'Balancing' need with risk: Area auto shops cope with COVID-19
LONDON, ONT. -- Amidst the grim realities of the COVID-19 crisis, it’s nice to know select customers can take a break in the sun at one London auto service centre.
Witlox Automotive has placed four Muskoka chairs in its parking lots - over two metres apart - where customers can enjoy the outdoors while the wait for service.
It also keeps them from entering the office or service bays. Each one is sanitized after use.
It’s a positive spin on what has otherwise been a challenge for those who work in auto repair businesses.
Deemed an essential service, some shops, especially larger ones, have shut down amid concerns about physical distancing and economics.
But Witlox, a smaller service centre located along Wellington Road South in London remains open.
Owner Mark Witlox says he’s had to make a number of changes to adapt to COVID-19 crisis.
On the safety side, doors to and from the business, along with vehicle door handles, steering wheels, and gear shifts are being sanitized.
His employees are also wearing gloves at all times.
“It’s definitely changed the industry in itself and how we look at handling cars. We’re always trying to be extra clean but, now obviously were being very clean,” says Witlox.
He's switched most of his business to essential services, including breakdowns and major repairs.
Witlox is well aware this is the traditional time to flip winter tires to summer treads but in these times he is among the mechanics asking for restraint.
“Just don’t,” he emphasizes.
His technicians are flipping some winter tires for those who stored their rims with his shop. He’s generally not willing to take tires that come from outside at this time, simply because of the risk.
“It’s just the essentials. That’s not essential, so we would definitely be encouraging people to book in a month. It’s not gonna hurt the snow tires because they aren’t going on long trips.”
The delays also allow Witlox time to serve customers who may desperately need assistance.
His shop is located directly across the street from the London Health Sciences Centre, and he says he’s been prioritizing any health care workers needing service. He says many are already customers.
The policy also helps customers like Ken McKenzie.
In for service Thursday, McKenzie, who cares for a disabled family member, says auto service centres need to stay open.
“If something were to happen to that person, I would need my vehicle to be able to get into the hospital, so I think it would be essential,” he says.
But, staying open comes with financial hardships.
Witlox says he’s making just enough to keep the books even.
Further, for the safety of his staff, only half work one week and the other half, the other week. They are not paid for the week they are off.
It’s a tough reality, but a necessary one with the type of work being done, “With full staff, it’s impossible to not work in close quarters with each other.”
As with many smaller shops in London, Witlox Automotive has reduced hours. It’s not open on Saturdays, except in extreme cases.