GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.—Ronda Tire Service Inc. opened for business in 1918 and has seen numerous challenges over the years. Over the next few months, Ronda Tire will face another serious challenge. On Jan. 17 the Michigan Department of Transportation closed a 1.3-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 131 for an extensive reconstruction project. It's western Michigan's main north-south highway and passes through downtown Grand Rapids.
Ronda Tire's downtown facility is located at an interchange on the closed section of the highway.
Principal owner David Ronda said retail business at the downtown location has slumped about 50 percent since the highway closed.
In addition to retail and auto service, the downtown location has a warehouse, a commercial tire outlet, a retread plant and the corporate office.
Commercial tire and retread sales are holding steady at the downtown location, Mr. Ronda said, and some of Ronda Tire's downtown-store retail customers are taking their business to one of the dealership's other four locations in the Grand Rapids area. Providing tire service to the construction company on the highway project also has helped Ronda Tire's bottom line.
"If it wasn't for the construction company," Mr. Ronda said, "it would be worse."
His advice to other dealers facing a similar situation: "Get in real good with the construction company."
About 120,000 cars passed by the dealership each day on U.S. 131, Mr. Ronda said, and the Ronda Tire sign was clearly visible from the highway. "Of course, once you take cars away, now you've lost drive-by traffic," he said.
The highway closing has also made it more difficult to get road service trucks out as quickly. Ronda Tire has purchased an additional service truck, he said, to give customers better response.
Ronda Tire's annual sales are about $5.5 million and Mr. Ronda has 24 employees at the downtown location. The dealership features Kelly and Yokohama truck tires and produces about 200 Goodyear Ultima retreads per week.
There are no plans to lay off any employees, he said, but one or two of them may be transferred to one of the outlying stores.
Mr. Ronda said the contractor plans to finish the project six months ahead of schedule in November and will receive a bonus for doing so.
Since the road closing took place in January, Mr. Ronda said he's had some time to adjust to the circumstances. Ronda Tire is contemplating some changes in retail service, he said, but wouldn't give any details.
The dealership also will be developing a different marketing program soon, Mr. Ronda said. Ronda Tire has hired two people to work on that program.
When the highway closing was announced, the city and state governments began to promote alternate routes and added bus routes to alleviate congestion. However, Mr. Ronda said, "What they (the government) did, did not help anything as far as the retail aspect."
When the highway reopens, Mr. Ronda believes drive-by traffic will be reduced because one entrance ramp and an exit ramp will be moved about three blocks away from Ronda Tire.
However, he plans keep the commercial part of the dealership downtown because that location is "central to everything."
Mr. Ronda's final piece of advice for tire dealers faced with traffic disruptions due to road construction is simply "patience."