Anyone watching Indy Tire Center’s Top Shop Award entry video pitch will quickly gain insight into what makes the chain successful.
The embracing lyrics and folksy sound of Phillip Phillips’ ubiquitous hit, “Home,” is the soundtrack to a long string of employee photos, captioned with such bond-forming tidbits as their favorite movies or quotes or nicknames. It’s all about having a human touch. And this Indianapolis-based Finalist in the 2015 Tire Review Top Shop Award, presented by Ammco/Coats, clearly prioritizes people, whether it is the dealership’s 111 employees or its retail and commercial customers. In both cases, Indy Tire, like Phillips, wants to “make this place your home.”
But how does the 29-year-old dealership accomplish that, to the proverbial tune of $30 million in sales last year? Partly by adding that human element to most of the business decisions made in its nine retail and two commercial locations. Behind many of its strategies – whether in merchandising, customer service, community involvement, corporate achievement or technical expertise – is an interpersonal approach. Ultimately, that’s what makes Indy Tire feel like home, instilling loyalty in its staff as well as its customers.
Built From People
While Indy Tire’s theme is “We are your local, knowledgeable experts in total car care,” and its motto “Official sponsor of peace of mind,” those catch phrases get particularly personal when a customer walks through a location’s door. Scott McKenzie, corporate partner and vice president of Indy’s commercial division, says employees – “team members” – are the company’s first impression, its brand and its best form of advertising. For that reason they’re treated personally, so they can in turn appropriately represent the company by treating customers personally.
“First off, we hire the right people, who believe in hard work, servicing the public and living with passion, honesty and integrity,” McKenzie adds. “After that we provide them with the necessary tools to represent Indy Tire. Our tools are, of course, our branded uniforms, but also polos and t-shirts that emphasize teamwork and our local sports-team involvement. Another is open dialogue, or an open-door policy, between team members and management. We constantly engage with our team members to ensure they are happy.
“We invest in our team through continuous industry training and education, rewarding for healthy lifestyles – like weight management and deciding to stop smoking – team member appreciation parties, regular acknowledgments of jobs well done, and team cookouts at stores to show appreciation,” he says. “And each month, during manager-and-assistant-manager meetings, we acknowledge and praise stores and team members for various things such as hitting goals, positive attitudes and jobs well done on monthly mystery-shopper phone calls.”
Second to Indy Tire’s team members in representing the company are its showrooms, which also deliberately display a human touch. McKenzie says “proud sponsor” decals on front doors show the dealership’s support for local sports teams, while branded tire inserts reassure customers with Indy Tire’s “peace of mind” motto. “Through a brainstorming session with our management, the question was asked, ‘What makes us stand out from the competition?’” he explains. “Whether it’s our certified technicians, knowledgeable staff, customer service or even our road-hazard protection plan, we offer peace of mind.”
Similarly people-oriented concepts are conveyed through such marketing tools as billboards highlighting customer testimonials and television commercials featuring employees, fundraising efforts and Indianapolis Colts left tackle Anthony Castonzo as a particular public draw.
“We reached out to the Colts and inquired about athletes who were available to partner on a fundraising level with the understanding that no money would be exchanged,” McKenzie says. “But we would raise a certain amount of money for a mutually agreed-upon charity. Since Riley Hospital for Children had been our selected charity for many years, we obviously wanted to find an athlete who also supported this charity. Castonzo appeared on the list and, after doing some research, we discovered that he too was very involved with Riley Hospital. We approached him, he agreed and it has been a perfect match ever since.”
Indy Tire also uses social media to promote fundraising efforts, post tire-oriented educational information and give back to customers through contests. Sales and promotions actually are secondary to these functions in Indy’s cyberspace. “We have an in-house marketing and brand director,” McKenzie explains, “who handles all aspects of our media, public relations, community outreach and more. Being able to afford her is something we know we have to do to remain top-of-mind. So, for us, we just make it happen.”
Given Indy Tire’s personal approach, it’s no surprise that the company claims “Customer service is why we exist,” and that “We are in the people business.”
“Our mission is simple: creating raving fans.” Indy Tire’s Top Shop Award entry form also declares that Indy Tire co-founder the late Paul Zurcher’s list of “Nine Commitments” helps the company accomplish that. Those commitments are:
• To seek God’s friendship, fellowship and guidance
• To develop effective relationships
• To treat everyone with honor,
love, dignity and respect
• To be self-disciplined and self- controlled
• To do the right things right
• To be a positive, enthusiastic and passionate person
• To never compromise integrity
• To plan for tomorrow today, and
• To live life now, and live it wide open
The list is visible in team common areas on posters and is handed out to employees on business cards. Its message manifests every time a team member acknowledges a customer by first name, drives a waiting customer home during service, or offers support to, or sponsorship of, customers’ involvement in local charities or organizations.
“Our team mem-bers are a strong driving force behind our charitable contributions,” McKenzie explains. “If a team member has a charity or organization that is near and dear to their heart, we will support it. And if a loyal customer has a request, we will often donate gift certificates to help their charity or group.”
But how does Indy Tire ensure that employees participate in making the company a “people business”?
“Through monthly meetings, the frequency and consistency of the meetings and, in today’s market, stressing that it’s the level of service that sets us apart from the competition,” McKenzie says.
Plus, employees receive continuous training in the forms of TIA tire technician training, ASE training and certification, John Maxwell Leadership Training and Best-One Leadership Development.
Giving Back, Giving More
For Indy Tire, customer service virtually overlaps community involvement, with the community being a collection of its customers. Its tradition of giving back began in the early 1990s, when co-founder Dennis Dickson worked with a local tennis tournament donating to the aforementioned Riley Hospital for Children. Dickson continued to donate to Riley Hospital annually. And when the Best-One Midwestern dealership group started its “Caps 4 A Cause” program in 2010, wherein various brightly colored valve-stem caps are sold to represent and support different charities, member Indy Tire chose the hospital as its beneficiary.
