COVID-19 has changed the world - and the towing industry has felt the impact in a major way. Less cars on the road and fewer car sales have translated into decreased tow and recovery calls and the need for new equipment. What can tow companies do to remain sustainable and viable during these uncertain times? This article offers five tips on how manufacturers, dealers and distributors can keep their businesses moving forward while preparing for what comes next.

Keep an Open Dialogue

Although business may be down due to a decline in travel, manufacturers should continue to connect with dealers and distributors to share thoughts and ideas around the handling of business and the impacts of the pandemic. Addressing concerns -- such as making sure both inventory levels and staffing are sufficient -- are also extremely important to help manage the ever-changing supply and demand curve.

Virtual meetings among manufacturers, dealers and distributors are also critical for helping tow companies understand what is going on in their local markets. The coronavirus has impacted regions of the country differently, and “hot spots” or “flare ups” of cases will have a direct impact on the tow industry.

Offer Financial Incentives

When business is down, cash flow is tight. Tow manufacturers are trying to help dealers by offering attractive rates from their finance partners. Some are offering low monthly payments until the economic climate improves as well as flexible lending options and competitive interest rates with extended payment terms.

Manufacturers can also offer incentives to help increase aftermarket sales. Working with dealers on payment relief terms for popular parts and accessories allows them to keep inventory on the shelves to meet customer demand.

COVID-19 Action Plan 

Become More Virtual

In addition to connecting with dealers via regular meetings or touchpoints, manufacturers can also offer online demonstrations and training to engage with customers, since in-person visits are now dependent on the individual’s comfort level as well as state guidelines. With trade shows being cancelled or postponed it has become increasingly important to find new and creative ways to offer virtual “hands on” instruction for the operation and utilization of trucks and equipment.

Tow operators are front-line, essential workers. Therefore, training programs should be in place to help these first responders follow proper social distancing and protection protocols when responding to an accident or call. Guidelines should also be in place on how to properly clean and disinfect equipment and get it prepped for the next run.

Be Agile and Adaptable

When COVID-19 was first declared a pandemic in the United States, many employees began working from home and families were reluctant to travel. This had a significant impact on the tow industry. However, less consumer travel has resulted in a surge in home deliveries that has put additional over-the-road heavy duty and regional delivery trucks on the road.

Based on this change, tow companies have had to quickly adapt their fleets to include large equipment such as heavy-duty wreckers and vehicles with side recovery capabilities. Dealers who have had the right equipment available at the right time are better able to meet the changing needs of their customers.

Ask Questions. Find Solutions.

Keeping the tow industry viable during the pandemic should include an ongoing conversation between manufacturers, dealers and distributors about how their business is faring and to help find solutions to their unique challenges. Questions manufacturers should be asking include:

  • What is business like in their market and how is it impacting utilization?
  • What are tow operators experiencing? Are they starting to see additional calls?
  • From a distributor standpoint, are there more opportunities for sales leads?

Keeping a monthly cadence of calls, while trying to understand and potentially solve the pain points of customers, will help ensure dealers, distributors and drivers remain safe, healthy and prosperous.

Getting Back on the Road

Car and Driver Magazine recently indicated the majority of travelers are more likely to take road trips both during and after the pandemic due to concerns around coming in close contact with other travelers via mass transportation. In fact, some states have already seen a significant increase in road trips as travel restrictions are lifted. According to data prepared by the Maryland Transportation Institute for the federal government, during the week preceding the July 4 holiday Americans made 32.2 million trips of more than 50 miles. That's slightly more than the 31.9 million long trips made during the same period in 2019.

According to an article first published in Commercial Carrier Journal, nearly 50% of truck fleet owners responding to a survey about the coronavirus’ impact said they expect to see an increase in freight levels. In addition, 38% said they have brought back drivers and another 39% expect to bring drivers back in the near term. This resurgence in industry optimism is putting drivers back on the road and giving fleet owners the courage to bring back drivers as well as non-driving staff.

Bottom line? Brighter days are ahead for the tow industry as the country tries to reemerge from the pandemic and as consumers begin venturing back out on the roads to experience a new sense of normalcy.