“I never had a question in my mind about letting Mike into the business,” Boncarosky says of his son-in-law. “He wanted that and I knew he had some great ideas and skills. He and Julie have a lot of instincts, enthusiasm and abilities and they have done many impressive things.”
While Virginia Tire & Auto traditionally relied on direct mail and advertising in local newspapers and magazines to attract new customers, Julie was a big part of ushering in a shift to database marketing. Using existing customer information, Virginia Tire & Auto now sends holiday cards, plus factory maintenance, inspection and oil change reminders, as well as monthly e-mails to roughly 30,000 customers.
The dealership’s online presence also was revamped, with a website (vatire.com) redesign earlier this year and an increased focus on search engine optimization and social media, mainly Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn. “We also buy Google keywords and advertise on Angie’s List,” Julie says. “We take every opportunity to update Virginia Tire & Auto web listings on sites where consumers may search for auto repair or tires (RepairPal, AutoMD, Google Places, etc.), including our suppliers’ websites.”
This summer, the dealership also tried Living Social, offering area residents a complete vehicle inspection, oil change and tire rotation for $19.95. The offer was a success, with 1,500 deals sold.
Up until 2007, the business functioned as separate locations, each operating under its own trade name, like Centre-ville Automotive, for example. To create a stronger presence in the area, each store was rebranded as Virginia Tire & Auto, a change that took about two years to fully complete.
In order to strengthen the Virginia Tire & Auto name and ensure the company’s high standards were being communicated to all employees and carried out for customers across the board, Boncarosky and his team invested heavily in corporate infrastructure, technology and processes to ensure a more cohesive, consistent experience. “From 2008 to 2010, we modernized or invested in point-of-sale, accounting, time and labor, and business intelligence systems so that each store uses identical processes and systems,” Julie wrote in Virginia Tire & Auto’s Top Shop entry.
The new infrastructure improved communication between employees and stores, as well as the timeliness and quality of information. Corporate personnel were added to improve and systemize hiring practices and employee training.
“It is now easier for customers to identify Virginia Tire & Auto,” Boncarosky says of the locations that now have a consistent look, with the company’s name and logo displayed more prominently. “I think they feel more comfortable with the credibility of Virginia Tire & Auto.”
Out of its 341 full-time and 69 part-time employees, more than 50 have been with Virginia Tire & Auto for 10-plus years – a sign that staff is treated well and given room to grow. And while the dealership now sees the second generation of many customers’ families, it also counts the sons and daughters of loyal employees among its ranks, as well as a handful of happily married couples.
Myron, who visits each location once a week, knows all employees by name and greets them with a smile and a handshake. Further proof of the employees-as-family mindset of the organization is John Miller, store manager of the Centreville location, who personally thanks each of his employees and gives them a hug or handshake on paydays.
The dealership offers its own training for new employees, in addition to manufacturer training, customer service/sales and telephone training, and a host of technical training. Of particular success have been sales and store manager “Boot Camp” sessions that feature hands-on training and simulated practice exercises. In addition, salespeople undergo a four-hour program on telephone skills to learn how to better communicate with customers.
“Virginia Tire & Auto pays for all training classes deemed beneficial for an employee in their continued growth with our company,” Julie wrote in the entry materials. “We interpret this very loosely so as to enroll as many of our employees in training programs as are interested.” As a result, the dealership’s techs have over 185 individual ASE certifications.
Employees are mentored and moved to positions that best fit their abilities and personalities. And open positions, when possible, are filled from within by a promotion, Boncarosky says. “You’re forced to grow a business in order to keep people,” he explains. “If you hire a general tech and never give them the opportunity for growth, they aren’t going to remain satisfied and they won’t stay long. You have to mentor them and encourage them to grow, and then provide an opportunity for them to do so.”
“If employees aren’t happy, they won’t be able to handle customers to the best of their ability,” Mike adds.
Boncarosky has formed partner relationships with four Virginia Tire & Auto location managers, offering them the opportunity to buy into their respective location and have a greater say in that shop’s profits and operations. But partner or not, each location manager has control over hiring and day-to-day operations of his shop. Quarterly meetings are held between all managers, as well as more frequent conference calls, to ensure all ideas, problems and key information are shared.
Community and Customers First
Customers at all locations can expect honest, prompt service. Most waiting areas have a large window into the service bays, so they can watch while cars are being worked on. That level of transparency, in addition to doing whatever it takes to correct any perceived problems, helps build a sense of trust, Julie says.
