It's difficult enough these days for independent tire dealers to maneuver through the landmines that lay in their path to success.
At any one time, tariffs, price hikes, competition, labor shortages, online undercutting — you fill in the blank — can blow up in their faces like one of those TNT crates that exploded at every turn for Wile E. Coyote in those old Roadrunner cartoons.
But fires? Really?
For two out of the last three years, Darren McLea has had business interrupted because of the recent spate of fires that ravaged the California landscape.
It happened a little more than a month ago for Mr. McLea, president of Sonoma County, Calif.-based McLea's Tire & Automotive Centers.
Two of his five stores were forced to evacuate in late October, as fire approached the facilities. One of his Santa Rosa stores lost a day and a half, while his store in Windsor, Calif., lost three days.
"Our phones were forwarded to our corporate office, and we directed people to stores that were open," Mr. McLea said. "We kept the business open as best as we could."
Mr. McLea said the local evacuation center ran out of space.
"It was a crazy time," he said. "(Department store) Target was packed full. People had all their belongings in their backseat … birds in cages … living in the Target parking lot."
With the fire closing in, Mr. McLea and his family had to evacuate their home for a week. He, his wife and three children, ages 4, 7 and 9, along with other members of his family, retreated to his vacation trailer, which he parked at his store in Petaluma, Calif.
With school closed, he said his kids thought they were on a camping trip.
Instead, Mr. McLea put on his uniform and went to work.
"My 7-year-old asked, 'Daddy, what are you doing? Why do you have to work?'" Mr. McLea said.
"I told him, 'I couldn't get time off, so I can't go camping. … See you tonight.'"
Thankfully, the fires didn't reach either location or the McLeas' home. Mr. McLea had planned to attend the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) Show in Las Vegas, but he skipped it in order to get his family resettled in their house.
Mr. McLea said this disruption was much smoother this time than the one caused by fires that hit the area in 2017.
Back then, the houses of two of his employees — a shuttle driver and a mechanic — were destroyed by the fire.
The business held fundraisers for the men and their families and provided gift cards and vehicles to drive.
"You don't realize the things you miss until they are gone," Mr. McLea said.
He said sales lagged that year, as some stores were closed for six or seven days.
But there was one bright side: He had a spike in his commercial business, which in 2018 accounted for nearly $3 million of his dealership's sales of $13 million.
"It spiked because so many out-of-area companies came in for cleanup and picked up debris that ruined their tires," he said.
That 2017 experience helped to prepare Mr. McLea for the latest brush with fires. He purchased enough generators to power his stores if the city cuts off power to businesses in peril. He has systems in place to keep his phones, printers, lights and shop equipment in use as long as possible.
"You've got to be ready for it," he said.
Mr. McLea said October was on track to become the highest grossing month in the 40-year history of the family-owned dealership.
"We ended up being OK," he said, "but I would have liked to have broken the record (which was set in July 2016)."
Still, October sales were ahead of the previous year.
Mr. McLea advises dealerships across the country to be prepared for any natural disaster.
"Have a plan ready," he said. "Know where your generators are, how to get through on the phone. Keep your business going as long as you can."