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Commercial Tire Dealers Playing Key Role in Keeping Transport Moving

from Tire Business Magazine...

CUYAHOGA FALLS, Ohio — By their very nature as service providers to the nation's trucking industry, commercial tire dealers throughout North America are less affected by the COVID-19 pandemic than their retail counterparts, but that's not to say business is booming.

"Anyone who's in the (commercial) tire business recognizes how lucky they are to be deemed an 'essential' business," Walt Dealtry, CEO of Bethlehem, Pa.-based Service Tire Truck Centers said in an interview with Tire Business, drawing a contrast to those in other industry segments not so fortunate. Mr. Dealtry said the impact on STTC, which operates 46 outlets in eight Eastern seaboard states, varies from state to state due to local pandemic-control measures, but overall the dealership has been able to keep them all open if in some cases with reduced hours. He noted March actually was a good month in part because some fleet customers placed extra orders in order to stockpile tires as a precaution. STTC was "heavy" on inventory, though, so this doesn't pose a supply problem, he said, at least not yet.

"Headwinds are coming in April, however," he cautioned, noting that STTC has trimmed employment some, a move that affected primarily part-time workers and more recent hires. Mr. Dealtry said the mechanical maintenance and repair side of his business has been a bright spot, while at the same time STTC has had to postpone work on some facility expansions due to the of stay-at-home orders. Workers at STTC's 10 retread plants agreed to scale back to 32-hour work weeks in order to spread the workload around and stave off layoffs.

Jim Parkhouse, owner of Parkhouse Tire Inc. in southern California, echoed Mr. Dealtry's comments regarding the effect of customers stocking up on tires as a precaution. Otherwise, business at the dealerships 12 outlets has held up because of the trucking sector's continued level of activity delivering goods to key sectors, he said. The dealership has eliminated all overtime work and is planning to move its retread plants to four-day workweeks, in order to avoid layoffs. "We want to keep good employees," he said, noting this move is designed to keep them around long-term as well. "We don't want to have to start over when this passes looking for qualified workers."

At Wilkes-Barre, Pa.-based McCarthy Tire Service, commercial-related activity has been steady, President John McCarthy said, but retail business has been down about 50%. He noted that many of the dealership's locations have seen increased demand from trash-hauling companies buying tires to maintain their inventory. He also said agricultural was doing well and construction business was OK as quarries in most states still are operating. McCarthy Tire Service employs 1,300 at 60 locations spread from upstate New York down to South Carolina. "We've never seen anything like this. This hits everybody," he said. "We've put protocols in place for different situations a while back, like in case of bad weather, so we are adjusting those plans to fit this situation."

Those at the company who are able to work from home are doing so, Mr. McCarthy said. The company has furloughed about 20% of its workforce in a variety of departments, though not the service department, "because they have been pretty busy." McCarthy Tire shops are following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines.

It has stopped vendor visits and salesmen from making (face-to-face) sales calls and canceled most travel. The dealership is enforcing a six-foot distance between people and limiting the number of people in one area at a time. The company also has installed plexiglass at the front desks in the showrooms. Everyone is wearing gloves, and, at larger locations, employees' temperatures are being taken twice a day. Mr. McCarthy said he has been sending out daily emails to staff to keep them informed, help boost morale and promote positive thinking.

"Some people are scared," he said. "When we find out what worries them, we try to address it."