3 Questions With Burt Brothers Tire & Service

March 12, 2021

Thirty years ago, two brothers opened a tire store in Utah. In 2019, the second generation took over and those brothers’ five sons are months away from opening store No. 14.

Over the decades, Burt Brothers Tire & Service Inc. has grown into the largest independent tire dealership in the state, and Wendel Burt’s sons — Jake, Jeremy and Jason — along with Ron Burt’s sons — Brandon and Cory — are eager to keep that momentum going.

These five men have grown up in the business and have been part of its evolution. They embraced online tire sales and were early adopters of online pricing. They’ve opened a store dedicated to serving last-mile fleets. They’re focused on providing the ultimate customer expe- rience, whether that’s through online appointments, vehicle valet service or a thoughtful conversation on the telephone.

This new generation of Burts isn’t focused on job titles. Jason and Cory oversee store managers. Jake leads train- ing initiatives and employee onboarding. Jeremy takes the lead at the warehouse and with tire manufacturers’ programs, while Brandon serves as the liaison between stores and the dealership’s accounting department. They make decisions together.

They’re equal partners in the business, and if 2020 taught them anything, it’s that they need to be ready with all hands on deck — or in their specific case, all hands on the steering wheels of trucks to make twice-daily tire deliveries to their 13 stores.

MTD: You’re still relatively new business owners. How do you balance the legacy expectations of Burt Brothers Tire and what your father/uncle built and also make your own mark and make changes?

Jake Burt: Our whole lives our dads have taught us second generation businesses have a high percentage of failure. We may be new to being owners, but we’ve still been working in this business for over 20 years, so it really hasn’t been a super-dramatic shakeup for us.

We definitely want to make our own mark. It’s going to come from continuous success and carrying on what our fathers started over 30 years ago.

We’re not making huge changes that would upset our customers or employees. We’re actually making decisions to bet- ter our customer experience and our employees’ lives.

We’re really growing our business, try- ing to make it better and leave a legacy in our communities — to be more involved and give back to the communities that support us.

We started phone training right about when we took over. We realized it could definitely differentiate us from competi- tion in town and it really has set us apart. When you call one of the competitors in town and you call one of our stores, we definitely make the customer feel more comfortable. We take them out of the buying trance that they’re in and make a human interaction out of it.

We can arrive at the best decision for the customer and put them at ease that we know what we’re talking about. We’re familiar with our products. We stand behind our products. We have our price assurance policy. We won’t be undersold on any of our tires. We want their busi- ness. We want to be part of their car and service needs, so it’s one less thing they need to worry about.

Brandon Burt: It’s about not getting technical and not going functional — ‘What’s the year, make, model and tire size?’ — but having a good conversation with someone to find out what their needs are.

Jake Burt: Part of the process is asking if they’re already a Burt Brothers customer or if they’re a first-time customer. As we unravel that and discover the answer, (our) associates are trained to thank them for their existing business or thank them for the opportunity to earn their business. I think that’s been a big thing.

MTD: In what ways did COVID-19 change your business for the long term? How did it make you better?

Jason Burt: It definitely took its toll. From an internal perspective, our employees went through all sorts of different emotions, so we had to channel their emotions. We turned into full-fledged therapists for a while.

But the good news is we were essential through the whole thing. We never laid anybody off. We made the necessary adjustments to keep everybody employed. We know how hard it is and how much we invest in our people and in the training of our people. We’re not that company that dumps employees around Christmastime because it slows down and then hires a bunch of new people in March and April when business picks back up.

It did come with a reduction in hours, but let’s be clear on what’s a reduction. It means they went from working 55 to 45 hours a week. We thought of it as a way for people to refocus on making their home life right, in addition to still having a job and putting food on the table.

We made strides managing payroll and keeping people employed, while maintaining our focus on customers.

The rest of the world was leaning on COVID-19 as an excuse for customer service to get worse. We took that as an opportunity to be that much better. We’ve tried to focus our guys on ‘This is where we stay sharp. This is where we appreciate the fact that we’re essential and we need these customers more than we’ve ever needed them.’

