Ralph Czeisler, manager and owner of Emil’s All Tire Co., knows his tires. He knows that low-profile tires — a popular choice for his many BMW-driving customers — cannot handle the potholes of Brooklyn, N.Y., very well. He knows how to make split-second assessments about tire rotation with a glance at his customers’ tire treads and a working memory of their vehicles’ histories. But more than his knowledge of tires, Czeisler understands his customers.
Emil’s All Tire, a full-service tire dealership with what Czeisler calls one of the largest in-store stocks of tires in all of Brooklyn, remains a successful operation by continuously exploring unique ways to keep his business profitable and placing a premium on customer service.
“I always emphasize two things, again and again: quality and service,” says Czeisler, sitting next to a wall covered in hand-written thank you notes from satisfied customers. “People like having a relationship — they don’t want to be treated as a number.”
Czeisler grew up in Rockaway, N.Y., and lives there with his wife and three children. Emil’s All Tire is in nearby Gravesend.
Located in the southern tip of the New York City borough of Brooklyn, Gravesend has a population of around 30,000, according to the United States Census Bureau. The area is well-known for its concentration of Eastern European Jewish residents and proximity to some of the Big Apple’s busiest thoroughfares, including Ocean and Belt parkways and the Gowanus Expressway.
In 1979, Czeisler’s Romanian-born father, Emil Czeisler, opened the original Emil’s a few blocks away from the shop’s current location on Gravesend Neck Road. Czeisler came into the business full-time 22 years ago. He says one of his goals is to “always look for new ways to elevate the business and bring new customers into the shop in order to generate more and new income.”
When the dealership’s long-time lease expired in 2005, Czeisler decided it was time for a change. A move to a new address proved a success, one of many displays of business smarts for the younger Czeisler.
According to Hoover’s, a research company dedicated to aggregating information on private businesses, Emil’s All Tire sees upward of $2 million in annual sales. The dealership has an A-plus standing with the Better Business Bureau.
Yelp.com, a popular user-based review website, gives Emil’s All Tire four out of five stars.
“Sales are much better with the fresh start,” says Czeisler. “My father saw a window of opportunity (when he opened Emil’s), and he was successful because of his warm and attentive personality. But he was not always geared as a business entrepreneur.”
Addressing community needs
While Czeisler remains focused on friendly service, he also has prioritized keeping Emil’s All Tire a competitive modern business.
Recognizing the differing needs of the surrounding multi-ethnic community, Emil’s 17 employees can collectively speak six different languages, including Hebrew, Russian and Spanish.
In observance of Shabbat, the day of rest in Judaism, the dealership is closed on Saturdays. Czeisler opens the business on Sundays at 7 a.m. for weekend service.
“We keep our hours of operation very convenient,” says Czeisler. “Sundays are actually our busiest day and the day we bring in the most new customers. Their cars break down, their regular shops are closed, so they end up here if something goes wrong.”
In order to meet the tire needs of Brooklyn drivers, Emil’s stocks approximately 2,000 tires in its attached warehouse space. Czeisler sells Michelin, BFGoodrich, Uniroyal, Firestone, Bridgestone, Dunlop, Goodyear, Sumitomo, Kumho and Pirelli tires, among other brands.
According to www.tirerack.com, Emil’s is a highly recommended installer, and meets its “Price Pledge Plus” requirements for customer satisfaction.
Small things matter
In order to draw customers from neighborhoods outside Gravesend, Czeisler turned to expanding his operation’s social media presence.
In addition to the company’s frequently updated Facebook page and Twitter handle, Czeisler points to a 2009 professional redesign of Emil’s All Tire’s website as one important step into the 21st century.
“My father was never big on advertisements, instead believing his work spoke for itself,” says Czeisler. “Word-of-mouth is our main form of advertising, but we do pride ourselves on our presence on the Internet, and we get a lot of new customers from it.”
Rather than offer special deals on products — “I’m not interested in attracting that type of customer” — Czeisler relies on personal touches that keep his customers coming back for more.
“We don’t do television or newspaper ads,” he says. “We make a yearly calendar, and give it out for free. We focus on the small things. Small things matter.”
Gail Weber, a neighborhood customer of three years, appreciates the attention to detail. One day in 2010, she had auto repairs done at the dealership, and she has used Emil’s All Tire for all of her car needs since.
“I’m treated nicely, they always do competent work, the staff is respectful, and I’m quickly attended to by employees,” she says.
Most of Emil’s 17 employees — nine automotive technicians and two tire specialists — are longtime workers. One of them, Jose Garcia, 65, has been with the company for more than 30 years.
“I believe that’s an important part of why customers stay,” says Czeisler. “Longtime relationships between employees and customers are what build trust.”
