Barry Steinberg’s first store was one-half of an existing building. His fifth is a new 7,350-square-foot architect’s dream, a modern colonial located in the town of Medway, Mass., and built from the ground up.
“It looks like a house,” says Steinberg, owner of Direct Tire & Auto Service, a five-store chain based in Watertown, Mass. “The town made us adapt to what they wanted, which I was fine with, but we modified the structure. For example, we put in a basement. Construction costs were higher because of the appearance and windows and the landscaping. It’s basically the way the town wanted it to look, and that includes the roof line.”Three of the eight bays are in the back of the building, hidden from the road. With fewer visible bays, “it looks less like a garage,” he says. “It’s a very impressive, very efficient, very clean, very green store. The heating system is very efficient. We recycle the used motor oil to heat the shop. The siding is called Hardie, and it retains the heat and cool. We use well water for all the landscaping so we’re not using town water, which they don’t want us to use because there’s a drought.”
A dumpster, which Direct Tire shares with its neighbor, Advance Auto Parts, and a casing trailer are hidden by white fencing.
Inside, the showroom is designed with plenty of open space. There is no sales counter; employees meet the customers at kiosks.
In the service area, all the lifts are flush-mounted, which Steinberg says prevents door dings.
“They’re so efficient. They are less confining and make it easy for our technicians to work on cars. If I had a choice, I would replace the two-post lifts in my other stores.”
A set of seven fluid guns hang from the ceiling at strategic stations throughout the eight bays. Six dispense different viscosities of motor oil; the seventh doles out washer fluid.
“Everything has a place,” says Steinberg. “It’s very organized, and there are no mistakes.” There are also relief mats for all the techs to stand on. “We wouldn’t want them to stand on concrete all day.”
There are very few tire dealers in Medway, where the average household income is about $103,000. Direct Tire’s competition is predominantly limited to “Joe’s Auto Repair” and other smaller garages,” says Steinberg. “These aren’t places that wives would go to, or sophisticated guys would want to bring their Mercedes to.” There is also one fellow independent dealer up the road.
“There are no car dealers here,” he says. “There’s no Sullivan Tire, no Goodyear, no Firestone. There are no NTBs.”
Ironically, S teinb erg was able to lease the property after negotiations between the town and Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. broke down.
The first Direct Tire outlet opened in Watertown in 1974. “I only had half of the building, where the service side is now. I was there a year before the other tenant vacated, and I took over the whole building, 10,000 square feet.”
He sells 70 tires a day out of 15-bay location, more than 100 a day during the winter months.
“It’s always been our busiest store. As we built other stores, we took some of our customers and moved them to the other stores for convenience sake, but we’ll work on typically 60 cars a day out there.”
Steinberg employs more than 20 people in Watertown, and nearly 90 overall, including two part-timers. When fully staffed, the Medway store will have at least 10 employees.
“I believe in having staff. My accountant is not happy with the number of employees, but you have to have people. Is my payroll a little skewed on the high side? Yes, but we never say no.”
Will the Medway location ever reach the heights of the original store, or any of the other three Massachusetts outlets in Natick (11 bays), Peabody and Norwood, respectively?
“I am confident this location will be sensational, and the market has nothing but potential for growth,” says Steinberg.
“We opened May 9th. I gave the guys some numbers to hit, and they exceeded them from day one. We blanketed this market with mailers, and really knocked it out of the box.”
Catchy phrase: ‘We’ll fix it so it brakes’
In metropolitan Boston, Direct Tire & Auto Service is known for its catchphrases. The slogan that put it on the map, however, was “We’ll fix it so it brakes,” which is registered in all 50 states.
Barry Steinberg, owner of the five-store dealership, says the slogan was created some 30 years ago by a pair of local advertising agency interns. He had just signed a one year deal for a billboard on the Massachusetts Turnpike.
“They come and ask, ‘Mr. Steinberg, what part of your business do you want to promote?’ I said, ‘We really want to promote the brake business because there’s a huge growth market there.’
“The next week they come over with three story-boards. They show me the first two and I didn’t like them. The third one was ‘We’ll fix it so it brakes.’
“I put that up on the billboard within two weeks, and have been using it ever since.”