One co-owner is a retired professional baseball player for the San Francisco Giants. The other played college football for the University of Tulsa. And the chief financial officer was on Brigham Young University's football team.
It comes as no surprise, then, that Tate Boys Tire and Service runs like a winning sports franchise, from the motivational “practices” to the use of “trainers” to the distinctive “uniforms.” Craig and Chuck Tate clearly have turned their four Bartlesville, Okla.-based dealerships into a study in successful teamwork one that has earned the Tate Boys the title of 2011 Tire Review Top Shop Award Finalist.
“We love to hire people from athletic backgrounds because, in general, athletes will compete and understand the value of a team,” says Craig Tate, who bought the then-12-year-old business with brother, Chuck, from their father in 2000. “We have some very successful people within our team that don’t have athletic backgrounds, but we stress that we are only as strong as the whole team.”
So, when Tate Boys’ 58 full-time employees and nine part-timers don their red polo shirt uniforms and come to work, they’re in for an experience that requires discipline and plenty of regulations. But it’s all within a pep rally atmosphere that can be as enjoyable as it is motivating.
And, perhaps most importantly, it results in some great stats. For example: Last year, the company scored annual gross sales of $8.5 million.
“Discipline is key,” says Craig, the CEO. “We just want to make sure our employees do it right every time, with every customer.”
Move Over Vince Lombardi
If a company is only as strong as its team, the team is only as strong as its coaches. To that end, Craig and COO Chuck have immersed their employees in creeds and pledges and commandments and even “Field Passes” that could rival the coaching tools of John Wooden.
“I came up with the Customer Service Creed, Customer Service Pledge and Customer Service 10 Commandments,” Craig says. “It’s what we have always believed, but I thought it was important to put them down in writing. Every new employee is given a Field Pass that they have to carry on them every day. The Creed, Pledge and Commandments are on the pass, along with every procedure that we do.
“Our trainers get with the new employees and train them on every process and how we do things,” he explains. “Once they have successfully completed a process, they sign off, saying they know how to do it. When we’re in the stores, we ask for the Field Pass and make sure that they’ve been trained. It comes down to holding people accountable.”
What exactly is in those coaching tools? The things that apparently have turned Tate Boys customers into Tate Boys fans.
“Our customer deserves to be listened to,” the creed begins. “Our customer deserves our concern and empathy for his/her problem. Our customer deserves prompt, consistent and thorough communication. Our customer deserves value for his/her money.” Each of the items is elaborated upon in succession.
As for the pledge, it states, “I promise that I will live by the 20/10 rule,” detailing in playbook style that, “every time I walk within 20 feet of a customer, I will make eye contact and smile; every time I come within 10 feet, I will look them in the eye, smile and ask if I can help them. I promise that I will come to work every day ready to exceed our customers’ expectations and will be prepared for work with my ‘two bests,’ looking my best and armed with the best attitude. I promise that I will do right by the customer and by my co-workers at all times.”
Re-emphasizing those concepts and sometimes going beyond are the Commandments:
1) We always strive to exceed our customers’ expectations.
2) We will never try to take advantage of a customer.
3) We will always be truthful with our customers.
4) We will always honor our word to our customers.
5) We will always be appreciative to the customer.
6) We will always treat our customers fairly and with respect.
7) We will always strive to reduce internal expenses.
8) We will always treat all co-workers with respect and fairness.
9) Regardless of our price on a given day for a given product, we will always give better service to our customers than all of our competitors combined.
10) We will build and maintain forever a reputation for being honest, reliable and trustworthy in all of our dealings with our customers and suppliers.
Oh, and there’s a motto, too: “We are building customers for life.”
It may seem like a lot for employees to remember, let alone live up to. But, for the Tate Boys, it’s ultimately all about “winning.”
“It takes more than just a good product, clean store or quick service to keep a person coming back,” Craig explains. “It’s not always about having the lowest prices or the best commercials. It requires a personal commitment by all of our staff to go beyond what is expected to win a customer for life.
“Sometimes winning that customer means staying after closing time to provide needed service. Sometimes it means running across town to lend a hand to someone with car trouble. We pride ourselves on being quick to say yes and never to say no.”
But lest all the motivational speaking be perceived as mere cheerleading, the Tate Boys’ customer service is measured and analyzed.
“We have formed a Customer Service Council to help facilitate best practices and customer service successes across our four stores,” Craig says. “Each store nominates two representatives to the council for the year. Facilitated by the Leadership Team, the council meets four times a year over a long breakfast to share thoughts and best practices as they relate to customer service. We’ve been able to use the meetings to highlight both successes and failures that have occurred over the past quarter and to use the failures as teaching tools.”
After all, as any good coach will advise, winning is an attitude and for the Tate Boys, so is customer service.
