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!
What happens when one of your employees tests positive for COVID-19? Dominic Umek, group business leader at Cleveland, Ohio-based Conrad’s Tire Express & Total Care Care, can tell you.
An employee at one of the dealership’s 38 retail locations was diagnosed with the illness just a few weeks ago – resulting in the 14-day quarantine of several other employees and a two-day store shutdown.
Umek recounts what happened.
“The associate self-reported to us that he was having symptoms and that he was going to be tested and was waiting three to five days to get the results. The health board later called us and notified us” that the test came back positive.
“They walked us through the protocol they wanted us to follow, which involved the quarantine of other associates for 14 days. We ended up closing the store for two operating days. And we elected to hire a third-party professional cleaning crew to sanitize the store.”
The store reopened and Conrad’s pulled in associates from other stores to run it.
The employee who tested positive for COVID-19 “is doing well,” says Umek. “And no other associate has experienced any symptoms. Our head of HR has been calling them to see how they are feeling.
“None of us in the business today – and probably the last couple of generations – has had any kind of experience” like COVID-19, says Umek, who has been with Conrad's for more than 30 years.
“We’ve had to learn as we go and take our cues from the medical community and government.”
Open and safe
All of Conrad’s stores remain open but “we are running at 50% of the volume we did this time last year and half the volume we were doing year-to-date. I’ve never seen an impact like this. Even post-9/11, we didn’t see the amount of impact to our business that we are experiencing now.”
Road traffic in Conrad’s marketing area, which extends across northeastern Ohio, is down 50%, according to estimates. That means fewer cars are entering service bays, says Umek.
The dealership has been forced to adjust staffing levels and store hours as a result.
“On weekdays, we’re now open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., rather than 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. In a business like ours, nearly 60% of every gross profit dollar we collect goes to wage-related expenses: bonuses, health care, payroll taxes, 401(k) match contributions – things of that nature.
“So when your business gets cut in half, you have no choice but to address the single-largest expense category you have,” he notes.
In the meantime, Umek says Conrad’s has taken precautions to protect employees and those customers who are still visiting its stores.
“We’ve put markers on our floors and in front of our counters for customers to stand behind,” he reports. “We’re encouraging customers to drop off their vehicles for service rather than be in our showrooms. We’re strongly encouraging them to schedule appointments through our website.
"We’re encouraging customers to use our overnight keydrops, even if they’re coming in during the day. We’ve removed half of our showroom chairs and have spread them out to (enforce) social distancing. And our associates are wearing gloves when dealing with customers and cars.”
The dealership is posting updated information on its website, including Centers of Disease Control best practices, “and we’ve pushed that information out on Facebook and through our email database.”
Despite the unusual nature of the COVID19 crisis, Umek is optimistic that business – and life, in general -- will return to “a level of normalcy. I’ve heard people say that things will never be the same after this. We heard that after 9/11 and the financial crisis of 2008-2009. My perspective is a little different. It won’t happen on Day One, but life will get back to a level of normalcy.”
Other stories in this series: