Rick Sculco has gone out of his way for his customers in the 10 and a half years he has been a mobile tool distributor. But the Levittown, N.Y.-based Snap-on distributor never imagined his customers would need him as they do today, thanks to Hurricane Sandy, which devastated the northeastern U.S., the largest Atlantic hurricane on record with winds spanning 1,100 miles.
In the weeks following the hurricane, Sculco has worked long hours helping customers prepare quotes for their insurance claims and for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Automotive shops in Rockaway, Howard Beach, Inwood and Lawrence, N.Y. lost thousands of dollars worth of inventory when Hurricane Sandy deluged neighborhoods, submerging buildings with up to six feet of water.
Sculco himself was lucky his own home in Levittown was spared the deluge. Thanks to his tool truck, he was able to provide electricity to his home for the week and a half that the homes were without electricity.
Sculco was spared damage to his own property, but being a service provider, he felt an obligation to help his customers. Two days after the storm struck in late October, he got in his car and began checking up on customers. He arrived just as some were cleaning out their buildings.
Sculco helped one customer release the locks on the lifts in his garage using an air compressor.
Some of the non-electric tools can be repaired, Sculco said. He has been packaging and shipping two to three boxes of tools for repair every week since the storm.
But the higher ticket items such as diagnostic equipment, wheel balancers, air conditioning equipment, battery chargers and lifts are damaged beyond repair. Individual shop losses have totaled as much as $50,000, he said.
Not many of his customers carried flood insurance. Sculco noted that only a few areas were designated as flood zones to begin with. Hence, most customers never thought to buy the coverage.
And while some shops did have flood insurance, the insurance doesn’t cover everyone working in the shop. Individual techs who stored tools in the shops did not have their tools insured against flood damage.
Most of his customers are trying to get a low-interest loan from FEMA, Sculco said. While five weeks have passed since the hurricane, not one business Sculco knows of has received any assistance.
He said most customers are waiting to see what assistance FEMA will provide before applying for commercial loans.
In the meantime, Sculco has not done much business, despite the long hours he puts in helping customers with inventory valuations. “My days haven’t gotten any shorter,” he said.
He has managed to get in touch with about 90 percent of his 250 customers. The remaining 10 percent are still not accounted for.
Recovery has been slow. Utility companies will not reconnect electricity to properties until they certify the circuit breaker panel has not been contaminated with saltwater. Saltwater getting into circuit breaker panels has caused many fires.
One week after the storm, about 20 percent of Sculco’s customers had their power restored. A week later, about half had electricity.
At the present time, more than 30 percent of his customers still have no electricity.
Sculco is hopeful that customers will begin buying used cars to replace the vehicles lost to the storm. Long-term, the aftermarket’s prospects will be positive if used car sales pick up.
In the meantime, however, cash-strapped customers have a lot of bills to pay in addition to replacing their cars.