Left out in the cold: It's not all fun and Olympic games for tire dealers
Every four years at this time, the Olympic Winter Games are held somewhere in the world. This year, that special place is Salt Lake City, Utah.
How special depends upon whether you're Michelle Kwan competing in Ladies' Figure Skating or Dan Perkins trying to sell a tire. The 2002 Olympics may bring millions of dollars to Salt Lake City, but not everyone shares in the wealth.
Perkins runs two Utah Valley Tire Inc. stores in downtown Salt Lake City. They are only six blocks away from each other. One is outside the area designated "high traffic" by event organizers. "We still are concerned that people will be off going to events or at home watching the Olympics on TV," says Perkins.
The other, only a few blocks away, is in a partly affected area. Perkins says he's been asked to close up shop at 2 p.m. every day during the Olympics, which last from Feb. 8 to Feb. 24. "They aren't compensating anyone for anything. As a business owner, it's going to be a hindrance to us.
"The only thing we're hoping to do is rent out parking spots. But we don't know how that's going to work, either."
Ironically, sales at the "unaffected" location dropped significantly last summer when construction of a light rail system partially blocked off his store. Perkins says June sales were down 30% compared to the previous year. "So preparation for the Olympics hasn't been good to us, either."
Discount Tire Co. Inc., which has nine stores in the Salt Lake city area, thought running billboards with tires in an Olympic ring-type formation would pass muster with the Olympic Committee.
However, because Discount Tire is not an Olympic sponsor, the committee sued. Discount Tire has since removed the controversial ads.
Wendel Burt, co-owner of Burt Brothers Tires, a four-store dealership based in nearby Bountiful, Utah, sees potential plusses and minuses for his Park City store, which is a stone's throw from the ski jumping and bobsled events. "With travel up and down the canyon being restricted, deliveries to our Park City store will be seriously impacted (Park City is located in Parley's Canyon off I-80 -- the main road into the canyon). So we're expecting a lot of displacement."
Burt Brothers also services accounts like Park City Transportation, airport shuttles and canyon transports, which have been run extra hard of late. "Our business is up because they're making sure their vehicles are ready to go for the extra demands of the Olympics."
"You'll see some out-of-town people who aren't used to driving in snow come in for snow tires," says Terry Clifford, store manager for Burt Brothers' Sandy, Utah, outlet. "But I don't think the Olympics will have an effect on us. We're kind of on the outskirts."
Clifford says the city is encouraging people to ride mass transit to the events. So his store is offering them a lift to the bus and train stations when they drop off their vehicles to be serviced.
The overall effect on tire sales in Salt Lake City may be a wash. But Olympic glory will still be bittersweet for dealers like Dan Perkins, who don't even get free tickets to any of the events.
"We're excited to have the games," says Perkins. "But as a business owner, it's a financial burden."