As a massive blackout left millions without power in the northeastern U.S. and eastern Canada on Aug. 14, tire dealers from New York to Detroit used ingenuity and resourcefulness to cope with ensuing problems.
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 North America's largest-ever power outage, which struck eight U.S. states and two Canadian provinces. Many dealers reported lost sales, low water pressure and delayed deliveries.
Tire Business spoke with several dealerships in the affected areas to get their stories:
NYC-dark but not out
When all the machinery whirred to a stop Aug. 14, Bob Poska was 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, 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.''
He noticed the power came back on in his Brooklyn neighborhood about 4:30 a.m. Aug. 15 when the fan at the foot of his bed came to life again. Back at the shop later that morning, the air conditioning was working again-``so we're a lot happier now than we were before.''-by Sigmund J. Mikolajczyk, Tire Business staff.
No crying over spilt milk
Though several cars were on lifts in the Discount Tire outlet in Port Huron, Mich., when the power blacked out Aug. 14, service technicians used the remaining 150 pounds of pressure in the lines to lower the cars and get their owners on their way, said Joe Hubbard, store manager.
Luckily, he said, most of the jobs were for new tires or other easy tasks, so the customers could leave and return when power was back on.
``We were able to backtrack and get everyone on their way,'' he said, adding that the power didn't return until two days later.
Powerless all day Aug. 15, JRE Tire Co. in metro Detroit lost in the neighborhood of $24,000 in sales among its three locations, General Manager Mike McDonald said.
He estimated sales were hit by about $8,000 each at the stores in Royal Oak, Madison Heights and Keego Harbor. One vehicle at the Royal Oak store was on a lift when power went down, but technicians were able to lower the vehicle and finish the routine tire job.
Kim White, owner since 1977 of Mr. B Tire Inc. in Detroit, was taking the power outage in stride, despite losing an estimated $1,000 in sales during the blackout. One customer had barely finished asking for tires before the lights flicked off, but Mr. White was hopeful the longtime customer would return. At the start of the following week, he was busy catching up with wholesale accounts, who were largely sympathetic.
``You can cry over spilt milk, but it's done and over with, and I'm glad the power's back on,'' he said.-by Lisa Aichlmayr, Tire Business staff.
Headlights lit the way
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 area, Mr. Kogel said, speaking Aug. 15 on an old rotary phone he had hooked up since the company's electronic phone system didn't work.
A handful of employees rose to the occasion, making sure the company's trucks were ready to roll the morning of the 15th. ``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.
Mr. Burt, the warehouse manager, had started Aug. 14 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 Mr. 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.
``Everybody who ordered tires and who was open on Friday will get their tires,'' Mr. Kogel said, praising the efforts of his employees.
``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.''-by Dave Zielasko, Tire Business staff.