With nearly 40 years of experience, Tire Pros of Rhode Island has truly mastered customer service and satisfaction.
The tire retailer and full-service tire and automotive service shop was established in 1974 by Jim Melvin in Bellingham, Mass. A few years later, Melvin’s son, Jim Melvin Jr., joined the family business at a new location in Woonsocket, R.I.
“I started working for my father when I was a teen as a tire changer,” explains Jim Jr. “I worked part-time throughout high school and full-time during the summers.”
Jim Jr. attended the University of South Carolina as a marketing major, while working his way up at a local tire dealer, Palmetto Tire Co., in Florence, S.C., before returning to his father’s shop after graduation in 1991.
“While I was working for my father for all those years, I had actually learned sales almost by ‘osmosis,’” Jim Jr. explains. “I didn’t really know that I was paying attention and learning, but I realized that I enjoyed it and it was something I wanted to do.”
Shortly after re-joining the business, the father-son duo decided to expand with a new location in Johnston, R.I. Now, the southern New England company has four successful state-of-the-art facilities with a fifth scheduled to open in early 2012.
“We are, first and foremost, a tire retailer,” says Jim Jr. “We sell tires, we do a little bit of wholesale business and we do complete automotive services. We do complete under car services including shocks, alignments and struts. We do complete under the hood services – air conditioning, tune-ups, diagnostic work, electrical repair and internal engine work.”
The company has more than 60 employees and all of its undercar technicians are Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certified.
The company services anywhere between 250-280 cars a day between its four locations and Jim Jr. says employees pride themselves on good customer service and repeat business.
“We don’t just ‘fix’ cars. We really fix cars and we take care of our customers,” he says. “We price ourselves competitively because we’re in the business of making customers.”
Jim Jr. explains the company’s success has been established through careful planning, including phasing out ill-equipped facilities and developing modern, customer friendly shops with wi-fi, flat-screen TVs and enough bays to handle customers quickly and efficiently, even in the heaviest rush.
“Customers are looking for quick service and convenience,” Jim Jr. explains. “We know that no one wants to be there but we try and make it as customer friendly as possible and it’s been really successful for us.”
Their newest location is taking convenience to a new level. The Warwick, R.I., shop, currently under renovation and scheduled to reopen in the next few months, is located just a few miles from the Theodore Francis Green State Airport. The company is partnering with a valet parking company to provide full-service to vehicles while their owners are away.
“They park about 3,500 cars a week,” explains Jim Jr. “I think it’s going to be a great opportunity to service cars while the owners are away. We do complete automotive services whether it’s oil changes or tires or brakes, so we can do it all while the car is basically parked at the airport.”
Jim Jr. explains that location and customer traffic are extremely important to the company and they use several factors when deciding where to expand.
“One of the things we have done is keyed in on the suburban sprawls,” he explains. “We had stores in downtown areas and we’ve pulled back on them. What we’re looking for now is a store in the middle of the suburban areas with people who are out and about on the weekends.”
Jim Jr. adds that they look for shopping centers with big box stores and try to distance themselves from competitors. “In this day and age, in any type of metro area, there is going to be competition. But we look for the newer portion and the upscale part of town as far as shopping districts go.”
Along with managing multiple store locations, both Jim Sr. and Jim Jr. are involved in various industry organizations.
Jim Sr. has served on the board of directors for TIA predecessors the National Tire Dealers and Retreaders Association and the Tire Association of North America, and was a past president of the New England Independent Tire Dealers Association.
Jim Jr. is currently on the board of directors for the National Retail Tire Network (NRTN), which is made up of 18 dealers throughout the county. He is also a member of the Yokohama Advantage Dealer Board Advisory Council, a member of the TIA board of directors and a member of the New England Tire and Service Association (NETSA), for which he served as president from 2007 until 2009.
Their involvement in these organizations allows them to stay up to date with important industry trends.
“The NRTN has over 400 retail points of sale among 18 dealers,” Jim Jr. explains. “We sign confidentiality agreements and we share advertising techniques. We share acquisition techniques and we share new store builds. We’re all in non-compete markets and that has been an invaluable tool for me over the last half a decade.”
He adds that when there’s an issue within the industry, it’s important to have unity and support from similar business owners.
One example is the current Right to Repair Act, which will be on this November’s ballot in Massachusetts. “For years, car manufacturers have had information that is not available to the automotive aftermarket,” Jim Jr. explains. “An example would be if you come into one of my stores with a flat tire. We repair that tire but there’s a TPMS or check engine light on in the dashboard that we can’t turn off. The car manufacturers do not make this diagnostic information available to the automotive aftermarket to turn that light off and reset it, so the only way you can get that light turned off is to go to the dealer and that actually creates a service monopoly.”
Groups such as NRTN are an example of ways independent dealers unite to tackle tough industry issues.
Another issue the company recently started to focus on is eco-friendly business practices. About a year ago, Tire Pros of Rhode Island partnered with American Car Care Centers to become a certified Eco-Express Tire Center.
The company was one of the very first tire dealers to take on the Eco-Express program, which provides customers with various warranties and environmental action initiatives.
For example, if they sell a certain amount of tires, they’ll plant a tree,” Jim Jr. explains. “We have to be certified for waste oil removal and we have separate recycling bins in the store. I think, if nothing else, it shows our customers that we really care.”
Jim Jr. adds that the program is still fairly new, but the idea is growing on customers. “It’s an interesting concept. Customers ask us about it from time to time. I don’t think people will buy tires from us only because of it, but I think it shows people that we care and that gives us a leg up.”
Along with the ACCC Eco-Express Tire Center partnership, Tire Pros is approved and certified by AAA. “We have the highest AAA satisfaction rating in the state of Rhode Island,” he says proudly.
Tire Pros also is active in the local communities that its shops service. Over the years, the company has sponsored various sports teams and recently worked with NETSA to present that group’s annual scholarship.