Not all of Chip Wood’s tire customers were happy with the service at Tire Discounters in 1997. By most accounts, the company was a success, with 10 stores throughout the Cincinnati, Ohio, area.
But too many people — not a considerable number but measureable, according to Wood — were coming back after buying tires from his stores. “Most of the customers who would come back complained their tires wore out too quickly,” says Jamie Ward, president and chief operating officer. “We always got the blame. We were tired of seeing those customers come back because we’re so customer focused. So we decided to align (new) tires for free just to see what would happen.”
The comebacks stopped, and the “free alignment with the purchase of four tires” promotion was born. Nineteen years later, it is an important part of the way Tire Discounters does business at every one of its 101 stores in Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Tennessee and Georgia. “Sure enough, our mileage adjustments are negligible,” says Ward. “We’ve never compared (our rate) to industry standards, but it is just so small.”
The spirit of ‘76
William “Chip” Wood opened his first tire store in 1976, straight out of college. It was a one-bay, one-man operation.
“It took me maybe eight or nine years before I woke up and realized there could be more to the operation than one tire store. So I opened Store 2 and my brother, Chris, ran Store 1.”
Chris Wood is senior vice president of product and purchasing. “Everything to do with tires is his responsibility,” says Chip. “Manufacturing, warehousing, if it’s tires, it’s Chris.”
Rick Barnhart, who worked at the company for 24 years, was hired to run Store 3. By then, Wood realized he couldn’t work in a store and run a business at the same time.
Ward joined the company in 1995 to run the eighth store. He then was tasked with opening new stores. “We were probably averaging one to three stores a year for a long time,” he says.
By 2010, the company had grown to 49 stores, but Wood decided to pick up the pace. He hired banker Paul Brunner to help double the company’s size in five years. “Paul was instrumental in helping us get from 50 to 100 stores.”
Earlier this year, Ward was named president and Wood returned to the helm as CEO during the company’s leadership transition phase. In addition to Chip and Chris Wood and Ward, also taking Tire Discounters into the future are Kevin Burke, chief financial officer; Clarissa Niese, senior vice president of sales operations and marketing; Sarah Stimson, executive vice president of talent development; and Wood’s son, Steven, director of real estate.
Tire Discounters offers all inclusive, “Out the door with more!” tire pricing. It also backs each tire purchase with lifetime tire maintenance and lifetime valet air top offs.
“You also get the lifetime balance and rotation as well, so we’re taking care of those tires for a long time,” says Wood.
But the stores are most famous for the free alignments. Wood says it was successful from the start.
“In 1997 when we first offered it, I tested it in one store before we rolled it out for all the stores we had at that time. We had a 35% increase in tire units.”
There are trade-offs, however. “It takes extra time,” says Niese. “At the end of the day, nobody wants to sit around in a tire store, but ultimately if the alternative means you don’t get the alignment or you potentially burn through those tires faster than you expect because you’re out of alignment, then we’re not doing right by our customer base.”
“When we rolled out our free alignment, we had to put new alignment equipment in,” says Ward. “That’s a huge investment. We had to hire more service technicians. Huge investment. We had to spend a ton of time training our folks on exactly how to do the best alignment possible, not just setting the toe and letting it go.”
Wood says alignments were offered as an extra-cost item before 1997, as was “easy and light” brake repair. “That’s one of the reasons we could start offering free alignments with less pain. We’ve since become very service focused and things are different.
“Today, maybe we wouldn’t make the decision to offer free alignments. I don’t know. I’m happy we did. I’m not going back.”
‘We’re No. 1! We’re No. 1!’
City Beat, a weekly newspaper covering news and entertainment in Cincinnati, Ohio, named Tire Discounters Inc. the “best” Tire Store for the eighth consecutive year. Bob Sumerel Tire Co. Inc. and Costco Wholesale finished second and third, respectively.
But this year, Tire Discounters also was ranked No. 1 in the Auto Repair Service category for the first time, followed by Bob Sumerel Tire and Donovan’s Auto & Tire Center.
“We like to dominate the markets we’re in,” says William “Chip” Wood, chairman and CEO of Tire Discounters. “But it takes a lot of effort.”
In City Beat’s “2016 Best of Cincinnati” issue, Tire Discounters thanked Cincinnati for the honor. Its ad concluded with “We strive to earn your business Every. Single. Day.”
Sign language: Who knows what Tire Discounters will say?
Outdoor changeable letter signs are “old school,” according to Jamie Ward, president and chief operating officer of Tire Discounters Inc. The key is to make them eye-catching.
Here are just a few of the messages Tire Discounters has passed along at its 104 stores. Some are humorous, some are clever, some are to the point. And some are just plain silly. But they fulfill their purpose: to get people thinking about Tire Discounters.
- We’re here to be taken advantage of
- Did someone say savings? Tirediscounters.com
- This is just a cry for attention
- For reals. What does that means?
- We got a little dizzy doing this
- Indiana High schools rock!
- Tire store to the stars
- It’s back! Pumpkin spice rubber
- You deserve a brake. Save $30 per axle
- Double secret deals on Web. Act casual
- Chicka chicka boom boom
- Our goal: a store every 50 feet
- Look! Tire stores can be beautiful
- 360 degrees of service
- Anyone seen Col. Mustard? I’m clueless
One Tire Discounters sign next to a McDonald’s read “Breakfast. McTires now served all day.” Another, “Tweetasaurus: Too Old to Twitter,” doesn’t apply to Tire Discounters, which is active on Twitter (@TireDiscounters).
Ward says the messages are changed twice a week.