Fleming Tire & Auto Service is a business that has literally risen from the ashes.
The late Art Fleming started the tire shop, which is located in Mars, Pa., just outside of Pittsburgh, in 1955 as a simple recap tire shop.
Shortly after Fleming began selling new tires in 1974, a devastating fire destroyed the entire shop, including thousands of dollars worth of newly purchased inventory.
“I’m talking a matter of days, less than a week, we had just received the biggest shipment of tires that Fleming Tire had ever received,” explains Mike Fleming, who co-owns the shop with his brother, John. “It was the equivalent of a tractor trailer load. We had tires everywhere, several thousand tires were in that building when it caught fire.”
“The flames were 200 feet in the air, you could see it from 15 miles away,” adds John.
Because of the transition going on in the business, the brothers said their father was underinsured for the merchandise that he had on hand, leaving the family in massive debt following the blaze. “There was a significant loss that was not covered by insurance,” says John.
“Our dad was given some advice from his professional financial and legal advisors to declare bankruptcy,” adds Mike. “He chose not to do that because in his mind it would create stigma against the family that me and my brother would have to live with.”
Instead, Fleming persevered by rebuilding the business and paying off all of his debt. “He did it the hard way, the agonizing way, and it took years to dig out of that hole,” says Mike.
“It took a toll on our father and may have shortened his life, but there was not ever one bill that didn’t get paid or resolved out of that whole process,” adds John.
Today, a staff of 13 full-time and two part-time employees provides tire sales and service on most major brand tires and full service auto repair for most passenger and light truck models.
Mike took over the company from his father in 1981, and John joined in 2006 after, ironically, working in the insurance field for several years. “We are well insured today,” the brothers joke.
When John joined the company, the brothers decided to upgrade their location, moving from their 2,700-square-foot building to a 13,000-square-foot facility on a major traffic artery in the region. They kept the old location and continue to use it as their alignment hub.
The move to the 13-bay shop has proven to be successful. “We moved into the new facility on July 16, 2007, and sales have more than tripled,” says John.
The brothers say major growth in the greater Pittsburgh region over the past 25 years has also helped.
“Westinghouse Electric, the biggest producer of nuclear plants in the world, moved their world headquarters about four miles down the road from us and that’s added to the growth in this area,” says John.
The shop does a great deal of work on high-end luxury cars, European imports and high-end Japanese imports, and the brothers say it’s especially important that they keep up with all of the latest equipment in order to service those vehicles.
“We’re pretty well stocked on all the latest equipment that Hunter manufacturers,” says Mike. “We just put in a brand-new, state-of-the-art alignment machine, we put in an alignment quick check system and a new tire changer.”
Fleming Tire is also the go-to place in the area if you’re experiencing vibration problems, a common complaint in high-end vehicles.
“We’ve almost generated a segment of business that’s driven by the whole ability to resolve vibration issues,” said John. “We’re building a pretty good reputation with people who travel quite a distance to get these issues resolved.”
He adds that local car dealers also send vehicles to them to fix vibration problems.
When it comes to advertising, the brothers mostly stay web-based nowadays by making sure they have an easy-to-use website which was designed by ARI/50 Below.
“They revamped the whole thing and I’ll bet you I get at least one service request or request for a quote per day from our website,” says John. “Many days, I get two or three. It’s been a very effective tool.”
With the system, he’s able to answer the requests instantly on his smartphone. “I reply as soon as I can,” says John. “A lot of people are surprised that we get back to them so quick.”
He says that they’d like to look into technology that automatically updates customers on the status of their work. “A lot of the calls that come in on a daily basis are people calling to check in to see if their car is done yet. Some people will call every half hour,” he says. “If there was a way for them to check the status of their car via a smartphone or their laptop or tablet, we could reduce the volume of those inquiries.”
Fleming Tire is also an authorized installer on tirerack.com and is the only shop in the region with a five-star rating.
The brothers take great pride in their reputation and know that customer opinions are the most valuable advertising. “These days when someone wants to know about your business, they just Google you and they’ll find those reviews,” says John. “If you have questionable reviews, you’ve got an uphill battle, but on the other hand, if you’ve got glowing customer reviews, that’s worth its weight in gold.”
They stay ahead of the competition by being able to outperform local big boxes and chains.
“When you go to a tire shop and have a set of tires put on and they can’t figure out a problem like vibration, they come to us,” says Mike. “Once you can fix that problem for the customer, they’re probably not going to go anywhere else for tires.”
Employee training and expertise is a high priority for the business. “You have to be very efficient and the equipment helps you accomplish that but you have to put people in front of that equipment that have a desire to learn and get the most out of it,” says Mike.
He adds they often utilize training programs offered by equipment manufacturers and stay current with certifications.
Meeting customer needs through outstanding customer service is another thing the brothers strive to accomplish. Since both Mike and John are hands-on in the business, customers regularly deal with the owners themselves. “If people have a problem here, they talk to Mike, they talk to me, or they talk to one of our managers who have been with us for 10 or 15 years,” says John. “It’s never a hassle for the customers.”
“We try to personalize service and keep a very relaxed but professional environment,” he says. “We listen to what the customer wants to describe to you in terms of what their concerns are and then go back through it with them to make sure everyone is on the same page and we can work toward a resolution.”
While they try to get customers in and out as quickly as possible, they do offer a comfortable waiting area for jobs that might require a little extra time. “We have coffee and a popcorn machine,” says John. “Having ample space where you can relax while you’re getting your work done is much more important today than it was 20 years ago.”
Since the company has been in business for decades, they’ve become engrained in the local community with Mike serving as president of the Mars Borough Council.
“We have a lot of customers who are third generation customers and we’re working on fourth generation customers,” adds Mike.
Being that ingrained in the community, the Fleming family also organizes and coordinates the Borough’s annual Fourth of July celebration. It’s another way they can give back to an area that has given them so much.
This article appeared in the March 2014 edition of Tire Review. You can read the entire issue on your phone or tablet by downloading the Tire Review app.