The sales pitch over the phone was folksy yet sincere. “Uh, huh, OK, OK, listen, I hear you. I know they’re pricey. But these are the Dallas Cowboys of tires, OK? And we’re talking the Troy Aikman Cowboys, not that pretty boy Tony Romo!
“All right, good call! You won’t regret it!”
George Cooper, also known as Dr. Tire in the Dallas area, had just sold another set of tires. According to his brother, Sheldon, he sells more tires than anyone in Texas.
“Wow, that was impressive!” said Sheldon’s friend Leonard, who heard the pitch.
“It’s easy when you love your product,” said Dr. Tire, “and hate Tony Romo!”
George, Sheldon and Leonard are fictional characters in one of the most popular situation comedies on television: The Big Bang Theory. In real life, there is no Dr. Tire in Dallas.
But there is in Estill, S.C. As long as one of the Bostick brothers, Joe or Robert, is in the building, the doctor is in.
Branding Dr. Tire
The Bosticks leverage the Dr. Tire name as much as possible. All the employees wear shirts with the Dr. Tire name and logo — a man wearing a white lab coat and doctor’s head mirror carrying a stethoscope and tire. “This business isn’t too conducive to lab coats being white!” says Joe, president of Dr. Tire Inc.
The logo also is emblazoned on the company’s service trucks, the building, “and everything that we advertise.” That includes pens and key chains. Radio ads, with help from a local radio personality at WDOG in Allendale County, lead to additional referrals.
“Sometimes we cut up with people and tell them when they call in asking for one of us that ‘the head surgeon’s in,’ or something like that,” says Joe, who believes the Dr. Tire name has definitely helped the business.
The brothers’ father, Joe Jr., and their uncle, Gene Bostick, started the business in 1972 under the name Mr. Tire. “Then in ’74 they had to change the name because somebody else already had that name,” says Joe, who has since registered the name in South Carolina.
Joe and Robert took over Dr. Tire from their father in 1989.Wholesale changes
Dr. Tire sells Michelin, BFGoodrich, Uniroyal, Multi-Mile, Continental, Cooper, Goodyear, Nexen, Nitto, Sumitomo and Vogue consumer tires, and Primex, BKT, Alliance, Firestone and Goodyear commercial tires. But Joe says they can get any tire the customer wants.
“We have five suppliers we typically deal with: Carroll Tire, Treadmaxx, ATD, Alliance Tire and S&S Tire,” says Joe. But the face of wholesaling is changing, and the Bosticks are right in the middle of it.
- TBC Corp.’s Carroll Tire merged with Michelin North America Inc.’s TCi to form NTW (National Tire Wholesale).
- Treadmaxx Tire Distributors Inc., which is run by Kauffman Tire Inc., has partnered with Max Finkelstein Inc. to form a buying group, Tire Distributors of the Americas LLC.
- American Tire Distributors Inc. is reorganizing.
As a result, long-standing delivery routes and policies are changing. For example, Robert, the company’s vice president, says S&S stopped regular deliveries to rural Estill, “so we have to get a big order together for them to come to us. There are a lot of changes going on with our wholesalers. We’re waiting to see if it is for better or worse.”
The town of Estill, S.C., in Hampton County has a population of only 2,000 people, although recent growth in the logging industry in the area may help increase that. “Most of the people who live here work in other cities like Beaufort, Bluffton, Hilton Head and Savannah,” says Joe.
“Finding techs has been a challenge. We’re constantly looking for techs. It’s because of the geographic area we’re in. We also try to draw from the surrounding counties.”
Dr. Tire employs 18 people, including Joe and Robert. They service retail customers within a 50-mile radius.On the commercial side, they will travel up to 150 miles to take care of a customer. “Most of the time the longer distance is because our local loggers have a flat, and they’d rather call us to come out and fix it instead of waiting on somebody else who may take forever to do it,” says Robert.
Joe says GPS tracking allows the company to keep tabs on its service trucks. “We can pull the information up online and see where our trucks are, if they’re moving and how fast they’re going. When somebody calls in and we’ve already got a driver on another road call, I can take a look and see where he is, which gives me an idea about how long it’s going to be before he can get to the next job.”
Service truck drivers normally drop the trucks off at the office when their shifts end. “Every now and then they’ll take them home,” says Joe. “It depends where they finish the job and how late it is.”
“Or how early they have to pull out in the morning,” adds Robert.
Online sales — and training
The fictional Dr. Tire in Dallas doesn’t have to worry about finding technicians or dealing with the competitive pressures disrupting the industry, including online selling. The Bosticks do.
Customers can set up appointments through the Dr. Tire website, but they can’t buy online. Joe says he doesn’t have any problems with his suppliers or competitors selling online.
“To be honest I don’t think it affects us that much. We provide a service, and most of our customers are going to come here. We’ve been in business so long that they just bring it in and say, ‘I need a set of tires. Just put them on for me.’“A lot of times they don’t even question us about price or what we’re putting on because they know we’re going to give them what needs to go on the vehicle and get the speed ratings right. They know we’re not going to take them to the cleaners, because we wouldn’t have been here this long if we were doing that.”
Joe says it all boils down to superior service. In its mission statement, Dr. Tire promises “to deliver superior services to our customers and to improve the car care awareness of our community.”
“I think everything we do is superior, being that we have people who care about what they’re doing. A lot of times in these bigger shops or big box stores they have workers who don’t have the right amount of training. I can’t tell you the number of cars that have come in here after they’ve been to Walmart and had issues we had to take care of. I think it’s because we’ve got the qualified people to do the job right the first time.”Dr. Tire’s technicians receive “a lot of online training” from companies such as Carquest (Advance Auto Parts Inc.), Mitchell 1 and Hunter Engineering Co. Technicians and office people take advantage of programs from the Automotive Technical Institute.
“When our new technicians come in, I pair them up with one of my guys who has been here for a long time. They take them under their wings and show them how to do things by mentoring them. Once they get confident in what they’re doing, the new techs can start doing things on their own.”
That is the reality of the independent tire dealer. A real one. ■