AKRON (Aug. 15, 2003) — Tire dealers from New York to Detroit used their ingenuity and resourcefulness to cope with the massive blackout that struck seven U.S. states and two Canadian provinces the afternoon of Aug. 14.
From using machinery on mobile trucks to finish jobs to working by vehicle headlights, dealers and their employees pitched in and found ways to deal with the situation.
Tire Business spoke with four dealerships to get their stories:
NYC tire company back in business after blackout
When all the machinery whirred to a stop yesterday in what is being called the biggest power blackout in North America´s history, Bob Poska was just finishing up one of those big orders that makes a day really worthwhile.
The general manager of Ganin Tire Co.'s wholesale division in Brooklyn, N.Y., said he was “right in the process of billing out a real neat order for truck tires and everything dimmed out on me. I had the customer standing here, and he had already paid me a significant amount of green on the order.
“All he wanted was his receipt, and I was going to ship his tires next week. I love that kind of deal.”
Ganin Tire lost power about 4:10 p.m.
The dealership indeed got the order. But because of the power outage—which left much of New York City and outlying areas dark, and affected states in the Northeast and Midwest—it'll take some retrenching.
Acknowledging he's “not a computer guy,” Mr. Poska said the dealership's computer system “closed the ticket three-quarters of the way through. Where I stopped billing is where it ended the ticket.” So the day after the big blackout, as business slowly began returning to something bordering on normal, he figured he'd have to “void this order out and start all over again. Or I can pull out a second ticket and fill in the last couple items.”
Mr. Poska said he noticed the power came back on in his Brooklyn neighborhood about 4:30 a.m. today when the fan at the foot of his bed came to life again. And as of mid-morning, he said about half the city had lights.
“At our location here in Brooklyn the air conditioning went back on, so we're a lot happier now than we were before,” he said.
After closing up shop yesterday at the wholesale location, he made the two-and-a-half-mile trip to his home with relative ease—“it's really within walking distance,” he noted. But the same couldn't be said for Mr. Poska's wife, who works in downtown Manhattan. Because much of the city had ground to a halt and the subway system was shut down, she was forced to walk from Madison Square Garden about 10 miles to the Poska's home.
“Actually, after Sept. 11, she kept a pair of sneakers under her desk in case she'd ever have to make that walk again,” Mr. Poska said, recalling how many workers were forced to get home after the World Trade Center tragedy. “And they came in handy yesterday.” — by Sigmund J. Mikolajczyk, Tire Business staff
Headlights lit way for wholesaler's workers
When the power went out in the northeastern U.S. shortly after 4 p,m. Aug. 14, employees at Tire Wholesalers Co. Inc.'s main warehouse in Troy, Mich., didn't take long to assess the situation.
By 5 p.m., two of them already had figured out the power might not be coming back right away, “and they jumped on it,” said Ross Kogel, president of the three-location tire wholesale operation in Michigan
While the company normally has six employees working the night shift loading delivery trucks, four didn't show up for work after power was lost in the Detroit metro, Mr. Kogel said, speaking on an old rotary phone he had hooked up since the company's electronic phone system didn't work.
But that didn't stop a handful of employees from rising to the occasion to make sure the company's trucks were ready to roll Friday morning.
“That's why it was so impressive, the work Denis Congelton, Don Adams and Kelly Burt did,” said Mr. Kogel, as he sat at a table, lit by a flashlight, in the cavernous 80,000-sq.ft. warehouse.
Warehouse Manager Kelly Burt had started the day at 4:30 a.m. going out on a delivery before returning for a full shift at the office. Little did he know his day would finally end Friday morning when he left for home at 10 a.m., nearly 29 hours after reporting for work.
Mr. Burt, Night Shift Supervisor Mr. Congelton and Assistant Night Shift Supervisor Don Adams worked throughout the night in the pitch-black warehouse with only the headlights on the pickers to help them locate and select the tires needed for the next day's deliveries.
They were aided earlier in the evening by Tony Swejowski, day warehouse manager, who stayed on for several hours, despite plans to leave on vacation that evening, to help get things organized.
“He figured out which delivery runs were the hardest to get and got those out of the way while there was still light,” Mr. Kogel said.
