Joan Floyd putters around the house these days, doing a little of this and some of that. Her family is all gone now. She didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye. There aren’t any phone calls to make or envelopes to stamp or events to plan.
In between the this-and-that, she hopes to find a job to help pay the bills and get medical insurance. Joan recently lost her job when her employer – more aptly, her “family” – had to shut down. Thanks to a lawsuit.
The hard-to-accept lawsuit was the last nail in the coffin, actually. You see, the Northeast Ohio Regional Tire Dealers Association (NORTDA), like many other regional dealer groups in recent years, was already suffering from member malaise.
Too few members meant extra-thin coffers. With the lawsuit – filed last December, a full two years after the incident in question – came a jump in insurance costs, an increase the valiant NORTDA – all 29 dealer and 14 supplier members – just couldn’t bear. The group had no choice but to disband.
Irony of ironies: The lawsuit was filed by the wife of a tire dealer. An invited guest to NORTDA’s 2001 Christmas party, she volunteered to be hypnotized by the evening’s entertainer. Allegedly, it didn’t go well, so she sued the hypnotist for medical expenses and damages – $25,000. NORTDA was dragged into it because of the contract it signed with the hypnotist.
More irony? Her husband is a past president of the Ohio Tire Dealers and Retreaders Association (OTDRA) and a member of its board. Bill Floyd is also an OTDRA board member.
Fortunately, the suit was settled Oct. 6. NORTDA was nicked for $1,000, the hypnotist for a measly $500. Not as bad as it could have been, but it came too late to save the association.
So, after more than a decade of devoted service as NORTDA’s executive secretary and 37 years working with dealer groups in Ohio, Joan is at a loss.
“It’s upsetting because I love all those guys. I’ve worked with them for years, and we didn’t get a chance to say goodbye,” Joan said. The legal situation prevented the group from even one last farewell toast.
Joan is half of a unique husband-wife team. Husband, Bill, spent all his working life in the tire biz, first with Seiberling and later with Polson. He saw one get decimated and sold and the other simply go under. It was while he was selling tread rubber for Polson that Bill got involved in association work.
He was there in the 1950s when a group of Akron area dealers started meeting informally. He was there in 1967 to help those dealers incorporate as the Greater Akron Tire Dealers Association. He was there when GATDA and the Cleveland Tire Dealers Association created the OTDRA, and he served as its executive director for years.
And Joan, the ex-officio secretary, was there for every late-night meeting and weekend event. While Bill was out peddling tread stock, Joan watched over the OTDRA like a mother hen. She was Bill’s eyes and ears and arms and legs, and grew to love “the guys” as much as her husband.
When Joan was asked to be executive secretary of NORTDA, Bill, who retired from association work in 1997, happily switched places and became the supportive, behind-the-scenes spouse.
“I’m really sad for her,” Bill, a spry 80 years young, told me. “She put her heart and soul into the group.”
Sad, too, is the state of our regional and state associations. NORTDA covered more than a quarter of the state, and dozens of dealers and their employees were eligible for membership. Few chose to join.
“Young people don’t want to come,” explained Joan. “They work and their wives work. They have Little League games to go to and school events. They just don’t have time.”
Things were different 40 years ago, but the issues facing independent dealers haven’t changed. Four decades ago, dealers flocked to be active members, to learn from each other, to know they weren’t alone out there. At the end, NORTDA couldn’t get enough for a good card game.
No dealer ever went out of business because he joined an association. But plenty have because they ignored the assistance, support and programs state and regional associations provide.
And those programs and services exist because of the hard work of people like Joan and Bill Floyd.
Joan and Bill never got rich from the rubber biz and certainly didn’t see association work as the pathway to fortune. They did it because they believed in the power of dealers. They still do.
Joan and Bill will make it. Somehow. Will you?