Triumph in a Time of Crisis
It’s mid-April and I can only speculate the full impact of the COVID-19 crisis by the time you read this article. I suspect that many businesses will have suffered economically and many will have failed. Sadly, precious lives have been lost. Everyone, in some way or another, will be affected by COVID-19.
Having lived through the economic crash of 1987, the dotcom bust of the late 1990s, the 9/11 terrorist attack and the great recession of 2008, I can tell you that out of every crisis there is also triumph. The strong will get stronger and the best of humanity will rise to the occasion. Shop owners across this great nation will be on the front lines making sure that all essential workers have reliable transportation.
New York, where I reside, is the hardest hit state in the nation, to date. It has the most COVID-19 cases and the most deaths. When the crisis first hit at the end of February, we had a drop in sales of nearly 80 percent. It’s now leveled off around 50 percent. When you combine the impact of the coronavirus with the mandatory stay-at-home order, it’s obvious that we will not see business return to normal for a while. How long is anyone’s guess.
As a shop owner, tough choices had to be made and I am sure that I am not alone. With the drastic drop in revenue, it was clear that I had to do something. I tried to keep everyone employed at first with rotating schedules, reducing hours and reducing salaries. It didn’t work for my business. 12 days ago, I cut staff in half to get payroll in line with current sales. In my 40 years in business, I was always proud to say that I never had to lay off an employee. This time, it’s different. It was an extremely hard decision, but it had to be made. Abraham Lincoln once said, “By general law, life and limb must be protected, yet often a limb must be amputated to save a life, but a life is never wisely given to save a limb." I now fully understand what he meant by those words.
The month of March was extremely difficult. Bad news dominated the news every hour, every day. The lack of sales for nearly eight weeks left cash reserves at an all-time low. I signed up for the SBA loans and negotiated the best terms I could get with all my vendors. I calculated my new breakeven, evaluated my cash flow and made the necessary cuts in expenses. We implemented new sanitizing procedures and altered our lives accordingly. All this to accomplish these essential goals: Ensure the health of my family, my employees, and save the business. So far, no one in my family or staff has contracted the virus.
With each crisis comes fear, anxiety and uncertainty. However, when we look back in time, we see that humanity is no stranger to tough times. My father often spoke about the Spanish Flu of 1918, the Great Depression of the 1930’s and serving in WW2. Three major events in his life in the span of less than 30 years. 50 million people died worldwide during the 1918 pandemic, and more than 400,000 Americans lost their lives in WW2. I am not minimizing the coronavirus crisis in any way, especially since we are still in its devastating grasp. I bring up history to remind us to have faith that while there will be loss of life and economic loss, we will find a way to beat this thing and become stronger.
It is my prediction that most automotive repair shops that are suffering now will eventually recover. It will be hard, both economically and emotionally for many. But when it’s all over, automotive shops around the country will rise from the crisis rebuilt, rejuvenated and re-energized.
The other night on the news, I heard a truck driver thanking the automotive technicians in this country. He said that without the technicians and other automotive personnel, transportation in this country would come to a stop. It made me proud to hear his words. The truck driver is right. We keep America moving. God bless all the essential workers, especially health care workers. But, let’s not forget the work we do each day. We don’t always get the recognition we deserve, but that’s ok. We don’t look for it and we don’t need it. We do what we do because of our commitment to our community, the industry and to the motoring public.
Shop owners are strong. We find ways out of the toughest situations. We don’t fold and don’t go around crying “The sky is falling.” No matter how tough it may get, shop owners will remain positive and lead their employees to victory. Will it be tough? Yes. Will we get through it and thrive? Absolutely!