the oldest family-owned tire and auto repair facility in Chapel Hill,
Carrboro and Chatham County, North Carolina, Chapel Hill Tire Car Care
Center greets customers by their first names and sends them out the
door with a friendly smile.
Although the business prides itself on old-fashioned values with regard
to customer relationships, each shop location is up to date on the
latest industry technology and offers a variety of services to its
customers. What was once a single store founded in 1953 has become a
chain of three shops that house 44 employees and earned $5.1 million in
gross sales in 2006.
Owned by Marc Pons, as well as his brother, Britt, and sister, Neill
Bellamy, Chapel Hill Tire is 75% service-based and 25% tire
sales-based, offering customers a choice between Kumho, Cooper,
Uniroyal, Pirelli and Michelin.
“We try to be the best in our area,” Marc stresses. “We work hard to
make ourselves stand out from the competition with our convenience,
professionalism and trust.”
Being the best is one key reason why Chapel Hill Tire Car Care Center
was a Top Shop Award Finalist. But the road to success wasn’t always
pothole-free, Marc says.
His father, Al Pons, bought Chapel Hill Tire in 1964 from its founder,
Sion Jennings, and successfully built up and ran the business for over
30 years. Both Al and the shop became town fixtures, Marc says.
Because he didn’t want to work at the dealership and be pegged as “the
boss’ son,” Marc went in another direction. After completing college,
he moved to New York City and worked for Chase Manhattan Bank. He was
three years out of college when his father died unexpectedly in
December 1996. Marc immediately knew that he’d move back home to join
Britt in the business, and honor their father’s memory by keeping alive
the business that he had loved and that had always provided for their
Thrown into a business he knew nothing about, Marc, then all of 26,
struggled to earn respect and learn to manage others. Thanks to a
hard-working and respectful attitude, plus the guidance of two of his
father’s former employees who had previously moved on to open their own
shops, Marc began grasping the financial and managerial issues of
owning his own company. And although some employees left while Chapel
Hill Tire went through the transition, many waited it out and still
work for the company today, he says.
“My father had a big personality and he was larger than life,” Marc
recounts. “To this day, people still come into the store and say nice
things about him and that they still miss him. I knew there was no way
I could measure up to him.”
He notes the keys to his success have been to sell his vision and get
all the employees to start looking forward while still being true to
Chapel Hill Tire’s past.
A large part of looking forward has been to keep staff trained on the
ever-changing industry technology. All full-time employees are required
to obtain 40 hours of training per year. As of August, over 860
cumulative training hours
had been completed in 2007, including two weeklong trips, one for a
service advisor to attend an advanced selling skills class and another
for a technician to attend an air conditioning course. Another
technician is scheduled to attend a weeklong brake course at the
Raybestos headquarters in Chicago, Marc says.
The More Things Change...
“I’m paranoid that we will become antiquated,” he says. “That’s because
things are changing so fast in the industry now. It’s just like any
other industry, technology is coming and going, and before you even get
a grip on last year’s thing, this year’s thing comes along. What’s
essential to staying competitive is having a culture of learning, a
culture that embraces these things and wants to tackle them.”
Aside from a culture of learning, Chapel Hill Tire’s staff prides
itself on several other key business values trust, professionalism
and remaining true to the community. The company’s values statement is
extensive, but hinges on honesty, quality service, improvement and
treating people with the utmost respect, Marc says.
Dozens of customer testimonials back up his statement and recall
instances when Chapel Hill Tire employees lent a courteous, helping
hand, sometimes refusing to accept money and at other times going out
of their way to provide an extra service.
Marc explains that no matter how much technology and computers will
change the world, people will always choose a tire and automotive
service provider based on personal interaction and trust.
“We’re not pushy,” he says. “We’re professional and courteous. We go
out of our way to be very conscious of people’s time, like with our
shuttle vans and appointments. We are numbers-focused and intense in
the financial area, but at the end of the day, what it really comes
down to is the relationships with our customers.”
Chapel Hill Tire is as equally focused on earning the trust of new
customers as it is in retaining its relationships with established
“New customers don’t come at the expense of serving old customers,”
Marc says. “If that happens, we’re not doing something right. We want
to continue to grow and build for families, and that means accepting
Through a marketing program that involves advertisements, discounts and
coupons, a referral program and the promise of convenience, the shops
are continually gaining new customers. Their target customers are
females between the ages of 30 and 60 with an average annual household
income of between $75,000 and $150,000.
“We had some strategy sessions a few years ago, where we worked with a
consultant,” Marc explains. “It just came to the fact that those
customers are the ones we enjoy serving the most.”
Because of the showroom designs, marketing and the way the staff
approaches people, women are very comfortable at Chapel Hill Tire.
Females make up at least 60% of the customer base.
“It all has to do with the interaction,” Marc says. “We’ve never been
accused of talking down to female customers or treating them
The company’s promise of convenience encompasses many aspects, one of
which is the location of each of the three shops in downtown Chapel
Hill, downtown Carrboro and a location in the fast-growing part of
southern Chapel Hill. They take both waiting and drop-off appointments
for quick services like rotations, new tires, alignments, oil changes
and state inspections. More time-intensive repairs can be scheduled for
drop off and pick up by the end of the day, and each branch offers a
complimentary shuttle service. Each week, the company sends out
700-plus mail and e-mail appointment reminders, he says.
To build a trusting customer base, Chapel Hill Tire backs up its
services with guarantees. All tire sales include free rotations and
flat tire repairs for life, as well as complimentary road hazard
service that covers the first 2/32nds of tread wear. All parts carry a
two-year/24,000 mile warranty, which Marc says is twice as long as any
dealership in the area.
After each job is completed, one of the owners places a follow-up phone
call to customers to ask whether they were pleased with the
friendliness and timeliness of their experience and if they were
satisfied enough to recommend the shop to a friend, he says.
As a well-known fixture in the community, Chapel Hill Tire is a member
of several local organizations, including the Independent Garage Owners
of North Carolina, the Chapel Hill Carrboro Chamber of Commerce, the
chamber’s Economic Development Committee and AAA of North Carolina,
among many, many others.
Each year the company chooses a few nonprofit organizations to support,
often involving children or causes for which employees feel a passion.
The shop has been a silver sponsor of the American Cancer Society’s
Relay for Life for two years, and a group of employees walked in the
event and sold refreshments to raise even more money this year. They
also donated funds twice to the Carrboro Arts Center’s Youth Performing
Arts Conservatory and recently began their fourth consecutive year with
Uniroyal’s soccer ball giveaway program. Because of Chapel Hill’s
involvement, children in two local soccer leagues will receive free
soccer balls, Marc says.
“Giving to the community is our heritage,” he explains. “It’s something
we’ve done for such a long time. We want to give back as a way of
showing our appreciation for the success we’ve had.”
That success is tangible, considering the company had one location in
1996 with revenue of $1.5 million, and is aiming for a sales record of
$5.5 million this year from its three shops. Additionally, land has
already been purchased for a fourth location and the company is
negotiating a land deal for a fifth store. The 10-year goal is to have
seven stores in operation with total annual sales of $14 million, Marc
Considering all the struggles his family overcame to get Chapel Hill
Tire where it is today, Marc is glad he rose to the challenge.
“I definitely feel like it’s one of those really, really hard things
that happens to you in life that when you come through it, you come out
a better person,” he says. “I’m a better person for it.”