BOISE, Idaho — Craig Bruneel, owner of 11 Bruneel Point S Tire & Auto Service stores in Idaho — including eight in the greater Boise metropolitan market — thinks he may be too positive, given the economic disruption from the coronavirus.
But he may have a right to be. His business started the year upbeat, and when he saw the pandemic looming, he took steps to help his business survive the downturn in sales during March and April.
"We were having a great year — a great January and February. The first two weeks of March were excellent. And then when things shut down in the middle of March, our March (sales) dropped and it was below expectations, below the prior year in terms of performance," Mr. Bruneel said. Sales fell 20% in March and about 25% in April as the pandemic kept consumers at home.
Sales began picking up in May, and he is optimistic for the rest of the year.
Mr. Bruneel compared the economic chaos with the Great Recession of 2008-09 and immediately took action to protect his business.
"When we recognized what was going on (with the pandemic), we immediately tried to turn it into a positive," he said. "We looked at all our people and said, 'Look, sales are off. What are we going to do?'
"We analyzed all of our expenses, line by line, and said, 'Does this help us make a success in sales? If not, we're going to cut it.' So we really worked hard at cutting our expenses. We looked at our people. Everybody got nervous.
"In times of uncertainty, everyone started working harder. The ones that didn't, they weren't still around."
He said the company, started by his father in 1966, made an effort to change its culture to be "lean and aggressive."
"It was an opportunity for us to change our culture from one of — 'Hey, we're the best team and we're winning, and we're going to make lots of money' — to — 'Hey, we're going to make our team really good; let's get the performers and let's go from there.'"
He said the company went through its expenses "line by line." Some were simple to cut, he said, such as eliminating coffee in the shops.
"We looked at all the unnecessary expenses, and you save $100 here and $100 there and then pretty soon your requirement to pay all those bills is lower," he said.
"We also started to adjust hours and got aggressive about making sure that the people weren't just there because they were supposed to be there. We needed to put our resources working where the traffic and the volume and the flow and the work was. And so we got aggressive about that."