‘What would Mr. Halle do?’
"It starts with Mr. Halle,” says Chris Sallie in reference to the man whose influence is felt everywhere at the first Discount Tire store in the northeast Ohio market. “It” is attitude, not car count, bay turns, tire sales, or other measures of a tire shop’s business success. Says Ken Knake, assistant vice president for the region, “Mr. Halle expects everybody to be a Boy Scout and do the right thing every time, especially when nobody’s looking.”
The respect and affection the employees have for Discount Tire founder and Chairman Bruce Halle is evident. Although they are nearly 2,000 miles from the corporate headquarters in Scottsdale, Ariz., “Mr. Halle” rolls from the lips of Sallie, Knake and others at this Discount Tire store as naturally as “aspect ratio” and “TPMS.”
“We work hard,” says Sallie, who manages the store in Macedonia, a Cleveland suburb. “We have positive people with great attitudes. You work for a company that’s going to take care of you; you work for a man who’s going to provide a lot of opportunities to you.”
Sallie was looking for help with a flat tire, not opportunities, when he walked into a Discount Tire shop in 1998. He had brought a wheel that did not match his flat tire to the store. “I took in a different wheel and asked for a tire to be put on it. I didn’t understand why the wheel would not fit the car so I went back. They took care of me,” he recalls.
Values over skills
Sallie was just out of high school and knew nothing about tires. But values, not skills, guide hiring decisions at Discount Tire. The technical aspects of the job can be taught. What a potential hire expects as far as career development matters most, according to Sallie. “We’re not going to ask if you know how to change a tire, that’s not what interests us. We’re interested in people.”
The assistant manager helping Sallie 16 years ago saw traits essential to a successful Discount Tire employee: an outgoing personality and positive outlook. Sallie was offered a job as a tire tech. He accepted and began working a few hours a week while taking college classes.
“I had plans of playing small-town college football,” says Sallie. “I started changing tires and having fun. I wasn’t as good as I thought at football, and I was a little better at changing tires than I thought I would be. The company just kept offering me more and more opportunities.”
Knake’s introduction to Discount Tire 20 years before was nearly identical. He was in high school in 1978 when he went to a Discount Tire store to buy a tire for a girlfriend’s car. He asked if they were hiring and was offered a tire technician job. “I felt like I belonged there and was a part of something. As time went on, I became a bigger part of it and liked it even more.”
The company’s formal training program exposes employees to the different levels of responsibility in a store through online courses and on-the-job coaching. The program takes nine months to a year to complete. “Our goal is to take every tire tech through the entire process because we want every one of our people to be able to make any decision the manager can,” says Knake. “That way, the team works together and everyone is involved in the decision making.
“We like to stay away from haves and have-nots. No chiefs, no Indians. Everybody has the same empowerment and is held accountable to the same disciplines as well.”
The right time
Training emphasizes servicing customers quickly, efficiently and safely. A store’s goal is 15 minutes to service an average vehicle, but newer vehicles usually require up to 25 minutes.
The 6,930-square-foot store in Macedonia has three double bays. A Discount Tire store averages about 3,000 tires in inventory. As far as tire brands, Sallie says the store “carries everything, whatever the customer wants or needs.” The company’s press releases tout the largest tire and custom wheel selection available.
Tire brands include Goodyear, Michelin, Bridgestone, Yokohama, Kumho, BFGoodrich, Pirelli, Hankook, Falken and GT Radial, along with Discount Tire’s exclusive brands such as Fisk and Arizonian. If a customer wants a tire that is not in the store’s inventory, Sallie gets it direct from the manufacturer, via a manufacturer transfer program or from another Discount Tire store. Discount Tire also offers wheels from Enkei, Konig, Liquidmetal, TSW, Akuza and exclusive brands including MB Wheels and G-games. Wheels make up about 10% of sales, according to Sallie.
Discount Tire opened its Macedonia store in October 2013. At the time, Tim Ehinger, regional vice president, said, “Based on the market size and demographics of the area, it was the right time to open a store and serve the residents of the Cleveland area.” Macedonia is about 20 miles southeast of downtown Cleveland. A Google search shows about a dozen consumer tire retailers in the suburb.
The company says it is satisfied with the Macedonia store’s results after nearly a year in operation.
Discount Tire stores offer no auto repair services; employees focus all their attention on selling and installing tires. The Macedonia store is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday. Discussions with employees center on doing whatever it takes to help a customer, according to Sallie. “We don’t have conversations on why did you do that for a customer. Our conversations are about what else you could have done for them.”
The corporate office in Arizona takes care of everything a store needs to function. “The entire corporate structure is set up to serve store managers,” says Sallie. Inventory, forecasts, special orders, technical support, questions about applications, TPMS and more are handled at the corporate headquarters. “If we can’t figure something out, we’re on the phone to an expert who will walk us through it,” says Sallie.
Managers are special
Sallie says store managers have the autonomy to manage their business and the responsibility to do what it takes to make customers safe and happy, including giving away sets of tires. “We have a ‘what-would-Mr.-Halle-do?’ mindset and mantra. As store managers we want to emulate Mr. Halle, as he was the first store manager.”
Managers are special to Halle, according to Knake. “Managers to him are the most important people in the company. Everybody else is here to serve our managers. We’re here to help the stores.”
Halle visited the Macedonia store about a month after it opened, during the week of Thanksgiving. Sallie says the store was “crazy busy,” but Halle focused on employees. “His first questions are always, ‘How are you, how’s your family?’ His last question is, ‘What else can I do for you?’ He says we do this together.”
Employees follow Halle’s example. “We’re focused on our four walls and our people,” says Sallie.“We’re a very large company, but it feels like a small company because you get so close to the people that you work with.”
As a manager, Sallie says his job is 100% employee development. “I take care of customers and I change tires, but it’s still about employee development because I’m leading by example. I want my people to treat a customer a certain way because they are the people taking care of customers. There’s no script, it’s just doing the best job we can to truly understand a customer’s needs.”
A typical Discount Tire store has one manager, one senior assistant, three to four assistant managers and several tire techs based on business levels. There are a total of 12 to 17 employees, with five or six being full time and the rest part time. However, the store in Macedonia is staffed differently to support growth in the Cleveland market. Sallie and five assistants moved from Michigan to Ohio in order to bring the company’s culture to the Cleveland stores. They hired 31 people and trained them to staff two Discount Tire stores that opened in the Cleveland suburbs of Avon and Parma Heights in September.
A new store opens up opportunities for current employees and job candidates, according to Knake. Eight tire techs in Macedonia were promoted to assistant managers when the Avon and Parma Heights stores opened. In fact, all assistant managers start as tire techs. New stores “keep the dream alive for people who want to move on,” says Knake.
“The Dream” is the title of Discount Tire’s vision statement, which says in part: “Our unique success is based on caring for and cultivating people, delighting our customers and growing responsibly.” Sallie is continuing the dream as manager of the new Discount Tire store in Parma Heights. “We’re driven to help our people succeed and pay it forward to the next group of people coming up. Our culture builds the camaraderie. It starts with Mr. Halle. From day one we have a responsibility to each other and to our customers.” ■