As a commercial-focused tire dealer, only 20% of Twin Valley Tire Inc.’s business is tied to passenger and light truck tires and automotive service needs. And yet, when trying to protect employees from COVID-19, Jamie Laroche says cutting one key service helped limit customer-employee interaction.
“We suspended doing oil changes, unless it’s an emergency,” says Laroche, who with Brendan Van Sambeek own six stores in South Dakota and Minnesota. They’re also part owners of Tires Only Group and Dakota Wholesale Tire Inc., and Smith Tire & Tread, a retread shop.
“I can’t really say we’re really down in any segment other than passenger and light truck, but some of that is on us. Alignments are by emergency only. We’ll do oil changes for the fire department or the police department.”
The day they decided to temporarily eliminate oil changes for most of the public Laroche says there were 10 more scheduled on the appointment calendar. They called those customers. “Out of 10, nine said ‘good for you.’” As for the one who complained, Laroche says that particular customer is often a critic, so his response wasn’t much of a surprise.
The company has locked the doors of its stores and posted signs for customers to call them from the parking lot. “We’ll meet you outside,” Laroche says.
Twin Valley Tire’s commercial business remains steady. “This is like our Christmas season and farmers are getting wound up. We still need to be here for them.” Service trucks are still rolling on regular hours.
In the wholesale operation, route trucks are running each day, but drivers are instructed to not have any contact with people. They’re leaving invoices in a plastic bag and not asking for signatures when deliveries are made. Tires are dropped outside a customer’s door. “We’re all trying to play the honor system.”
Taking care of employees
Laroche says the company is communicating with its employees regularly, stressing that they sanitize when they arrive for work, and any time they move from one door or section of the business to another. They’re limiting traffic in between departments and keeping employees spaced apart to follow social distancing guidelines.
That communication has included the option for employees to take one paid day off each week – depending on which location they’re assigned to. The company is paying for that benefit with money from the federal Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
“Part of the problem we see is the stress of people thinking about COVID-19. They’re thinking about their families. Being hands on in the tire business we’re trying to give them a day off with pay.
“We’re a business that needs to be open. We need to take care of the farmers, the truckers, the ambulances, the fire trucks. We can’t stay at home. We can’t shelter in place.”