Not only did Indy raise $2,500 for the hospital through the Caps program in 2011, but in 2013 bolstered its involvement with Riley Hospital by partnering with the Colts’ Castonzo. That arrangement soon became the focus of Indy Tire’s marketing campaign, and grew to include a prize wheel that Indy Tire takes to local events and Colts home games as well as sponsorship of 20 children at Pro Camps hosted by the Colts.
Other community-service programs in which Indy is involved include a Batman-oriented Superhero Night benefiting Riley Hospital at Indianapolis Indian minor league baseball games; an annual golf outing benefiting the local Multiple Sclerosis Society; and customer appreciation nights offering free vehicle inspections and giveaways.
Donations to Riley Hospital alone have totaled more than $100,000 since Indy Tire’s involvement began in the 1990s.
Built From Spare Parts
When asked about the company’s achievements, Indy Tire staffers refer to the dealership’s growth itself as its crowning accomplishment.
The company began in 1986, when founders took over a struggling, 15,000-square-foot Firestone Truck Tire Center. A year later Indy Tire moved across town when the property owner sold the building, forcing the dealership into an even smaller space and worsening working conditions.
But in 1988 the truck tire center acquired a retail store with enough capacity to merge the two. That’s when Indy Tire was ready for growth, and three years later it bought eight Indianapolis-area General Tire stores.
“Merging the two initial stores made complete sense from a financial perspective,” McKenzie says. “We were able to lower our operating expense, which put us in a better profit position. General Tire approached us as a motivated seller as they were divesting themselves of all of their stores across the U.S. They presented us with very favorable terms and conditions.”
But fast growth presented challenges, including going from 10 to 90 employees and shifting from a strong commercial presence to a focus on both commercial and retail growth.
“Having a strategic approach was key,” McKenzie says. “Dividing up operations and wholesale, retail and commercial responsibilities among the three partners helped with the transition. They each made sure that their divisions were in order and running the Indy Tire way.”
Other challenges included things as minor as learning a new phone system and as significant as learning new computer programs to control A/R, A/P and inventory in multiple stores. A human resources program had to be created for the new level of employees, as well as to empower staffers at outlying locations.
“We realized we needed a team member dedicated solely to human resources,” McKenzie says. “We wanted to ensure not only that Indy Tire was compliant with programs, but also that all of our teammates were informed so they could make the best decisions when it comes to health care and other benefits.
“We encourage employees in outlying locations to make their own decisions about building their team,” he adds. “They are responsible for finding and hiring the right people when it comes to general service and technicians. We also make sure they are heavily involved regarding hiring management. They all have their own management style when it comes to developing teamwork.”
After a new 106,000-square-foot facility was built to house Indy Tire’s commercial division, warehouse, corporate offices and a Bandag retread plant, challenges once again presented themselves. “The most important part was transitioning the inventory to the new location,” McKenzie says. “We needed to make sure that it was accessible at all times. We wanted to be sure that the customers were impacted as little as possible.”
Then, in 2010, Indy Tire management realized its most profitable retail location had reached its maximum potential due to bay space limitations. So, the company built a new state-of-the-art retail center across from the old one that would serve as a model for future locations.
“We have reinvested in our showrooms, enhancing our TVs, chairs and beverage stations to create a very comfortable feel for the customer,” McKenzie says. “And keeping up to date with equipment allows us to provide better reporting to the customer and complete work with a higher-quality result.”
Indy Tire has been successful enough in reaching its goals that management expects to add more retail locations in the near future.
A personal approach, however, would be meaningless if Indy didn’t have technical chops. A simple look at the company’s list of completed educational programs and training sessions suggests that it does.
Indy Tire offers its techs ASE and TIA certification, and even has in-house TIA instructors for both automotive and commercial tire service training. The company brings in manufacturer- and vendor-based training programs including those from Valvoline, Myers Tire Supply and Hunter Engineering. And it has sent commercial sales reps to the training facilities of manufacturers including Bridgestone Americas, Michelin North America and Continental Tire the Americas.
Meanwhile, management staffers have gone through the aforementioned John Maxwell Leadership Training program, which enhances day-to-day leadership skills as well as those that are forward thinking.
Indy Tire also offers its commercial truck service customers educational retread plant tours, TIA training for their technicians and customer-appreciation events.
“The partners have been intentional about leadership,” McKenzie says. “They have focused on understanding that while intentions may always be good, it’s the perception of their words and actions that really matter.”
Making This Place Your Home
At a time when mom-and-pop tire shops are increasingly being acquired by national chains, Indy Tire has remained locally owned, managed and operated. It continues to give back to the local community. And it has made an effort to treat its employees and customers with a personal touch. In those respects, Indy Tire has become much like a home – a place where people can feel comfortable, safe and valued.
“Being a member of Best-One, with more than 250 locations, allows us to maintain a grassroots culture with our customers while having the benefits shared by some national chains,” McKenzie explains.
“We also believe in an open-door policy and, having this put in place, our team members feel that they are part of this company. Whether it’s good, bad or ugly, we want to hear from our team members. We discuss things such as opportunities for growth, ways to be better leaders, ways to improve customer-service skills, team-building opportunities and other topics that just make our team members and stores better.”
“We never allow ourselves to forget that we’re in the people bus-iness,” says Indy Tire’s Top Shop Award entry form. “We have been creating fans longer than Facebook – fans internally and externally. They’re our team members, their families, our customers, the communities where we live and work, and the numerous local organizations over the years that we’ve been able to help through monetary donations as well as our time.
“To us, that’s innovative – and that’s what sets us apart from others in our industry.”