Most tire dealerships generally coped pretty well during the recent historic power blackout in the northeastern U.S. and eastern Canada that left 50 million homes and businesses without electricity-some for only a few hours and others for a few days.
Sure, cars got stuck on lifts, electronic cash registers would not work, alarm systems failed, computers went down, equipment wouldn't turn on and electrically operated garage doors wouldn't close.
But due to a lot of hard work and ingenuity by employees and management, most dealerships managed to get by during the time the power was out.
In this instance, we were lucky. The power shutdown was relatively short lived and started near the end of a business day. As a result, the outage wound up being little more than an inconvenience for most.
Still, the event exposed a lack of preparedness at most operations, a problem dealerships should take time to address.
At some dealerships, for example, it took several hours to figure out how to close electric security gates manually. Vehicles had to be manually lowered from lifts. Invoices needed to be written by hand.
Customers had to be driven home or back to their places of business. Many employees didn't know whether to remain at work, should the lights come back on, or head for home. Still others weren't sure whether to come in for the second shift.
And companies did lose money. One dealership in metro Detroit, powerless all day on Aug. 15, lost in the neighborhood of $24,000 in sales at its three locations, according to the general manager. Another, based in Buffalo, N.Y., lost an estimated 13-15 percent of its normal daily sales at affected stores.
So, even though the blackout was brief, it demonstrated just how vulnerable all of us are to the loss of electricity and how any long-term shutdown of power would be totally disruptive.
Today, electricity powers most machinery and equipment, making us even more dependent than ever on keeping the juice flowing.
That's why the blackout of 2003 should serve as a wake-up call for all businesses-and tire dealerships are no exception. It points to the crucial need to develop an emergency action plan for when, and not if, another unexpected event, such as a widespread loss of power, occurs.
Developing such a plan not only would serve as a guide for employees about what to do when something out of the ordinary happens but also would minimize any disruptions and help keep workers and customers out of harm's way.
In this day and age, putting such a plan in place makes good business sense.
Now if we could just get the utility companies to develop an effective back-up plan....