“The attitude starts at the top and filters down,” Craig says. “This is why every single employee has been rehearsed in the procedures of greeting and treating customers, from the moment they walk in our doors to the time they drive away.”
From Ballgame to Boutique
With all the sportsmanlike swagger and strength that’s at the core of Tate Boys, one might not anticipate the owners’ attention to the more feminine realms of style and aesthetics. Hearing Craig and Chuck call their shops “retail boutiques” might even elicit a chuckle. But these boutiques are all about presentation, not “poof.”
“We’re trying to create a retail boutique feel with the appearance of our stores,” Craig explains. “We want our customers to enjoy their visit, and one way we accomplish this is through the buildings we construct. We’ve known all along that our customer service is second-to-none, and we wanted a look that emulated that top tier.
“In our first concept meeting with the architect, we told him that we didn’t want our store to look like a tire store,” he says of the planning session for Tate Boys’ second location, which ultimately resulted in a chain-wide, signature appearance. “When customers shopped with us, we wanted them to feel as comfortable buying rubber and automotive repairs as they did when buying jeans, shoes or a new TV.”
As a result, Tate Boys locations have a clean, modern look, featuring bold black-and-white floors, red-white-and-blue walls, thematic kids’ play areas and nicely appointed bathrooms with changing tables. Big-screen televisions, free Wi-Fi and complimentary coffee help make customers comfortable. Early-morning visitors might even find free donuts and a newspaper.
“We wanted customers to know, just by looking at our store,” Craig says, “that there was something different, something better, about Tate Boys Tire & Service.”
Old Values, New Marketing
The appearance of Tate Boys may be decidedly different from that of Bob Tate’s Tire and Service, the shop that Craig and Chuck bought from their father 11 years ago. But many of the philosophies remain the same.
“We grew up in retail,” Chuck says of his father’s pre-dealership days. “Our father worked for Otasco a downscaled version of Walmart for 30 years. He was the manager, so we always were around his store.
“I remember as a kid being home on a Sunday and my dad getting a call from a customer,” he says. “The customer’s freezer had gone out at home and he had just bought a side of beef. The customer was worried about losing all the new meat and, without hesitation, my dad said, ‘I’ll be at your door with a new freezer in less than an hour.’ The customer was so grateful and appreciative. Now he’s a customer of Tate Boys and he still tells that story.
“We saw examples of that every day from our father, so Chuck and I have only known one way,” he adds. “We don’t plan on changing that now.”
To better serve those valued customers and to find more at a time when the company is planning three expansions in five years the Tates have partnered with Customer Link, a service that identifies the demographics of Tate Boys’ “best customers.” The data mining works from the dealership’s existing customer database, allowing the company to send direct mail to non-customers in the same demographics.
“We know that, in one of our markets, our top 10 customer demographics make up 40% of our total business in that market,” Craig explains. “So if we were to hand-pick new customers, we’d prefer more like the ones in our top 10. We’d like them to be ones that come back often, that trust us with their replacement tire purchases and auto repair needs, and recommend us to their friends and family.”
Once defined, the demographics are labeled with telling titles like “Small City Success” and “Soccer Mom Central.” The Tates can then identify special marketing considerations for each of the groups.
“Small City Success” customers, for example, are said to respond well to marketing that respects the busy nature of their lives. “If they can save time and get a fair price,” Craig says, “these consumers might be convinced to respond to a product, idea or offer.” Meanwhile, busy lives as well as often-stretched finances are among the defining characteristics of the “Soccer Mom Central” demographic.
It all gives new meaning to “knowing your customer.” But it’s part of a balance between old and new that the Tate Boys have well maintained.
The Final Score
“Twenty-three years ago, there wasn’t a sales staff, a management team, tire technicians, or a corporate office,” Craig reminisces about the Bob Tate’s Tire and Service of his youth. “We were local kids working for our father, serving the community in which we grew up. Our customers were not strangers to us. They were our coaches, teachers, doctors, friends, family and classmates. We did it all: greeted the customer, sold the product, installed the product and then collected the payment.”
Now, Craig and Chuck hold even more responsibilities. And websites, social media and YouTube are part of the company culture. But some things haven’t changed at the business that has sponsored nearly 100 community organizations in the last three years.
“We’re a family-owned business that has been helping customers for 23 years,” Craig emphasizes. “We believe in making eye contact and shaking hands. We love laughter, smiles and stories that go on forever. We’re in the business of helping people.”
On any playing field, that’s a victory.
And Tate Boys Tire and Service has tacked on yet another win by being named a 2011 Tire Review Top Shop Award Finalist.
For a better look at Tate Boys Tire & Service, visit Tire Review's exclusive Facebook photo album form the 2011 Top Shop Award.