AMITYVILLE, N.Y.-There's a lyric in a Beatles song that claims, ``It's getting better all the time.'' That about sums up the way business has been going for Ernie Caramanico, vice president of Amityville Firestone, a one-outlet independent dealership in Amityville on New York's Long Island.
After a slow sales pace last winter and an equally lethargic January through March, things began improving in April. And May sales thus far have been ``pretty good,'' said Mr. Caramanico, who also is president of the New York Tire Dealers Association and a director on the board of the Tire Association of North America.
But it could have been a lot worse. Remember The Amityville Horror, the flick based on the book by Jay Anson about a haunted house in that sleepy 'burb?
Having a tire dealership with the name ``Firestone'' on it-in the wake of the 6.5-million-tire recall by Bridgestone/Firestone Inc.-could very well have spelled doom. Or at least a few horror stories. Instead, all Mr. Caramanico has really had to contend with is a sluggish economy that he said has affected, to varying degrees, dealers all across the Empire State.
``As far as I know, everyone's doing about the same, starting to get busy again,'' he said, noting that perhaps a number of factors have contributed to the slow start for 2001, including the tire recall, post-election doldrums, fears of a recession and a rollercoaster stock market ride.
``Sales are picking up-they're better than last year at this time. Hopefully, we'll keep on going now,'' he told Tire Business.
With all the bad press Bridgestone/Firestone has garnered since the launch of the recall last August, Firestone dealers across the land have been dodging the fallout.
Mr. Caramanico certainly anticipated it. But no noticeable drop-off in customers ever really materialized, he said-only a ``little,'' temporary lull in patrons coming through the turnstiles.
Now, he believes despite all the bad news, ``customers are beginning to forget about the recall.'' And with the new ``Making It Right'' ad campaign BFSlaunched a few weeks ago, Mr. Caramanico said his sales, especially tire sales, are steadily improving.
``I think the recall got totally blown out of proportion by the media because there was nothing else going on at the time,'' he added. ``We didn't have any customers who came in really concerned about Firestone tires.''
That, frankly, surprised him because he had heard that other Firestone dealers were experiencing otherwise. ``We have a lot of customers who come here just because of us,'' he explained. ``They take our advice, and often will say: `We trust you. Put on what you think is best.'
``I have sold thousands of those (recalled) tires and, personally, have never had a problem with them. I even have them on my own vehicles.''
Skyrocketing energy costs may be a curse in California, but haven't been a problem in New York, he said. Although prices at the gas pump are hovering around $1.75 per gallon, ``I don't think that's affecting my car count at all.''
Amityville Firestone-founded by Mr. Caramanico's dad, Ernest, 51 years ago-``does anything and everything customers need,'' he said, including complete engine overhauls and undercar work. ``The trick is to not to send them anywhere else, because they might like them better.''
The dealership, a member of the BFS ``Affiliated Dealer Program,'' pulls in annual sales of about $1.3 million and handles most of that tire maker's brands-along with a sprinkling of Michelin tires. ``We're 90 percent Firestone brand,'' Mr. Caramanico bragged.
After participating in a regional dealer meeting recently that drew upwards of 500 Firestone dealers, Mr. Caramanico said he came away with a lot of positive feedback. Dealers saw a new crop of TV commercials-featuring race drivers Mario and Michael Andretti-which he said ``look excellent. A lot of people are seeing them and I think those are perking things up,'' as have the TV spots BFS Chairman John Lampe has filmed in which he vows the company will make things right for consumers.
``Those have helped,'' Mr. Caramanico said. ``He took on a big challenge, and I have to commend him for that. He's really plugging away at it.
``I think he'll get us out of this faster than anybody thinks.''