Craig Myers, co-owner of Philadelphia, Pa.-based wholesale distributor Allen Rubber Co., clearly recalls the immediate effect of COVID-19 on business, and how he felt during the early days of the pandemic.
“When your receivables come to a screeching halt because you’re not creating any business, and you have buildings with tires and you don’t have anyone buying them – that’s scary.”
Three months later, Allen Rubber’s wholesale business has started to rebound, Myers reports. “But it’s such a fluid situation. You come in each day and you get ready for anything that might come your way, and you implement best practices from the health side and from the business side. I think if you do those things, you’ll be alright.”
That’s’ what Myers, his partners and Allen Rubber, as a whole, are banking on.
Consistency is key
Allen Rubber has four distribution centers, the largest of which is located at the company’s corporate headquarters.
The impact of COVID-19 stay-at-home measures on the distributor’s customer base was immediate, says Myers. Several of its small tire dealer customers closed their doors.
“A lot of them thought this was going to go away in two weeks and I think they said, ‘You know what? We’ll just shut down until it’s safe to come out.’ So there was a percentage who chose to literally close. They thought it was going to be a short window.”
Some customers who elected to remain open were forced to make tough decisions in order to stay afloat. “Some cut their staff. Some asked their people to take personal or vacation time to lower their overhead.”
In such an uncertain environment, Allen Rubber’s owners – who also include Brad Goldstein, president; Phil McConnon, vice president; and Wes Myers, director of online sales -- realized that service consistency would be more important than ever.
“Our vendors adjusted to us, but we didn’t do much readjusting to our customers,” says Myers. “If we were coming to you three times a day, we tried to maintain that. The idea was to create as little disruption as possible. I think we succeeded. The customers who remained open knew they could depend on us.”
Maintaining regular deliveries also enabled Allen Rubber to capitalize on voids created by competitors that had reduced or altered their schedules, resulting in extra business.
To ensure the safety of both customers and employees, Allen Rubber also quickly adapted to social distancing guidelines, according to Myers.
“If we deliver four tires and the customer says, ‘I don’t want to sign (a delivery form),' our driver will simply write down, ‘Delivered four.’ Some people have asked us to leave their tires and knock on their doors. We’ve also told our drivers, ‘Take a picture of delivered tires at the customer’s business.’ That’s a good enough proof of delivery.”
Demand for commercial truck tries during the COVID-19 crisis has remained relatively stable, Myers reports.
“The big change that we’re seeing is on the passenger tire side,” he says. “Customers are looking for what we consider to be ‘value brands.’ They don’t necessarily want the cheapest tire we have. But they want something that’s moderately priced and can do the job. There’s an acceptance that might not have been there before.”
'The big thing is health'
Myers acknowledges that – to a large degree – his company, like others, is at the mercy of market conditions. “From where I sit, I can’t do much about the financial side,” he says. “Business has to come back when it comes back.”
In the meantime, his role at Allen Rubber “is being the emotional director – letting people know that the sun is going to shine and skies will be blue again. Our drivers are out on the street. They’re wearing masks and gloves and are exercising as much social distancing as they can.
“The big thing is health,” he says. “That’s what we concern ourselves with.”
Allen Rubber also is doing what it can to reassure employees that they are valued. “We’ve been able to keep everyone on payroll. It was important for us to make sure our people know they would have jobs. We wanted to take that concern off their plates."