I Got Schooled by a School Teacher

Wayne Williams
Posted on August 3, 2017

When I was a young district manager in charge of 13 stores, life was crazy. I always felt somewhat out of control, like I was missing something and, of course, I was. I always needed another service tech, a better service tech, another salesman or a better store manager. It was like chasing a ghost. Every once in a while, I would interview what I felt was the best new candidate who later failed miserably. Proper staffing is an age-old problem in retailing.

As a young district manager, I soon found it wasn’t about filling all the positions, but filling the positions properly. Chemistry inside of a store is critical; a team that can work together toward customer satisfaction and sales and profit goals. I became better and better at selecting the right team for each store, and I learned that it was my primary objective.

Filling a vacancy

As every district manager or business owner knows, sooner or later you must fire an under performing store manager. From time to time, I selected and hired replacement candidates who were less than I hoped for and sometimes more than I expected. Once, against my better judgement, I hired a former school teacher with limited sales and automotive background. Ed was a pretty convincing guy, and I had created an opening by firing a manager the week earlier.

Years ago when I was a district manager, an unconventional hiring led to sales magic and improved store profits.
Years ago when I was a district manager, an unconventional hiring led to sales magic and improved store profits.
The location where I assigned Ed was a neighborhood store with modest traffic count and only occasional profits. Ed was immediately spectacular. He began to sell what his veteran service tech recommended. Let me say it again, “Ed began selling what his service tech recommended.” Zia, the tech, was very thorough in his inspections and recommendations, and Ed sold the jobs one right after another.

Like I’ve said a thousand times before, “There’s only two problems you can have in a tire store, either you’re not getting enough cars, or you’re not selling enough on the ones you’re getting.” Ed’s conversation rate was high and his ticket average climbed. By any measure, the two most important variables in any retail location is customer count and average ticket.

You know, there’s magic that happens between a service tech and a store manager when they are on the same page. In this case, vehicle inspections remained consistent, Ed continued to make convincing presentations, and sales and profitability steadily improved.

Teaching customers pays off

As often happens within an organization when the word gets out about a store whose results have dramatically changed, fellow managers become suspicious. Next thing you know, the word is that good ole Ed must be cheating customers. As the district manager, I visited Ed’s store, and I reviewed the daily tickets. I found that Ed, like a good school teacher, was doing a great job teaching customers about the condition of their vehicles and presenting the material, you might say, in a way that customers understood and felt comfortable spending money on. 

I learned a lot as a young district manager during this period. I learned to be more open-minded and more attentive. First off, I fired the previous manager due to poor results, but only after delaying the inevitable longer than I should have. Zia, the service tech, had been telling me there were opportunities to do more business in the store, but I wasn’t paying close enough attention. Many service techs complain that the work they recommend doesn’t get sold, so I discounted Zia’s voice as just one of many complaining techs; however, he was correct. Secondly, my boss, the vice president, insisted that I fire the under performing store manager before I had found a replacement. Creating the vacancy created a sense of urgency. Had I still had a manager, I may not have hired Ed. He and Zia continued to work together for a number of years, and the marginal location became a real contributor.

Unconventional approach worked

Another thing I learned was the power of chemistry and confidence. Zia and Ed had such great chemistry that their confidence grew, and as a result, the sales grew. As I continued to review individual daily sales tickets, I began to see trends that I was able to communicate to other stores in my district, which improved my overall results. Ed and Zia’s approach, in a variety of ways, was unconventional and opened my mind. It changed the standard by which we, as a company, measured some key categories.

Bottom line, the service tech was right, and the teacher schooled me. None of us was as good as we thought we were.    ■

Wayne Williams is president of ExSell Marketing Inc., a “counter intelligence” firm based in La Habra, Calif. He can be reached at

Want to read more Counter Intelligence columns? See:

Customer-Service Revolution: How the 'User Experience' WIll Trump Price by 2020

At the Sales Counter: Focus on Feelings Supported by Facts

The Sales Counter Moved Again: And the Sales Floor is Now on the Smartphone

The Changing Language of the Marketplace

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