DIAMOND BAR, Calif.—Make no mistake, some companies are hurting.
But a new survey by the Specialty Equipment Market Association shows the vast majority of the respondents indicate COVID-19 is having only short-term or no impact on business.
SEMA surveyed 2,000 people in the specialty equipment market to learn that 17 percent—about one-sixth of the respondents—report no impact from the coronavirus crisis. Another 70 percent indicated there is a short-term impact.
Meanwhile, 13 percent indicated "our business is severely impacted long-term" and just 1 percent said they likely would permanently discontinue operations, the trade group said.
"I would say, overall, our members have been fairly resilient. We want to be sympathetic to what is going on," said Mike Spagnola, vice president of OEM and product development at the trade group. "There's certainly many that have been hurt. But we saw this in 2008, when the economy really took a dive. And guys were able to hang in there and get back together."
But this is 2020, and the Great Recession is not the COVID-19 pandemic. Spagnola understands there are fundamental differences in how the economy crumbled each time.
He actually was in manufacturing back then, running his own company before later selling it and joining SEMA's ranks.
"I think the difference is that this thing just shut way down," Spagnola said. In 2008, there were more warning signs and a more gradual deterioration of economic conditions.
In the SEMA survey, a total of 55 percent of respondents said they have not closed sites, and 13 percent said they also are open but considering closures. Another 17 percent reported closing some sites, while and 15 percent closed all locations.
"The results of this survey show the resiliency of the specialty automotive industry and how it continues to push forward, working to move past the COVID-19 disruption," SEMA President and CEO Chris Kersting said in a statement. "We are using this feedback to further develop resources to help member businesses through this time of economic interruption."
That includes redeployment of assets within SEMA to help members weather the economic storm. SEMA also has created a suite of tools and services, covering areas such as education, product development, money savings, and career opportunities, aimed at providing support to members as they navigate the COVID-19 crisis.
"We're poised as things change and other priorities become more important, we're ready to go," Spagnola said.
Regarding employment, 52 percent of the work force still is working at company offices and facilities, 30 percent is working from home and 18 percent has been placed on furlough or laid off, the new SEMA survey reports.
These have been fast-changing times during the past several weeks, where what was important one day is eclipsed by another issue the next. But things seem to be settling down "a little bit," Spagnola said.
And difficulties can vary by state or business segment.
"Some have been hurt by the OE business. People that supply strictly to the OE are probably more hurt than those selling into the aftermarket," the SEMA official said. "The aftermarket still seems to be, while down, there's still some interest."
People are spending more time at home, looking at unfinished projects in their garage, and some are motivated to get to work. That is helping fuel aftermarket sales.
"We're getting a little bit of a mixed bag. We are cautious and sympathetic to a lot of our members. But there's also some guys who are chugging along," Spagnola said.
With online orders increasing during the outbreak, SEMA has identified an opportunity for members to sell more parts using electronic commerce, and is helping members develop their websites to accommodate.
Meanwhile, the Kersting said, the aftermarket industry group's membership remains positive and looks forward to reopening. The upcoming SEMA show in Las Vegas, scheduled for Nov. 3-6, will "play a key role in launching a successful 2021."
"Now, more than ever, our priority for SEMA is clear: assuring the health, safety, and business continuity for our members, partners, employees, and the overall industry community," the CEO said in the statement.