3 Questions with Joe Flynn of Flynn's Tire & Auto Service
Dealership Develops Labor Shortage Work-Arounds
With more than 30 locations - including retail, commercial and wholesale outlets - Flynn’s Tire & Auto Service is one of the largest and fastest-growing independent tire dealerships in the western Pennsylvania/eastern Ohio area.
In 2021 alone, the family-owned, Hermitage, Pa.-based company added three retail stores. But expansion has been accompanied by some challenges, says President Joe Flynn III. Finding new employees - particularly young technicians - is harder than ever. And negotiating with municipalities to secure approvals for new stores can be tough.
Flynn discusses these and other topics - including an unexpected trend in his company’s retail tires sales last year - in this MTD exclusive.
MTD: In what ways has it become tougher to open new locations versus 10 years ago and how has Flynn’s Tire adjusted?
Flynn: The big thing is finding the proper staffing. We like to make sure we have the right people in our stores. You need a good location manager. That’s the key. We try to grow our leadership from within. Sometimes we have to hire from the outside. But the location’s leader is the most important part.
Aside from that, what has gotten the most difficult is finding people who want to work in our industry who are experienced. It’s not easy in this environment.
We don’t want just warm bodies because we work in the safety business. When we install tires on vehicles, we need to make sure we bolt those wheels onto the cars and that they are fastened properly.
And when we’re fixing cars - whether it’s brakes, alignments or suspensions - we want to make sure we’re fixing them properly. People’s lives depend on it.
Sometimes people don’t see what we do as being a life-or-death industry or a safety industry, but we really are. We need to make sure we have the right, clear-minded people doing the work.
And for whatever reason, I think a lot of zoning laws are outdated. Some communities think of tire stores and auto service centers as being these old, environmentally hazardous sites with hundreds of scrap tires piled up outside in a muddy parking lot. Cities and towns prefer gas stations over us. They prefer car washes over tire and auto service centers.
A lot of tire stores now, including ours, are beautiful buildings that are well-groomed and marketed very well. But there’s still a stigma. There are a lot of communities that restrict tire and auto service centers from certain areas. We have to battle that.
MTD: What employee recruitment and retention methods are working for you and why?
Flynn: What’s working the best for us is that we’re kind of like the new trade school in the areas where we operate. If someone wants to become a technician, they can come to Flynn’s and we’ll send them to training classes. And there will be a lot of on-the-job training, working with our experienced master techs.
We’ll have them change tires and oil, at first. They’ll get their air conditioning certification. They’ll get certifications in brake service and suspension systems and will gradually grow from there. And each step along the way, they make more money, so they want to grow with the company.
Don’t get me wrong. We love trade schools and we love what they do. There are probably four technical schools we work with. But they don’t produce enough prospects for us. And everybody is fighting over the same guys. It’s highly competitive.
We find people who have the right character and work ethic and are technically minded. And we provide training for them. So we’re basically producing technicians from the ground up. Some of our best store managers started out as tire technicians.
By the way, there was a shortage of technicians before the pandemic and the labor market got tight. When I was growing up, if someone was technically minded, they might be interested in fixing cars. Today, if a kid is technically minded, he may be more interested in electronics and computers.
If we have an opening, we look internally and then we look externally. The best candidate gets the job. And our human resource department has done an excellent job of determining where these jobs fit into the market as far as pay goes and then making sure our people are being compensated at a generous rate.
In the last four years, we’ve given more wage increases than ever before. It’s really gone up. Our guys are paid very well. We probably pay higher than the industry average. But I think it’s worth it in order to keep good people. We have excellent benefits, as well. We’re a family-oriented company. When we look at our benefits, we want to make sure we’re taking care of our employees’ families, too.
We also have an orientation process for all new hires. When we hire new people, we bring them in-house. Human resources spends some time with them, going over their benefits, and I spend a few hours with them, going over the culture of Flynn’s Tire and who we are. I love it and I think they get a lot out of it.
MTD: Flynn’s Tire has always been a multi-brand dealership that offers products at all price points. Over the last two years, we’ve seen a lot of customers gravitate toward tier-two, tier-three and even in some cases, tier-four products. In light of this, do you think the traditional good-better-best retail tire sales approach still works?
Flynn: We sold a smaller percentage of entry-level tires during 2021 because they’ve been so difficult to source. Somebody might have been looking for the cheapest tire we had and it might have been a few more steps up than normal.
But what we’ve noticed is that a great percentage of our customers will buy the tire we recommend to them. We also have noticed there’s a certain percentage of people who just want the least expensive tire. But 80% of people are really open to our suggestions.
We can make a suggestion based on what we think is the best tire for their needs, so that’s what we try to do.
You have to find out what’s best for the customer. Good-better-best is too general. Some people like a really quiet tire. Some people want good traction. Some people want a high-mileage tire. There might be a good-better-best traction tire. There might be a good-better-best quiet tire. So good-better-best might be different for each customer.