On the Rise: Alex Feliz
Service Advisor | Redwood General Tire Service Co. |Age: 29
What was your first job in the industry?
My first job as a service advisor was with an aftermarket vehicle customization shop in Redwood City called California Concepts. My first job in the automotive industry was as a sales and leasing consultant at Stevens Creek Toyota.
What attracted you to the industry?
I have been into cars ever since I can remember. Even before the age where I could drive and have my own car, I would research the kinds of upgrades that could be done on my friends' and families' vehicles. Eventually I was given a job in an automotive shop, and once in, I was hooked.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career?
I recently oversaw the implementation of TireWorks HD, a new point-of-sale (POS) and accounting system here at Redwood General Tire. I set up all of the sales meetings and handled the evaluation of several POS systems before making a decision. We then began to prepare for the switch. We were going from a DOS-based POS system with a separate accounting system, much of which was done through Excel, and then entered into Peachtree to a fully integrated, Windows-based POS/accounting package. The migration of the data from DOS to a windows based system required countless hours of going through data and ensuring that everything was formatted properly and ready for upload. Much of the data, such as our service packages, could not be migrated over and had to be built from scratch, another task which I took on.
The first week of the implementation, I worked over 100 hours to iron out the issues we were having. We have now been using the system for eight months, and now that we are getting settled in, we are enjoying the updated features of a modern POS, and have increased efficiency through the accounting integration. Overall, it took about 12 months worth of work, but the result was worth it.
Although the first few weeks were very painful, when I look back at it now, I realize that it actually went very smoothly, and am impressed that we were able to make such a smooth conversion, especially given the size of our business.
Who has had the biggest influence on your career?
The biggest influence in my career has been from my current management team. Denny Reiser, store manager and Alpio Barbara, store owner, have really given me the reigns to take my knowledge and skills to another level. They have entrusted me with some very important responsibilities, and have allowed me to learn more than I would have anywhere else. Aside from being a service advisor, they have given me complete control of decisions regarding our internet presence such as internet marketing, social media, and online review management.
What is your biggest accomplishment in the industry?
My biggest accomplishment in the industry would be the same as my biggest challenge. However, since I have already discussed that in depth, I will discuss another accomplishment in which I have much pride.
When I started with Redwood General Tire, they had two Facebook pages with different names, both with very few followers, an unclaimed Google listing, and lacked any other social media outlets. Since my time here, I have taken our Facebook page and brought it from less than 100 followers, to now over 1,500. I also claimed our Google listing and we have gone from about 10 reviews to now having 60 with an average rating of 4.5/5. Through management of our Yelp listing, I have been able to increase our reviews from 60 to 174 today, also with a 4.5 star average rating. Furthermore, I have created accounts through Foursquare, Instagram, and Twitter, all of which we update regularly, often times several times per week.
I also implemented MechanicNet, a customer retention solution that emails customers thank you notes and service reminders. And I also worked closely with NetDriven to design a new website which gives customers the ability to actually search for tires on our website, and get instant quotes, as well as schedule appointments with us online. Our previous site was just a simple HTML site that offered not much more than just info about the company. I have helped take Redwood General Tire's internet presence to another level, and have made the decisions to sign on the help of several key companies such as MechanicNet, Yelp, NetDriven, and Optimized Social Media. We now have a team which will perpetuate the progress we have made so far, and I continue to see our presence strengthen, leading to higher brand recognition and revenue for Redwood General Tire.
Tell us about your current job and responsibilities. How do you spend your work day?
When I first came on as a service writer at only 22 years of age, I had only a few years of experience in the industry. Also, because RGT is a single location and independent business, the store relies highly on return clientele, which I did not yet have. And so as a new service writer, it was my responsibility to deal mainly with retail clients, as well as some wholesale and commercial accounts when others weren't available. Over time, many of the people I helped found that they enjoyed working with me and turned into long-time personal clients. Today I manage more than a dozen large commercial fleet accounts, several large wholesale accounts, a long list of personal clients, and even a few federal contract and government accounts.
