The Canadian Independent Automotive Association is offering its resources to repair shops struggling to stay afloat in areas with strong ties to Canada’s stagnant energy sector.
CIAA executive director Art Wilderman says there’s “a lot of pain” in cities like Calgary, Red Deer, and Edmonton.
“For some people, things are looking quite desperate,” he said. “There are shops that haven’t done two oil changes in a week. I got a call like that the other day.”
He said members of the CIAA board of directors want to help in any way they can, including putting together information on federal assistance programs, and offering free management consulting to hard-hit shop owners.
“Some of our guys have been through the worst of this before, and have learned that there are things you can do to get through it,” he said. “We’re trying to find solutions, to help them stay afloat until the dust settles here.”
In a special edition of the association’s newsletter, Wilderman wrote: “We have all experienced a slow January and or February in the past, but 2016 is proving to be more troublesome than normal in some markets… The difference this year is that the energy sector of our economy can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
He assured struggling shop owners that CIAA members are ready to listen and help.
“The members that have stepped forward as mentors are very experienced veterans of the repair business, willing to offer their time at no charge and with the highest level of confidentiality.”
He’s also offering a lead on a government program that will help businesses keep staff that might otherwise have to be laid off.
Not all areas of the province are in bad shape, he said. Shops in agricultural areas seem to be doing quite well. For those who have seen a precipitous drop in sales, however, there are some fiscal dangers that need to be avoided.
“Some people will hang on too long to staff that they can’t afford when there’s no work for them. They’ll mortgage the house when there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. And when you start playing the payables game, where you rotate payments to suppliers, that’s never good.”
The situation could take years to resolve, he acknowledged.
“This all depends on oil prices, as everyone recognizes, and the oil prices aren’t being regulated by anybody in Canada, let alone Alberta. It’s a global issue and until that changes things are going to be pretty rough.”
Wilderman said he has received some emotional phone calls, but he’s been quick to point out that there are plenty of cars in every part of Alberta, and they still have to be serviced.
“Everybody’s car does break down in the end. People might put repairs and maintenance off for a while. It might be spring, but eventually we’ll get that work. We know that’s going to happen,” he said.