This article originally appeared in our sister publication, TIRE REVIEW.
With the World Health Organization classifying the coronavirus as a “pandemic,” local governments, schools and businesses are taking precautions to stop the spread of the illness, which has cases in 42 states and multiple Canadian provinces.
“We’re wiping down the counters, and people are seeing us do it, too,” said Scott Welsh, owner of Courtesy Auto Service & Tire of Tacoma in Tacoma, Washington, about a half-hour’s drive south of Seattle. “We want people to know that we care about their health.”
Welsh said he hasn’t yet seen a drop in customers at his shop because of COVID-19. However, his concern is that people who are infected with coronavirus might not be aware they have it.
“I think it’s there, and a lack of testing has created some issues in knowing who is infected. There are a lot of really nasty colds that have been going around, and the coronavirus can present itself as a cold for the most part in a lot of cases. It’s hard to really know what’s what,” Welsh said.
He said his store has already started taking precautionary measures to keep employees and customers healthy. Welsh has told employees who don’t feel well to stay home and has instructed his staff not to shake hands. The store is also visibly disinfected throughout the day and there is hand sanitizer available to customers.
“We use no-touch paper towel holders and trash cans, and I had a lady come in this morning and tell us that we have the perfect environment for people not to get infected. [She] really appreciated that. She was probably 65 or 70, and she actually made an outward comment about how she appreciated it,” he said.
Welsh said multiple area events have been canceled following Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s announcement that gatherings of more than 250 people in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties must be suspended, including the Automotive Training Expo that Welsh planned to attend with his staff near the Seattle airport.
“We do it every year, it’s one of the biggest training events on the west coast. They’ve rescheduled that to the end of July, early August,” he said.
Welsh said his distributors haven’t communicated any distribution issues to him as of yet.
Andy Leipold, manager at Leipold Tire in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, said the shop is continuing with its regular cleaning schedules and is conducting business as usual despite the coronavirus.
“There’s just less handshaking,” he said, adding that the coronavirus has been a topic of conversation with customers. “Most people just say, ‘just continue with your regular handwashing.’”
Leipold said while the long-term impact of the virus is unknown, he’s noticed a handful of tire manufacturers canceling events, such as their annual dealer meetings, as well as a reduction in traffic outside his shop.
He said the biggest issue the shop could face is if schools end up closing since this would impact the childcare schedules of both his employees and customers scheduled to bring their vehicle in for maintenance.
“As of right now, who knows?” he said.
Mary Ramnytz, controller for TireSource’s six locations in northeast Ohio, said the dealership has seen a bit of a loss in car counts but “for the most part, our appointments are staying and people are still coming in,” she said.
Ramnytz said the dealership sent out an email to its customers this week detailing the precautions that it’s taking to stop the spread of germs, such as wiping down credit card machines and phone handles more frequently.
“We have Lysol wipes around the stores, so I think people are taking precautions and seeing that we are staying clean,” she said. “We did just get customized hand sanitizer spray a couple of weeks ago and have those for customers as well.”
According to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), employers should actively encourage sick employees to stay home, separate employees if they develop coronavirus symptoms at work and practice respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene. Businesses should also perform routine environmental cleaning and advise employees to take certain steps before traveling.
Randy Juette, owner of RJ’s Tire Pros and Auto Experts in Yakima, Washington, about a 2.5-hour drive east of Seattle, said the area’s “lousy winter” has impacted business more than the virus.
“The panic hasn’t really set in. I think there’s one guy discovered now [with coronavirus] in Yakima County, where we’re at. We’re not really impacted … we’re still seeing our regular people come in,” Juette said. “I don’t think coronavirus is really killing [business]. You go into a tire shop, and you’re going to run into one or two people.”
Juette said he’s been assured by ATD that the company wouldn’t be experiencing any import/distribution issues. He added the 2011 earthquake that hit Japan has so far had more import impact on his business than the coronavirus.
He said while Seattle has been hit hard, he hasn’t seen the same impact in Yakima.
“I don’t see traffic letting up. When you go into a restaurant there are still the same amount of people who are always there,” Juette said. “I just don’t see us freaking out here on the east side of the mountains like they do on the west side.”
His advice to tire dealers: Err on the side of caution but don’t overreact.
“My customers are coming in, and I’m shaking their hands. Then, you touch elbows and where are you supposed to sneeze? Into your elbow? Maybe the elbow bump isn’t a good thing,” he said. “Maybe we should get on a regimen that we should wash our hands every couple of hours just as a safety precaution. I think we’re overreacting and it’s hurting our country, to be honest with you. Just go about your normal routine and wash your hands.”