifts to limit their exposure to the virus.”
One set of employees now works on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Another set works on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
The theory is that if an employee in the first group contracts COVID-19, employees in the second group won’t be exposed to the virus and vice versa.
Lundeen also has limited his stores’ hours.
Next week, “we’re going to shut down our showrooms temporarily. But we’ll still remain open. We’re still an essential business.”
However, customers will no longer be able to visit – or linger inside – his stores.
Lundeen doesn’t regret taking temporary precautions to protect his employees’ well-being.
“My wife is a nurse and has worked with patients that have had super-bugs and stuff, so she had my ear the whole time,” he says. “In North Dakota we think we’re kind of rugged and we don’t always listen to people. But we acted quickly.”
His employees "are very comfortable coming into work.”
On top of staffing and other operational adjustments, Lundeen is exploring loan programs made available through the recently passed CARES Act, “so we can keep everyone fully funded.
"When this thing first happened, I was a little overwhelmed by the magnitude of the debt we will see as a country. But I think (federal help) might be the medicine our economy needs.”
Small businesses “are the backbone of the country and many local economies. The CARES program, I think, is what we all will need to come out of this somewhat intact.”
In the meantime, he’s encouraging employees to bone up on education and training. “Some of my managers went from five-day work weeks to three- or four-day weeks, so I’ve said, ‘Use the extra time at home to do online learning.”
This includes taking tire manufacturer-provided courses. His in-house trainer also is scheduling classes via teleconference for employees who are stuck at home.
Other employees are cleaning and painting showrooms. Some are making sure tools and equipment are in pristine working condition so Tires Plus’ service bays will be ready when business rebounds.
“I want to be as common sense-focused as possible,” says Lundeen. “If we maybe have to do things differently” post-pandemic, “that’s just reality. But we want to make sure our people are healthy. I do think we’re going to come out of this stronger – if we are conscious of what’s going on around us.”
Other stories in this series: