Winter. It happens every year. And yet, somehow the cold and dark season’s arrival can come as a surprise — along with the storms it brings. If you own and operate a dealership, however, this is no time to get caught without the proper coverage, especially with all that expensive inventory on the lot.
There are some essential steps every dealership should take in the fall (or even late summer) to lessen the chance a bad storm will disrupt the business.
Check your insurance coverage
Well in advance of any potential winter storms, you should assess the dealership’s insurance coverage and make sure it provides enough protection. IAT’s DealerPack, for example, offers coverage for property and vehicle damage, business interruption, and other risks that go along with winter storms. There are also new coverage options for franchised open lot dealerships, too.
Assessing your dealership building(s) and lot
The first step in winter preparedness is to make a physical inspection of the entire dealership, including the lot. Some things to take note of:
- Are there any awnings, signs or gutters that are loose or poorly affixed that could come off and cause damage or injuries? If so, get them fixed and properly anchored.
- Are the rooftops properly maintained? Is there rooftop equipment such as satellite dishes or solar panels which would cause additional load if there was a heavy snowfall? Evaluate these items and come up with an established snow removal plan to prevent a roof collapse.
- Are there any windows or doors on the dealership building that are damaged or won’t close properly? Is there adequate weather stripping around them? Get those fixed.
- Are water pipes, particularly those coming into the building or that run along external walls, properly insulated? Be sure spaces are well insulated and have adequate heating during the coldest times of the winter season.
- Are there any unstable trees on or near the property that could come down in a strong wind or heavy snowfall? Consider having an arborist assess and remove any trees that look problematic.
- Are the storm drains cleared? Are there any areas on the lot that will collect standing water and potentially cause flooding or pose a slip and fall hazard? Make certain these areas are cleared and maintained in addition to being constantly monitored.
- Are any of the vehicles on the dealership lot exposed to potential damage from flying debris? Consider moving any that are at risk.
Preparing for a storm
Once the physical assessment is done and any issues addressed, there are other steps to take as winter approaches.
- Winterize inventory on the lot. The last thing you want is for a radiator to burst in a new car, or for something to go wrong on a test drive. Consider winterizing any vehicles that are particularly at risk when the temperatures drop. At the very least, check antifreeze levels to make sure they’re adequate.
- Plan for snow removal. Most local governments require businesses to shovel snow from sidewalks and driveways after a storm. You also don’t want an employee or customer to slip and fall on ice and injure themselves. Make plans well in advance of winter for snow removal, sanding, and salting. And don’t neglect removing the snow and ice off the cars, pay close attention to areas where black ice could form ie steps, ramps, and the lot.
- Consider buying a portable generator. Storms can knock out power and leave a dealership in the dark. Buying a portable generator might be a good investment — particularly if outages happen frequently — to ensure essential systems, lights and heating will stay on. Make sure your generators’ fuel tanks are filled well in advance of any storm.
- Develop an emergency plan. It doesn’t have to be complicated, but the dealership should have a detailed plan for what to do in the case of any emergency. This should include having a list of emergency contacts for the dealership as well as how to reach all employees. Figure out how you will communicate with everyone (email, text, phone), and have back-ups. Plans should be made for what to do if a major storm hits while there are customers and employees in the dealership.
- Monitor weather alerts regularly. It’s a good idea to pay attention to weather forecasts and warnings of freezing weather and winter storms. Sign up for your community’s warning system.
After a storm
If a bad storm hits and the dealership is affected, you should:
- Check the building(s) and lot for damage.
- Immediately notify your insurance carrier or agent that your dealership has sustained damage so that they can get a claim started without delay.
- Notify employees about whether they should come into work or not.
- Post updates to the dealership’s social media accounts and website to let customers know if there will be changes in hours or if the dealership will be closed. Do the same when it reopens.
- Get in touch with government organizations that assist in natural disasters, such as FEMA. The Small Business Administration (SBA) also provides low-interest loans to cover some expenses if a disaster has been declared by the President or SBA.
Winter can be disruptive, particularly if the season comes with damaging storms. Taking the proactive steps outlined above can go a long way to protect a dealership, and addressing any damage or business disruption that can potentially occur. Making sure you have the proper insurance with adequate limits and coverage can make all the difference.