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Okla. Dealer Expands from Within by Offering Added Merchandise

June 13, 2011
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For Jackie Cooper Tire and Service Centers of Oklahoma City, growth hasn't come from regularly opening new tire stores, but from expanding the product mix over the years to include mobile sound systems, car alarms, remote start and window tinting.
And when the company says it offers wireless, that doesn’t mean WiFi in the showrooms, but a whole chain of AT&T wireless phone stores operated under the Cooper banner.

The Cooper Journey
The “Cooper Quality” success story began 44 years ago, when Don Chaffin partnered with Jackie Cooper – not the late child actor of the 1930s, but a local car dealer – to open a shop to sell tires and full automotive service. Chaffin was a born salesman, and believed he and his employees could sell anything.

Beginning in the 1970s, Cooper Tire jumped on the latest trends by offering CB radios, car stereo installation, big screen (projection) TVs, rear window louvers, spray-on truck bedliners, pagers and pager airtime (at its peak, the company had 20,000 pager customers) – and cellular phones. Some of the sideline products became a major part of the business, so that’s why signs announcing “Jackie Cooper Tire and Electronics” started appearing on the tire and service centers.

Although the two businesses share one building, two separate show rooms and two separate sales staffs are maintained. Getting into the cell phone business turned out to be a good move, too. Signs stating “AT&T Authorized Retailer” went up next to “tires and electronics,” and soon, five stand-alone AT&T wireless stores were opened. Gross sales in 2009 were more than $14 million.

“The business is run as three separate entities,” says Don’s son, Donnie Chaffin, 49, who now co-owns the operation with his sister, Jill. “Tires and service, mobile electronics and wireless are all under the same management team,” Donnie explains. “Electronics and wireless are the bigger part of the business now, but the tires and service division is still the backbone, the foundation, and it has a very loyal customer base.”

Donnie has seen this customer loyalty develop since he was a teenager working part-time at the shop. And he has watched that loyalty grow since he got involved in the business full-time at age 18 and through all the transitions since. “We want to be sure our customers leave here extremely happy, and I think that’s the reason we’ve been so successful the past 44 years,” he notes.

Growing Stronger, Not Larger
The loyal customers are enough to support three tire stores around Oklahoma City. Actually, for the moment, there are just two tire and electronics stores: the third store is moving, but the new location has yet to be decided.
Meanwhile, customers are given incentives to go to the other stores, both of which have been remodeled since last year, including the main store on the second busiest intersection in town.

Donnie points out that having more stores is not necessarily an advantage. “About 25 years ago, we had five smaller stores that morphed into three bigger stores at better locations.”

New Media, Marketing
Of course, the customer base is aging, so the company is relying heavily on social media to help it reach younger families and 20-somethings. “We’re trying to utilize social media and trying to figure out how to make it work best for us,” Donnie says. The company has developed Facebook and Twitter pages for both the tire and electronics businesses and does numerous promotions to grow its fan base. “We do giveaways where the first 10 people to upload pictures of their car sound system, for example, get entered into a contest,” Donnie explains. “Then fans of our page can vote, and whoever gets the most votes gets a $500 gift certificate from us.” In one weekend contest, the shop was able to add 300 people to its fan base.

“Advertising has changed so much, especially in the last year with social media becoming a big part of our business – and our website, we constantly have to update and change that,” Donnie says. He credits his sister, Jill, for her help with that task. After graduating from the University of Oklahoma, she came to work part-time in the family business in accounting, and became more involved after their father died in 2009. Jill is also responsible for the upgrades to the waiting room décor and improvements to the restrooms. “We try to appeal to female customers and make them feel very comfortable when they come into our stores,” Donnie explains. “And we try to keep our showrooms spotless. We’re the best in Oklahoma City, based on what our vendors tell us.”

Recognize Employees
In addition to customer loyalty, Donnie is grateful for loyal employees. “The average length of time an employee has been with us is 14 years,” he points out. Of the 55 full-time employees, 25 are in tires and auto service; the rest work in the electronics business. He explains the company has always taken great pride in keeping its employees a long time, and says the retention strategy is fairly simple.

“Once we get those good employees, we make sure to pay them enough money so they won’t be hired away by the competition. We always treat them with the utmost respect, so we haven’t had much turnover,” he says.

Employees also get a lot of recognition. The company gives its “212 Award” every month, so named because 212˚F is the temperature at which water boils. “It’s all about going that one extra step, that one extra degree in service or attitude,” says Donnie. The award includes a company-wide announcement and cash.

The Don Chaffin Customer Service Award is given yearly to the employee demonstrating the best example of the exemplary customer service he would have provided. A similar award is community-minded. A Don Chaffin scholarship of $1,000 is presented yearly to a Univer­sity of Oklahoma student who best represents that same spirit of “going the extra mile.”

Customer Care
Donnie’s advice to other tire dealers is based on his own experience. “We make sure our customers’ experience at our store is the best experience they

will have that day. A lot of things have changed throughout the years, but one that has not changed is taking care of your customers. Make them feel that they are the most important thing to your business at that moment. Always be honest and fair and never mislead your customers. If you do that, they’ll stay around.”