BUFFALO, N.Y. (Jan. 18, 2002)—For most businesses, snow is the scourge. In the tire business, it's sometimes a blessing. In Buffalo, though, it's almost a necessity.
That's why some tire dealers weren't exactly downtrodden late last month when Mother Nature dumped enough snow to bury an upright NBA center. It was good news for area tire dealers, considering the season had heretofore produced little along the lines of the white stuff.
So when nearly 7 feet fell in the space of a few days, tire dealers, whose shelves were stacked with snow and all-season tires, were only too happy.
“We've got the snow tires to move, but I also have a snowmobile to ride, so I'm doing my snow dance,” said Greg Meyer Sr. of Meyer Tire & Supply Co. in East Otto, N.Y., about an hour's drive from Buffalo. “Up to that point we had November with no snow at all. People are educated to the point where if they get (snow tires) early and prepare themselves more, they'll be ready for it. But it definitely helps if it snows.”
Randy Clark of Dunn Tire Corp. said the city had its first November with no snow since records have been kept. That translated into a 25-percent drop in business for Dunn Tire. He said that early snow is essential, because when Christmas season rolls around, people start earmarking funds for other things.
“People in our business here will pray for snow,” Mr. Clark said. “It appears we over-prayed this time.”
The prayers were answered on Christmas Eve, which was followed by the whitest of white Christmases. Beginning Dec. 24, Buffalo got 77 inches of snow in four days. The average annual snowfall for the western New York city is 93 inches. Suddenly, winter tire demand increased.
“What happens is it's just a visibility problem (while it's actually snowing),” said James Dunn of Big D Tire in Orchard Park, N.Y. “As soon as it stops, snow tire sales are better. It does help.”
The blizzard falling on a holiday was a good thing, since dealerships would have been closed that day anyway. Otherwise, another day of missed business would have ensued. After seeing the major drop in sales in November and early December, it was hardly what Mr. Clark or anyone else needed.
But since the snow came, sales have rebounded, Mr. Clark said. He said Dunn Tire recouped about one-third of its losses since the snow fell and that sales were up over the first two weeks of January.
Mr. Clark said snow doesn't merely increase sales of snow tires, but tires in general. Once the slipping and sliding begins, drivers head for the tire dealers for all kinds of tires.
“When it snows, the business will literally double in the stores,” he said. “There will be a three-, four- and five-hour wait. We can't possibly have that much manpower.”
Mr. Meyer said that at this time of year, snow tires and all-season tires make up between 30 and 60 percent of his dealership's business. Being in a rural area, he said they're almost a necessity when big storms hit, because roads stay snow-covered for extended periods.
Mr. Meyer, whose area got “only” about 2 feet of snow, said at his store they just “stood in here and changed snow tires” in the aftermath. “Really, if they get here, they didn't even need them,” he joked.
The snow was not good for everyone, though. With massive amounts falling in a short time period, some businesses had to be closed. Driving bans kept potential customers off the streets. Mr. Clark said he had eight or nine of his stores closed during the driving bans, which meant a significant amount of business was lost.
“It hurt us,” said Bob Mason of Bob Mason Tire in Buffalo. “You can't do any business. It took a week and half to get back into business.”
Despite the four-day onslaught, Mr. Mason could actually recall a worse time. That was a quarter-century ago and the Blizzard of '77. According to almanacs, it snowed more than 28 consecutive days and businesses, even in hearty Buffalo, were shut down for a solid week.
“In '77, that (snow) was wet,” Mr. Mason recalled. “At least this time it was dry.”