After several years at RGT, I began feeling very enthusiastic about finding ways to improve our store, and this led to the beginning of a complete transformation of my responsibilities. I had always worked for large, corporate companies such as Nordstrom or Toyota, both places highly ranked in customer service, but both had a lot of corporate backing. These places all had various teams of professionals in offices whose job it was to make improvements in their respective segments of the business. There were teams for things such as market analysis, advertising, customer satisfaction and customer relationship management, software/IT, human resources, etc. All of these teams of people took away the need for anyone on the ground floor to provide any input, because things were seemingly taken care of.
However, this can sometimes be exactly what a business needs, ideas that start at the ground floor, from the people in the trenches so to speak. And so, when I found myself working at an independently owned business where I could take my ideas directly to the owner and store management, and where these ideas were highly encouraged. My creativity for business ideas began to flourish. As a young person coming into a business that had been managed by incredible business minded professionals, but of mostly an older generation, I found myself constantly thinking of ways to improve upon what they had already built and it gave me excitement to think that maybe I could play a larger part in this business than I ever had at any other.
The first thing I set out to change & improve was RGT's web presence. With that under my belt, I was feeling very excited about the fact that RGT's management and ownership not only welcomed my ideas, but also trusted my decisions to make changes. I felt proud to have a job that now looked more like a career than a job. And of course, I didn't stop there.
RGT's tool box still did not include a customer retention management system, which in my eyes was a crucial part of any business. If we were doing as well as were without it, I could only imagine what a strong CRM program would do for the business. However, I hit a will when I quickly found out that all modern CRM solutions also required a modern POS software on our side for the data integration to work. And there was my wall, RGT was currently a DOS based / blue screen style POS by the name of TWI which was formulated in the 80s, and although it had been updated throughout the years with some very modern features, it just would never have the capability to properly integrate with any of today's 3rd party applications.
And so began my mission to find the best solution for a replacement of our point of sale systems at Redwood General Tire. By updating our POS, we gained the ability to integrate with third-party connections and I was finally able to add a CRM system to RGT's business model.
What do you expect to be doing 20 years from now?
I expect to have partial ownership of Redwood General Tire within 10 years. Within 20 years I expect to be continuing my efforts to grow and develop the company, and perhaps open another location.
What’s the biggest issue facing the industry today?
The biggest challenge in the industry today is the advent of the internet. In the past, clients looked to tire dealers and automotive repair facilities for answers when it came to their vehicles. But today, many clients coming in knowing, or thinking that they know, better than our service advisors. This can be a good thing as an informed client is likely to better understand our explanations, but it can also become challenging to gain a client's trust if they have been misinformed or misled by the internet. Another problem presented by the internet is of course pricing. This subject has been beat to death so I won't say too much, but internet pricing has certainly made it harder for independent businesses to keep the lights on. I am not sure how some of these shops that sell only tires even survive. If we took the service/repair side away from Redwood General Tire, I do not think we would make it very far.
What’s the one thing you wish someone would have told you before you entered the industry?
Choose wisely, because once you are in you are in for the long. I say this jokingly, but it is true for most. This industry has a way of attracting people and then getting a grasp on them and not letting go. It may be their love of cars, or the incredible spiff programs from the various tire companies, or the dealer trips all over the world offered by the various vendors. Any way you slice it, the automotive business can be extremely stressful, but overall it is very rewarding. There is never a dull day, and who wants a job where they have to watch the clock all day anyways!
What class(es) do you wish you had paid more attention to in high school?
None. But, I wish I had finished my college education, and I am not planning to go back. At the time, I watched friends finish college and struggle to find work. As I already had a well-paying job, I decided to drop out of college and instead work full time. However, now that I have positioned myself into management, and hope to eventually reach some form of ownership, it is becoming evident that finishing my business degree would be invaluable going forward.
What’s the worst cliché or generalization made about your generation?
There is an age-old idea that automotive facilities and their workers are out to rip you off. I think that there are now many businesses such as ours that have put customer service, satisfaction, and retention at the top of their list, and so this idea is slowly disappearing. But, we still encounter a client from time to time who just cannot bring themselves to trust us.