Weber agrees. “They also have the cleanest bathroom you’ll ever see at a mechanic’s (shop),” she says. “They give you refreshments, they have free Wi-Fi.... It satisfies all of my criteria.”
The state of New York requires safety and emissions inspections every 12 months for all privately owned cars. Emil’s is verified by CARCO Group Inc., a national information services company that provides consumers with locations of car inspection sites. Typical rates for both tests to be performed range from $21 to $27 in New York City. However, Emil’s offers the service for free.
“We do about 200 inspections a month,” said Czeisler. “It’s a complimentary service because about one out of 20 customers comes back to us for something else.
“It’s a door opener. That way, they know I’m here.”
Emil’s offers more than 20 services, including auto body repair; brake work; lube, oil and filter service; and steering and suspension work. However, tires are the main draw, both directly and indirectly.
Knowing luxury cars are ubiquitous in his service area, Czeisler determined selling tire insurance and stocking a wide variety of wheels also would benefit the shop.
“I saw a new trend in the industry with tire insurance,” he says. “High-end cars are equipped with high-end tires, and they’re typically $350 to $600 a tire. So if consumers are smart, they buy insurance up front for their tires as well as cars.”
According to Czeisler, business “skyrocketed” after Emil’s began offering tire insurance.
“It’s a financial benefit to the business because people know that if they have tire insurance, they can come to me in this area and I’ll get them out same-day.”
About 20% of his business is selling and dealing with high-end tires such as run-flat and low-profile tires, particularly because they develop problems easier. “You don’t repair them if the damage is in an unsafe spot,” says Czeisler. “You replace them.” (Asked to name specifics, he said that some run-flat tires on BMW 6 Series vehicles “pop like water balloons in Brooklyn due to the heaviness of the car, the type of rims, and New York potholes.”)
Potholes aside, Czeisler is proud to serve Gravesend because he feels he understands his neighbors. He says that once a better-business consultant tried to give him some poor advice.
“He was trying to tell me stuff that won’t work in Brooklyn, and telling me about how to upsell maintenance work. I’m not a pushy guy. If people are trying to generate income like that because business is not like it was 20 years ago, that’s not me.
“The key thing with any consumer is trust and a good relationship. For me, price is not the main factor. My customers just come in and ask what they need to fix their car to get them back on the road. Some don’t even ask how much, they just trust me.”
Emil’s All Tire also is feeling the lingering effects of Hurricane Sandy, the Category Three hurricane that swept through the Northeast in October 2012, devastating many communities and businesses in the tri-state area. But much like any tire dealer in America who has faced hardships, Czeisler patiently waited it out, hoping to bank on an increase of business that summer might bring.
“We were hit hard by Sandy — it was a hard time for everybody,” he says. “Business was down, customers were financially hurt, but business picked up at the beginning of summer. People tend to go away more and take road trips, unlike when they may fly during winter.”
His advice for independent tire dealers outside New York is to keep up relationships with customers first and foremost.
“Always get to know your customers, and business will continue. I always look to make the business better for myself, my family and my customers. I know my customers on a first-name basis.”
Though Czeisler does not currently have any plans in the works for off-site expansion of Emil’s All Tire, he has thought about buying the property next door.
“We don’t want a second location,” he says. “I wouldn’t mind expanding but I want to be on site. I wouldn’t want to have another manager because customers want to be greeted by a familiar face.”
Czeisler also has considered installing five or six car lifts in the parking lot, which already has room for 30 cars to park, in order to accommodate even more customers.
With all of his forward-thinking business strategies, Czeisler still swears by his father’s techniques and old-school mentality. “I value people’s business,” says Czeisler. “I’m very attentive. Ultimately, I’m in the people problem business, which is not always an easy business to be in. But I enjoy the challenge of fixing cars and dealing with the public.”
And most importantly for Emil’s All Tire and Brooklyn car owners alike, Czeisler is good at it. ■
Beating the competition: Find open niches, says Czeisler
A successful tire dealer needs more than friendly faces and free soda to stay afloat in the fiercely competitive Brooklyn area of New York City.
Emil’s All Tire Co. is situated on the corner of Avenue W and East 15th street. Though cars were parked throughout the lot and three were being worked on the day of my interview with owner Ralph Czeisler, the busy shop shares the block with four other auto repair shops and tire dealerships. In total, there are 10 businesses offering similar services to Emil’s within a 15-minute drive or so.
The competition does not bother Czeisler, however. “If you’re good, there’s no reason you shouldn’t stay in business no matter where you’re located. There’s plenty of business around. You just have to do stuff others don’t offer.”
In other words, find open niches in the market. Czeisler most recently added glass repair and replacement and insurance inspections to his list of services.
Katharine Ulrich is copy editor for eMarketer Inc., a research firm based in New York, N.Y.