TORRANCE, Calif.-On June 10 Robert Barron Sr. got the phone call every tire dealer fears. His retail and commercial tire dealership's headquarters in Torrance, Calif., was on fire. He'd better get down there quick.
That was the beginning of a new chapter in the life of Mr. Barron and his dealership, Three B Tire Co. Inc., which operates three retail/commercial dealerships and two retread plants in Southern California.
Within minutes Mr. Barron, his sons Brent, vice president, and Robert Jr., secretary-treasurer, and daughter Tammy, who runs the office, arrived at the dealership to watch as firefighters battled the blaze.
It took about three or four hours to bring the fire under control. In the end, it destroyed about 65 percent of the 15,000-sq.-ft. building.
But thanks to quick work by the firefighters, the blaze failed to damage the company's paperwork and phone system and caused only minimal damage to its computer equipment, which also was housed in the building, according to Robert Jr.
``(The firefighters) sawed through metal doors and put plastic all over the computer equipment to protect it, before they started pumping water,'' the elder Mr. Barron said. ``(They) did a fantastic job.''
No one was hurt in the blaze, which began at about 8 p.m. and caused an estimated $750,000 in damage-$300,000 from the loss of tires, shocks, front-end parts and equipment such as wheel balancers, Mr. Barron said. The fire was so hot, he added, that it warped beams in parts of the metal building.
Mr. Barron said the fire started in a customer's car that had been parked inside overnight for safekeeping. Apparently, a short near the battery started the fire, he said.
``It was pretty heartbreaking,'' Mr. Barron said, noting that damage to the building didn't look that bad until the next morning, when he could see all the warped beams.
Three B was fully insured against fire, with one exception-customers' vehicles-and is in the process of rebuilding. The company should be up and running as before by Aug. 15, Mr. Barron said.
In the meantime, Three B is working out of a mobile office, using its own computers and servicing vehicles at the Torrance location the old-fashioned way-with jacks rather than lifts, he said.
Has Mr. Barron learned anything as a result of the fire? It's that his insurance didn't cover the customers' cars he had been parking in his dealership over the past 20 years.
``I had no idea the vehicles in our custody wouldn't be covered unless the fire was our fault,'' he said.
As a result, Three B had to pay out nearly $12,000 to repair a customer's car that was left overnight in the dealership.
His advice to other tire dealers: ``Sit down and go over your coverage with your insurance broker.''
Three B Tire Co. Inc. photo