Angie Frederic, an Executive Committee member of the Tyre, Equipment, Parts Association (TEPA), a proud association of the Retail Motor Industry Organisation (RMI) and owner of Supaquick Hillcrest, shares her views on what the future holds for the tyre industry in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.
It’s understandable if industry members are feeling anxious about how business will fare once lockdown has been lifted. “After all,” says Frederic, “six weeks without trade has had an unavoidable impact on turnover, especially when there are still rentals and staff to pay.”
She explains that although TEPA had made a request to government for tyre fitment centres to be considered an essential service, this was not successful. That said, some retail stores which service clients that fit into the essential services category have been allowed to remain open, and TEPA has applied for permits for these entities. From Level 4 however, the permit stipulates that it is only these clients that may be serviced – and, as Frederic points out, the fees generated from such jobs may not necessarily cover overheads.
She reports that there are concerns around supply of product from manufacturers once lockdown has been lifted, while job losses are also to be expected. With their own budgets severely affected, consumers are likely to be reluctant to spend, and will be far more cost-conscious. “With profit margins in the industry already low, any further reductions will be a real blow for the industry, and there are likely to be a number of shop closures,” she says.
One of the major issues dogging the industry, and those who work in it, is fear of the unknown – which, Frederic says, can play havoc with your state of mind. “There are so many questions I don’t have answers to, and I know I am not alone: Will my landlord hold me to full rent over the lockdown? If I am liable for full rent, and it gets amortised over the duration of the lease, that means my rental expense will increase – will my turnover cover this? What if the lockdown continues for months? I have applied for UIF for my staff – will I be paid out before the end of the month in time for the salary run? With the weakening of the rand, a number of suppliers have sent us price increase letters – how will consumers be able to afford this, given the strain they are already under? Will I have to go through the anguish of retrenching staff who have families to feed? Will SMME funding be available in time to save our businesses?”
There is an upside to all the fear, however. Frederic maintains that such conditions often give rise to innovation, fueled by the determination to survive. After all, she points out, when thousands of people are relying on the tyre industry to feed their families, failure is not an option.
How to tap into this sense of determination? Frederic says it starts with making a conscious decision to remain positive; a choice you make every morning. From a practical point of view, it will help to scrutinize the costs of each line item. If possible, reduce your wage bill rather than retrenching staff – negotiate with your workers. Keep profit over cost ratio as healthy as possible; apply for a low interest loan or funding – and, most importantly, don’t give up.
“This epidemic will change the way we do business. Keep communicating with your customers via social media, and through in-store signage, to inform them about the steps you are taking to sanitise and keep them safe from the virus. Think how you can add value – for example, perhaps you can offer a service to collect their vehicles so that they don’t need to come into your store (remember to purchase insurance to cover driving the customer’s vehicle). Finally, keep up to date with what is happening in the rest of the world. Some countries are coming out of lockdown, and we might be able to learn from them.”
Frederic adds that it’s not all doom and gloom for the industry. “I think that we’ll be able to get up and running quickly once we come out of lockdown. Most of our members stocked up before the lockdown, and will therefore be able to provide the level of service customers have come to expect.”
What is she, personally, doing to mitigate the impact of the lockdown and the ensuing fallout on her business? “I have moved my office to home and have been working remotely,” Frederic answers. She’s also using the time to complete her moderator course; having struggled for some time to set aside the hours required, she’s seeing the opportunity to do this as a silver lining to the situation.
“I look forward to the time when we will say remember the coronavirus and how the world stopped; but we were strong and innovative and the tyre industry survived’” she concludes.