‘The Chick-fil-A of the Tire Business’

July 5, 2024

Whether selling tires or chicken sandwiches, David Gray says only one thing matters: the customer experience.

“We want to be the Chick-fil-A of the tire business,” says Gray, who recently celebrated the opening of his seventh Gray’s Tire & Service Center Inc. store, a 9,000-square-foot facility in Clanton, Ala.

“Our business model is in and out. We’re quick, we’re good, we’re friendly and we do what we say we’re going to do.

“My thing is efficiency,” says Gray, who founded his company in 1998 at the age of 22.

“How many steps does it take to get from here to there? Getting the car from the parking spot into the service bay – how long does it take to do that?”

It all starts with the initial interaction between customer and salesperson, according to Gray.

“When someone drives up, you smile and say, ‘Thank you for coming in.’ We answer the phone with a smile. The customer doesn’t care what kind of equipment you use. This is a relationship business. That’s what sets us apart.

“We have four competitors circling us,” he continues. “And we all sell the same thing. A tire is a commodity. I tell our salespeople, ‘Ask for the customer’s name. Ask for their number.’

“If someone is going to work the front counter, they have to have that welcoming personality,” he explains.

“When I hire employees, I say, ‘When you go and get fast food at a McDonald’s, how’s the experience? How do they treat you?’

“Then walk into a Chick-fil-A. What do they say? ‘Thank you.’ What do they say after you place your order? ‘My pleasure.’ It’s simple. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. People want to be treated nicely.”

Gray opened his first shop, a four-bay store, after working for another tire dealership.

“I always knew what I wanted to do. I worked on motorcycles and lawnmowers as a kid and I had a dream of owning my own business someday.”

He added a second store in 2008 as The Great Recession started - “the worst time in history” to launch a new location, he says.

“It was a corner gas station. We converted it and added eight bays to it. A year later, we added a store in Montgomery, Ala.”

Four years later, Gray acquired another tire dealership in Auburn, Ala. Business continued to flourish and he continued to add stores.

Operationally, Gray says he tries to keep things simple. He avoids stretching his resources and employees too thin. “You can’t be everything to everybody.”

He keeps a close eye on inventory, which he calls “our biggest expense.”

Pricing also is meticulously tracked and adjusted, when needed. “Just like Chick-fil-A, I don’t want to be the cheapest person in town and I don’t want to be the most expensive.

“There are people who are always going to want (expensive tires), but you have to be able to adjust quickly” when customers want to buy other products.

“We’ll do whatever it takes to capture the customer, but you have to be smart,” he says.

Showrooms and waiting areas at Gray’s Tire & Service Center stores are open, modern and inviting.

“A lot of our clients are women,” who expect a premium retail experience, he says.

“When they walk in, you want them to say, ‘Wow! This store’s clean. It looks good. It smells good. The waiting room is huge.’ Image is everything.”

In Gray’s experience, when dealing with today’s customer, “you better be on your A game. It’s your people and your culture. If you don’t have that, you’re flying by the seat of your pants.”

About the Author

Mike Manges | Editor

Mike Manges is Modern Tire Dealer’s editor. A 25-year tire industry veteran, he is a three-time International Automotive Media Association award winner and holds a Gold Award from the Association of Automotive Publication Editors. Mike has traveled the world in pursuit of stories that will help independent tire dealers move their businesses forward. Before rejoining MTD in September 2019, he held corporate communications positions at two Fortune 500 companies and served as MTD’s senior editor from 2000 to 2010.

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