As a result of their efforts, “everybody who ordered tires and who was open on Friday will get their tires,” Mr. Kogel said.
The Tire Wholesalers president had nothing but praise for the extraordinary effort put in by these six individuals.
“You can't pay people to do that stuff, they've got to want to do it,” Mr. Kogel said. “ And they have to have a real interest in the business. That's wonderful to see.”
As of 10 a.m. Friday morning, the Troy warehouse still was without power, as was the company's 12,000-sq.-ft. facility in Southfield, Mich. The company's third warehouse, a 22,000-sq.-ft. center in Cadillac, Mich., never lost power and remained open. — by Dave Zielasko, Tire Business staff
Blackout cost for Dunn Tire: 13-15% of daily sales
The rolling power blackout couldn't have hit Dunn Tire Corp. stores at a worst time.
The Buffalo, N.Y.—based dealership had six stores in the Rochester, N.Y., area go down after about 4 p.m. Aug. 14 during what typically is the busiest time of day. “In total we probably lost 13 to 15 percent of our normal daily sales,” reported Randall L. Clark, Dunn Tire chairman and president. “We're open 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., so that 4-to-7 time are three very big hours for us.”
While the power outage affected all the dealership's Rochester stores, “Buffalo was very spotty,” he said. “Across the street from my home, the power was on but my power was off all night. There was no way to say, 'OK, all the stores in this quadrant are gone.'”
The company's Buffalo warehouse, for instance, never had its power interrupted.
Service-wise, the affected Dunn Tire stores weren't crimped too much by the blackout because “we're typically a tires-only format,” Mr. Clark said, “so you really don't have a problem. We could finish what we were working on at the time because you're just bolting on tires. But obviously you couldn't finish an alignment. You can put a car on an alignment rack down manually, but I'm not aware that anyone got stuck on a lift in that situation.
“In a more service-oriented organization, it was probably even more disruptive. But most of what we do we can do manually if we have to. The guys using air guns can pick up their tools and finish the job.”
However, the blackout did take down all the stores' computers, “so you can't process anymore sales,” he said.
Mr. Clark doesn't believe his company lost any computer data because, as of mid-day Aug. 15, “all the stores are up and running and it looks very normal.”
Only a few of the company's workers were inconvenienced and, because some of the dealership's Buffalo stores had power, customers from affected stores were referred to ones that were still open.
But all of Dunn Tire's Greater Rochester stores were affected. “As luck would have it, I was there,” Mr. Clark said. “But I have to admit, I was at a PGA tournament there and the power outage didn't seem to affect the golfers at all.”
In the wake of the massive power outage, two “scary things” come to mind, he said. “If this isn't a blueprint for some terrorist organization, then there hasn't been one. And think what ramifications there would be if the situation couldn't be fixed in a short time.
“Secondly, from the previous big power outage that occurred in the late 1970s, the grid was supposed to be maintained with such a methodology that it could never happen again. It sure as hell looked like it happened.”
So, Mr. Clark said, New York Gov. George Pataki “is asking some serious questions, and I think he's right. They were supposed to have taken the grid and made it redundant so this wouldn't happen again…. No one seems to know what the origin was for this latest problem.”
Dunn Tire operates 29 company-owned stores in upstate New York and western Pennsylvania. — by Sigmund J. Mikolajczyk, Tire Business staff
Always be prepared
Safeway Tire Co. in Cleveland was able to take care of all of its customers by being prepared for emergencies, according to co-owner Gary Adamic.
“We were able to service everybody by using our mobile service trucks,” he said. “We just brought them back to the shop and used the equipment on the trucks to take care of what jobs we still had to do.
“We thought we were clever a few years back,” he continued. “We put our auto service center on one power company and the tire store on another. But obviously this time even that didn't help.
“Since it was already pretty late in the day—the power went out about 4:30 and we close at 6—it wasn't so bad,” he said. “Any vehicle in the service bays that time of day are most likely scheduled for work through the next day anyway.”
Safeway operates two businesses, a 16-bay tire service center and 18-bay automotive service center, on Cleveland's near east side.— by Bruce Davis, Tire Business staff