Tell us about your family.
My father was born and lived in the Dominican Republic until he was 18. He managed to help his single mother raise six siblings as the eldest, and by some miracle he was still able to get himself through school, and eventually to the United States where he attained a masters in engineering and is now a high level network engineer at Foundry Networks.
My mother was born in Berkeley, Calif., and attended the same high school as I did years later in Palo Alto. She then graduated from Berkeley and worked as a hotel manager at the luxurious Niko Hotel in New York City. That is where she met my father and where I was born. After having two children, my mother elected to take care of us instead of work, which she did incredibly. However, when my parents split up, as parents often do, she was left with not much of a cushion to fall back on. She has since worked in some very interesting positions, including one with politician Bill Perry, helping to formulate his letters, schedules, appointments, travel plans, etc. However, as much as she enjoyed working with Bill Perry, she knew this was not the kind of work she was meant for, and she decided to pursue her dream to start an equestrian school for children. She has since started Five Star Equestrian, a program which offers riding classes and horse training, and has been running her business successfully for three years now.
What’s your favorite weekend activity?
Very hard to say, I love many things. But if there was one thing I could not live without, it would be driving. I spend much of my time exploring the areas mountain roads, looking for fun places to drive, and of course always have my eyes peeled for open road! Needless to say, I give back a lot of my money to my shop!
What keeps you up at night?
So many things in the automotive industry can affect us outside of work. This is truly something I am working on as it is unhealthy to constantly worry about work. But of course there are those situations, and we have all had them, when you just can't help it. Things that make that list include: having a problematic vehicle in the shop for too long whether due to mis-ordered parts or misdiagnosis, damage to any client's vehicle (luckily this has only happened to me once), remembering that you forgot to order something is a big one too, and pretty much anything that will lead to an unhappy customer is unpleasant and lingers in our minds, because we want our customers to be happy. And it's also nice to avoid getting yelled at if possible.
How do you encourage others to enter the industry?
I tell them about the spiffs and trips. I tell them about the benefits of what they will learn. I tell them about the advantage for their vehicle of working at an automotive repair/tire facility. I tell them the funny stories of the things we see in this industry. And I tell them about the fun that our employees have together. I do not tell them about the hours, and I wouldn't mention the answers to the previous questions.
Tell us something about yourself others might not know.
I appear to be extremely confident and outgoing, and most of the time I am. But it is not without fear. I greatly fear failure, and rejection, and this makes me very shy. But I have learned to fight though it and my work at Redwood General Tire has perhaps been the biggest factor in increasing my confidence in my abilities.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
Gas station food!!! All. My coworkers know where to find snacks because my drawer is always stuffed full with cookies, candy, soda, chips and anything else that is full of sugar or salt. I suffer from a serious case of the munchies.
Name a talent you wish you had.
I wish I had musical talent, any at all would be nice, especially playing the guitar.
What’s your favorite food?
Italian... pasta... salmon... pizza... cheese and bread...
If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?
What’s your favorite childhood memory?
I spent several years living in a tiny village in the south of France. This was during an era when things were just starting to change, but while I was there, things were still relatively traditional. I mean to say, we didn't have computers, we didn't even have a TV until moving back to the states when I was 11, and this was before parents worried about letting their children out, and there were a lot of children in this particular village. There was also an old castle and a large forest just behind the elementary school. We spent our time playing outdoors, biking around, sometimes blowing things up and setting things on fire, sometimes chasing girls, sometimes making picnics for our parents, or painting tree stumps, and it was the type of childhood you read about in books, one that I will never take for granted because I don't think it exists for kids anymore.
If we took your cell phone away and said it would cost you $1,000 to get it back, how long would you survive until you paid the ransom?
I’d pull a phone out of my other pocket and call you on my phone that you took. Or, I may or may not use an app to call you from a spoof number, which would happen to be 911, and I would tell you that I am a police officer and that you have stolen the chief of police's cell and that if you return it to the police department today, no questions will be asked and no charges will be pressed.
Other than your cell phone, what’s a tool you must have to get through a work day?
Pen and note pads, lots of note pads.