Oakes: Expect the unexpected

When Mother Nature gets angry, there’s no changing her mind. Common sense says: Be prepared.

There are many “horror stories” that take place in the automotive industry. I mean, those that are fanned by media sensationalism. Just take your pick and run with a topic: “Woman accuses shop of stripping oil pan drain plug and suing for thousands” or “Snow tires get driver stuck in snow bank; small claims court favors customer.”

But in light of Florida’s recent horrific storms, I’m going to reflect on the 2004 hurricane season. Between Aug. 13 through Sept. 26 that year, our community of Fort Myers was hit with four: Charley, Francis, Ivan and Jeanne. If I had only known then what I know now.

Charley was supposed to be a minor hurricane. So shop-storm lockdown performed, we left Thursday evening expecting a few days off. Little did we realize that our community’s lives would be changed for years to come. Charley developed into a Category 4, and it headed straight for our shoreline. The devastation was incredible in our city and the surrounding area.

The storm hit on a Friday, and Saturday morning I went to the shop. Although there was virtually no physical damage, we had no power or phone service. But, one by one, our staff started showing up.

The repair facility quickly became a safe harbor for my employees, but we couldn’t reach a couple of the techs that lived on the outer islands and along the shorelines. So we set out to locate them and find out what they needed.

We found them, at home, with chainsaws buzzing and cleaning up from the debris. It was time for us to support the techs that had supported the shop. Generators, among other supplies, were purchased for those most affected, and work schedules were altered to accommodate family and cleanup efforts. Meaning that the shop was short-handed.

Customers who had put off repairs wanted their vehicles fixed – pronto! Most of them didn’t have power, but the hospital across the street did, and we were on the grid. So our hot coffee and air conditioning were a welcome relief in the lives of those who came in.

Attending to those vehicles assumed immediate priority, while maintenance issues took a backseat. People who had an oil-change scheduled – and showed up – were grumpy about resetting their appointment. But after we explained that parts were in short supply, common sense prevailed.

Lesson learned? You never know what next week will bring: an overhaul, a series of maintenance services on a particular make? It’s easy to alter the appointment book. Tech schedules can be simplified, and parts are abundant. But when Mother Nature gets angry, there’s no changing her mind.

So don’t be lulled into a false sense of security. Always have a contingency plan. Expect employees to be absent while tending to their family’s needs. Expect supplies to run short due to freight/travel issues. And expect some demanding customers who panic about being stuck in a situation that’s out of their control.

With a little common sense and planning on your part, you’ll always be moving in the right direction.