It’s all about having a laser focus on goals and where you want to be. Just because COVID-19 exists doesn’t mean we should not shoot for where we want to be.

Cory Burt: People value their time more than anything, but one thing that has shifted is now they care about their health, as well. So we’ve incorporated doing more appointments. We’ve been kind of a ‘say yes’ company and we still are, but we’ve incorporated appointments along the way to help our customers.

Anytime we’re calling someplace to do business, we want to have an appointment and feel like the company we’re doing business with isn’t overloading themselves. I think the world itself is changing and people are changing. I think our sales staff and our staff in general realized, ‘If I’m not healthy at work, I’m not doing my job up to 100% and I could be infecting somebody else.’

As an ownership group, we’ve definitely communicated that to our people. If someone’s sick or has a family emergency, let’s be more forgiving of each other and say, ‘I’ll cover for you,’ knowing I might need that same coverage at some other time.

The auto industry can have that macho outlook. I think COVID-19 has definitely helped break that barrier down.

Jason Burt: We’re more realistic. If one guy is sick, we don’t want the next guy to be sick and then the next. We’d rather live without this one guy for a couple of days. COVID-19 really raised the awareness that I can infect somebody and I can do detriment to others by coming to work sick.

Cory Burt: About a third to half of our employees have been affected — either by being infected or having someone in their household infected with COVID-19.

It’s been really cool to see our people step up and help other stores. Our locations are geographically pretty close to each other and when one store has been short on staff, to see managers say, ‘I need some help’ ... to see the camaraderie between stores and their ability to help each other and work as a full team — rather than focusing on their individual stores — has been cool.

There was a time in November where almost every single person in our office and warehouse was affected by COVID-19.

Jeremy Burt: November was (Utah’s) worst COVID-19 month. And it was noticeable because we’re so busy.

Cory Burt: We distribute twice a day to our stores, so Jake, Jason and I were actually drivers, delivering product every day. I personally have never done that. We weren’t above hopping in a truck and driving product to our stores and trying to figure out where it goes. I think our people have followed that model of ‘Whatever needs to be done, I’m willing to do it.’

MTD: What’s your long-term plan and vision for the business?

Brandon Burt: We want to be a driving force in Utah. I don’t feel our long-term plan looks outside of the state, but we definitely want to grow our market in Utah.

There’s so much opportunity for us here, whether that’s through building new locations like our ground-up in Layton — opening later this spring — or acquiring existing companies. We’ve never done a multiple-store acquisition, but one guy here and there. And it’s been a great opportunity. Our dads have helped us create a great name and we want to keep that going.

Cory Burt: We’re actively looking to grow and we want to do it in the right way. The right way for us is whether it is a ground-up or whatever it is, we want to have the people trained and ready and willing to go open a new store.

One aspect is the money part of investing in it, but then there’s another part in training and getting people ready to work that store. One (thing) that everyone needs to know about us is if we’re going to do something, we’re going to do it right. We don’t want to be the guys who are growing too fast or too slow. When we open a new store, we don’t want that to be anyone’s first day on the job.

Our big thing is if you have aspirations to be something different, we want to help you get there. If you want to be a salesman or a mechanic, we want to facilitate you getting there. We want to give our employees the chance to be the best version of themselves. I feel like we’re doing that better than we’ve ever done before.

Jeremy Burt: We want people to know they’re not stuck. You can go as high as you want with Burt Brothers. You set the pace.

Brandon Burt: We don’t want to lose out on a good person, either, so we’ve tried to develop an improved HR process to create an opportunity for people to express that. There are tons of studies that have shown if people are involved in and excited about their job and see the path forward, they’re willing to stay.

We’ve got some tenured employees who have been with us for so long, they’re part of our family. They can see that we care about them and we want them to feel like they have a voice. We’ve had a lot of great ideas from people in our company.

About the Author

Joy Kopcha | Managing Editor

After more than a dozen years working as a newspaper reporter in Kansas, Indiana, and Pennsylvania, Joy Kopcha joined Modern Tire Dealer as senior editor in 2014. She has covered murder trials, a prison riot and more city council, county commission, and school board meetings than she cares to remember.