CLARINDA, Iowa (Jan. 23, 2004) — Charlie Richardson beat by two days his self-imposed goal to recover from a fire and build a whole new store.
After a fire gutted his tire dealership Oct. 29, 2002, Mr. Richardson pledged to his customers that he would have a new store within a year. The new Johnson Tire & Muffler Inc. opened right across the street from the old site on Oct. 27. It was the same side of the street from which Mr. Richardson watched the old site—his shop's home for 20 years—burn down 363 days before.
“You could just sit across the street and watch it burn,” he told Tire Business. “It was a really helpless feeling.”
Johnson Tire, a retail/commercial dealership that also specializes in farm tires, had leased the 10,000-sq.-ft. space—which was half of a building—with another business. The cause of the fire was a wiring short in the other business, Mr. Richardson said. He and his employees had about 90 seconds to grab one computer tower and a couple drawers of vital documents be-fore being forced out by smoke. The fire caused a 100-percent merchandise loss and a 98-percent equipment loss.
“We didn't get much, but what we did get was real important,” he said of the rescued inventory and equipment documents.
Mr. Richardson now owns the new building, which has six bays and 6,000 square feet. Though the size is smaller, he was able to customize the layout to make better use of the available space. Wading through insurance matters was less of a hassle since nearly everything was totally destroyed and obviously valueless.
But the recovery path wasn't all easy. Mr. Richardson said he wondered if, with retirement somewhat in view, he should spend money rebuilding in Clarinda, a town of 6,000 people. In the end he decided to work with the present instead of the future and went for it. Besides, he said, his shop had been an important part of downtown. “We felt that this was where we needed to be,” he said.
Within two weeks of the fire, Johnson Tire opened up in a 2,450-sq.-ft. temporary building with loaner equipment from suppliers and nearby tire dealers. He said help from his competitors made him appreciate his membership in the Iowa Tire Dealers Association.
“A lot of people don't see the value of the association sometime, but they also miss the point that they're always there for you like a big family,” he said.
Volunteers from the community also turned out to help. The burned-down 20,000 square feet of space was cleaned up in a week with volunteer help, he said.
Perhaps the biggest surprise, though, was 2003 going down in his record books as his best sales year ever on 7-percent growth.
“That was the last thing I thought would ever happen,” he said, laughing.