“We build relationships with our customers and if a mistake is made, we go out of our way to make things right with the customer,” she adds. “We often say, ‘You don’t know how good we are until something goes wrong.’ Integrity is at the heart of everything we do and customers know that.”
Customer waiting rooms feature Wi-Fi or computer workstations, TVs, complimentary refreshments, a children’s play area and up-to-date reading materials. Each location has a dedicated shuttle driver, and select locations offer loaner vehicles.
One thing that sets Virginia Tire & Auto apart is the quick lube and state inspection lanes at many of its locations. These lanes feature digital curbside check-in and are designed for customer convenience. The Gainesville location even offers extended hours – 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. – for state safety and emissions inspections, so customers can come before or after work.
Customer feedback is encouraged via social media and the dealership’s website. In addition, 50 customers are called each month and offered a brief survey, and customers are sent a thank you e-mail after each visit. Any customer problems or concerns go directly to Boncarosky, Mike and that location’s manager for fast resolution. “Getting that feedback empowers managers to correct the situation and adapt processes from there on out,” Mike notes.
Another way of connecting with customers – both existing and potential ones – is through community interaction. Managers are able to choose particular causes they’d like their locations to support, running the gamut from churches to schools to community sports and neighborhood events. In addition, for more than 10 years the company as a whole has maintained Calamo Park in Springfield, Va., as a gift to the community – a deed that costs roughly $15,000 each year.
And through the participation of all locations, Virginia Tire & Auto has undertaken some much larger projects – many of which benefit the U.S. armed forces, since there’s a strong military presence in the surrounding communities.
Earlier this year, the dealership teamed up with Any Soldier to collect donations of goods to send to military members stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Items collected at all 11 locations were enough to fill 115 care packages. “So many of our customers and employees come from military families that we felt sending care packages to our troops would be a great way to give back to our community while thanking the brave men and women who are sacrificing everything to serve our country overseas,” Julie says.
In August, the company’s South Riding location served as a stop during Crossing of America, a 12,700-mile journey across the U.S. to honor wounded troops, fallen soldiers and their families. For the stop, Virginia Tire & Auto held a rally and presented a check for $1,000 to the Spirit of Liberty Foundation, which organized the event, in honor of local fallen hero Sgt. Sean Callahan, 23, a former employee and Marine recently killed in Afghanistan.
The newest dealership-wide charitable cause the business plans to undertake is “Wheels for Work,” which provides reliable transportation so lower income community members can get to their jobs.
“Instead of just making donations to a cause, we wanted to participate in something in which we could use our skills and resources to personally make a difference,” Julie says, adding that individuals can apply on Virginia Tire & Auto’s website under the “community” tab.
“We want to be part of the communities where our customers live and work,” she adds. “They have supported us all these years and we’re proud to return that service.”
And it’s that sense of pride and duty – for the community, for family, for employees and for customers – that makes Virginia Tire & Auto worthy of the title of 2011 Tire Review Top Shop Winner.
In Their Words
As paramount as family and employees are to 2011 Tire Review Top Shop winner Virginia Tire & Auto, perhaps no one can tell the dealership’s story better than those who are a part of it.
“I like constantly trying to do the absolute best we can – and you can see our people pride themselves on a job well done. That’s their store, where they spend their time. They’re there early, making the best decisions. Their standards are higher than anything you could ever put in a manual.”
–Myron Boncarosky, president
“People don’t like getting their vehicles serviced; they treat it as a necessary evil. I’d like to think we can be that place where people want to go, where they don’t dread having to visit.”
–Marty Kelliher, managing partner, Ashburn location
“Management really cares about helping employees. Everyone has to work for a living – we want this to be a facility where people want to come to work.”
–Dave Wishnow, store manager, Cascades location
“This company was built on personal relationships and that’s what draws people here and keeps them here.”
–Kris Crouch, controller, Fairfax corporate office
“Myron is a person who never gives up. He’s very hard-working and he believes in perfection. Whether it’s a tire repair or a major job, they are all important to him.”
–John Miller, store manager, Centreville location
“Each market is different, each manager’s style is different and the culture of each location is a little different. So having the freedom to operate locations differently is a great benefit.”
–Keith Roscoe, general manager, Gainesville location
“Here there is no cap on technician training. There’s an inherent risk that if you train techs they’ll take their talents somewhere else. But if they’re happy and you provide them with opportunities, they
–Alan Wietz, store manager, South Riding location
For a better look at Virginia Tire & Auto, visit Tire Review’s exclusive Facebook photo album from the 2011 Top Shop Award.