Flexibility, 'Knowing Limitations' Helps Robbins & Franke Thrive

June 9, 2022

Robbins & Franke Tires & Auto Repair in Cliffside Park, N.J., is a multi-generational dealership when it comes to its owners, employees and customers. 

A huge factor in the longevity of the dealership is its consistency. 

Robbins & Franke has been in business for 70 years, opening in 1952. Robert Knaack and Mike O’Shea are its owners. (Knaack is a third-generation owner. O’Shea is a second-generation owner.) 

O’Shea started working at the dealership in 1975. Knaack started working there in 1989, when he was 14 years old. “It’s a rite of passage,” says Knaack. “You’re just born into it.” 

Knaack says he didn’t have any intention of taking over the business and went away for college. After college, he had job interviews lined up, but they ultimately fell through. 

“My father said, ‘What are you doing? You’ve got to come back to the business.’ I graduated college on a Saturday and came into work that Monday.” 

Bustling location

Robbins & Franke is three miles south of the George Washington Bridge, which takes motorists from New Jersey right into Manhattan. Being the largest New York City borough, Manhattan brings in a lot of customers for the dealership.

Knaack estimates there are about half a million people living within a 10-mile radius of his store. He says his company also sees a lot of action because there are not a lot of retail tire outlets in Manhattan. 

For many motorists on the island, Robbins & Franke becomes the default option. “If someone searches for a specific tire, Robbins & Franke will pop up because we are so close to Manhattan and in the middle of everything,” says Knaack. 

Robbins & Franke has a very diverse range of customers because of its location. “The area we are in is a huge melting pot that ranges from first-generation immigrants to millionaire Wall Street bankers,” says Knaack. 

Tradition and change

Knaack and O’Shea say digital technology has changed their approach to business. Robbins & Franke lists its inventory online and has started to test social media. 

The company recently moved to online billing for its customers, which was a new service. Now, instead of handwritten bills, customers receive their bills via text message with a link to leave a review of the dealership. 

Knaack acknowledges that 99% of the reviews customers provide are positive. 

Robbins & Franke is a busy dealership, servicing about 60 cars a day. In addition to tires, it provides other services, including oil changes, brake work, wheel alignments and batteries — all of which have been offered since the company opened. (The dealership is one of the oldest Hercules brand dealers in the country. It started selling Hercules products in 1960.) 

Knaack says the biggest challenge in his business is that every car is different. He explains that years ago, there were only a few tire sizes, four different oil filters and three different sets of brake pads. Now, there are hundreds of each. 

“Supply chain issues and trying to match up original equipment tires on new vehicles can be an absolute nightmare,” he says. 

The dealership’s main competitors, big chain stores, can’t compete with the service that Robbins & Franke is able to provide to customers, according to Knaack. Customers know all of the company’s 16 employees on a first-name basis, he says. 

One of the dealership’s biggest successes, according to Knaack, is keeping a high employee retention rate. “I believe the ‘new guy’ at our store has been here for about 12 years now.” 

Knaack tells the story of hiring a young man a couple of years ago. Customers were intrigued. “I was probably asked 30 times who this new guy was. Things don’t really change here.” 

Even though employees are knowledgeable enough to jump from one job to another, each person has their own defined role.

 And Knaack, who works about 60 hours a week, has contact with almost every customer who walks through the door. 

He believes this one-on-one communication with customers is another thing that sets Robbins & Franke apart from chain stores. 

Knaack says he and his employees treat their customers the way they would want to be treated and go above and beyond in taking care of them. 

Another secret to Robbins & Franke’s success is “knowing our limitations,” says Knaack. “We stick to what we know best. We are really good at tires. We are really good at wheel alignments.” 

The unpredictability of COVID-19 also created some changes for Robbins & Franke. The no-contact protocols that were put in place during the peak of the pandemic have stuck around, but in a more relaxed way. 

For example, Robbins & Franke communicates with and schedules customers online more often than before COVID-19. 

Knaack believes another positive that came from COVID-19 is that the tide is turning when it comes to box stores and auto service chains in his market. “People want to deal with people whom they know and they know if there is a problem it will get taken care of right away — correctly,” he says. 

‘Everyday is Monday’

“I like to use the term, ‘Everyday is Monday,’” Knaack says when asked about the future of Robbins & Franke. 

Knaack and his team believe in taking everything one day at a time, so each day is a new start. They stay on their toes and anticipate anything that comes their way. 

The dealership’s longevity fills Knaack and his team with a sense of pride and fulfillment. 

“Robbins & Franke is only as good as our last quarter,” says Knaack. “We are always striving to do better.” 

About the Author

Madison Gehring | Associate Editor

Madison Gehring is Modern Tire Dealer's associate editor. A graduate of Ohio State University, Gehring holds a bachelors degree in journalism. During her time at Ohio State, she wrote for the university's student-run newspaper, The Lantern, and interned at CityScene Media Group in Columbus, Ohio.