The elderly gentleman pulled up in front of Direct Tire & Auto Service in the Boston suburb of Watertown, Mass. He stormed into the showroom and blustered, “What kind of tires do you sell around here? Come outside and look at mine.”
Two tires on the car, a Ford LTD, were, indeed, a mess. So were their wheel covers.
The store personnel suggested they had been damaged when banged against a number of curbs.
“No way,” said t he old man. “I bought these tires here three weeks ago and they just went bad.
“The wheel covers? You did that to them when you put them on the tires!”
Meanwhile, the man’s wife just sat in the car shaking her bowed head.
What’s a tire dealer to do when faced with this situation? At Direct Tire, the answer was simple. They put on two new tires, straightened the wheel covers as best they could, and apologized for the customer’s inconvenience.
That story, featured in our magazine 24 years ago (as if the Ford LTD reference wasn’t a clue), exemplified Direct Tire owner Barry Steinberg’s business philosophy in 1993, the year he was named Modern Tire Dealer’s first Tire Dealer of the Year. That philosophy still drives him today.
“It goes beyond ‘the customer is always right,’” he says. “It’s only money. I learned that from my dad.
“At the end of the day, if you take care of your customers, they walk away saying, ‘He’s a stand-up guy. That’s a stand-up company. It’s a place I would send my daughter, my wife or even my best friend.’ You can’t put a price on that.”Fast forward to 2017, and listen to what Mark and Scott Rhodes, owners of Plaza Tire Service Inc. in Cape Girardeau, Mo., and winners of our 25th Tire Dealer of the Year Award, think is important when doing business.
“When I get a complaint, and I don’t get many of them because our guys are good, I let the customer say everything they want to say, and then I ask, ‘What can I do to make it better? How can I make you happy?’ says Mark. “And then whatever it is, you do it. Ninety to 95% of the time you can make them happy.”
Sound familiar? Both dealerships focus on serving each customer to the best of their abilities. They look at what can be gained from the positive, word-of-mouth publicity that follows, instead of the initial cost involved. And that’s not the only similarity between Steinberg and the Rhodes brothers. They are also visionaries, always looking to improve efficiencies. Not surprisingly, both not only embrace social media, but also attempt to leverage it. (For more on Mark and Scott Rhodes, check out the story by Senior Editor Joy Kopcha here.)
When Steinberg won the award, he sold tires out of one-half of an existing building. Now he runs five stores, including a 7,350-square-foot “modern colonial” outlet in upscale Medway, Mass. Plaza Tire Service, on the other hand, owns 62 similar-looking stores in four states.Of our 25 award winners, two have been single-store owners: Steinberg and our 2016 winner, Alpio Barbara, owner of Redwood General Tire Service Co. in Redwood, Calif. In contrast, Bruce Halle was in charge of 887 stores as chairman of Discount Tire in Scottsdale, Ariz., when he won in 2014.
In other words, the owner of any size dealership can be named Tire Dealer of the Year as long as he or she or, in rare cases like this year, they know how to exceed customer expectations. That is the common denominator among the winners.
Fifteen of the 25 are still in business, by the way; of the remaining 10 winners, six sold their businesses. The other four, Walt Dealtrey, Les Schwab, Paul Zurcher and Raynal Pearson, have died, but their businesses live on.
So do their stories. If you want advice on how to run your business more profitably, and how to perform exceptional customer service, look no further than our website, www.moderntiredealer.com, where the stories on all 25 award winners are archived.
Congratulations to Mark and Scott Rhodes of Plaza Tire Service, our 2017 Tire Dealer of the Year Award winners. And to the other 24 who preceded them. From Watertown to Cape Girardeau, we’ve created quite a community, sort of an all-star 20 Group with depth! ■
If you have any questions or comments, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To read more of Bob Ulrich's editorials, see: