Howard Fleischmann isn’t the least bit shy about posting his personal cell phone number, his home phone number and his office number in his online newsletter, circulation 6,000.
“If I’m not here when my customers need me, will they be there when I need them?” says the owner of Top Shop Award Finalist Community Tire in Phoenix.
The Arizona tireman and his right-hand man Kim Sigman just might be years ahead of most of America’s tire dealers. The 15-year-old dealership melds a total customer-first commitment with modern communications, and succeeds quite well in an area heavy with retirees.
“We know how important a first impression ‘must’ be,” they say, “but does anyone remember how important the last impression must be?”
“One of our tag lines is ‘The Refreshing Place for Your Tire Choice,’” he says.
“When a customer leaves any of our seven outlets they will find their vehicle at the front door, engine running, air-conditioning on, with an ice cold bottle of water and freshly washed windows,” said Fleischmann. “We want them to remember us.”
Also in the vehicle being picked up are coupons good for $5 or $10 toward their next purchase at Community Tire outlet, which the surprised customer often passes along to friends or other family members.
“When a client enters Community Tire, we already know that he or she is probably not going to be as excited about buying a new set of tires as they might be about a new widescreen TV. So if they aren’t overly excited, we’d better be.
“We meet and greet them warmly, concentrate on clear communication and never try to press a new customer to make a purchase during their first visit. We do take the time to send them announcements via e-mail about our regular service and sign them up for our monthly e-mail newsletter,” he says.
A big part of anyone’s first impression of Community Tire is a quick look in the restrooms. To say they deserve a five-star award is an understatement. Simply describing them as clean doesn’t do service to what the company has done to make its customers feel at home.
If you are a Community Tire customer, Fleischmann sends you a personal online birthday greeting card with the heading: “You’re Special to Us.” It gets better. The birthday card also offers a free basic lube, oil change and filter, plus tire rotation and a vehicle safety inspection. It’s a Community Tire present and it’s popular among the city’s large fixed income population. No wonder they were chosen by the Phoenix Better Business Bureau as an ethics award finalist.
Fleischmann got into the tire business after a 27-year career in the auto parts distribution business, taking over a faltering dealership from his children. The children left the business altogether, so Fleischmann dug in, brought in Sigman and set out to reinvent the business.
He operated the business under its former name – Knudsen’s – but eventually decided to make a change. Community Tire got its name straight from its reputation; when Fleischmann took over, he knew that customers were the key to survival. The entire focus of the dealership became customer-centric at every level, and the results were obvious.
Instead of just picking a new name, Fleischmann decided to hold a contest, keeping customers involved in the business. The winning entry said: “Howard, just call it Community Tire. Say outside on your sign what your company has shown to everyone for years.”
That says a lot for what the Phoenix area thinks of the business, and gave Community Tire a brand name it could merchandise and build from.
Today, Community Tire is 100% retail, and tires make up 35% of its business, carrying Bridgestone, Firestone, Fuzion, Gillette and Primewell lines.
Where Are the Tire Prices?
If you’re looking for a tire price in Community’s ads you won’t find one. “We take a different approach,” he says. “We build our business on image and reputation. When a customer enters one of our outlets we want to keep that customer for life.”
Does that sound impossible? Not in Fleischmann’s mind. “I follow the 95-5 rule. We believe that 95% of our customers are great people, but 5% may not be. That’s why we put our efforts on the 95%. That’s why we participate in community events. That’s why we donate $50,000 in cash to the communities we do business in. That’s why we are involved in the individual Chambers of Commerce, schools and other worthy projects.”
One of Community Tire’s ads boldly blares this message: “If You’re Looking for a Tire & Auto Repair Shop, We’re Looking to Earn Lifelong Customers.” How about that for a short, sharp communiqué?
Under the headline, Fleischmann bullet points what every customer wants to read: “Honest, Dependable, Competitive and Dedicated to the Communities We Serve.” Once again, Fleischmann lists his personal numbers, and he signs the ad.
The key reason this boldness works well for Community Tire is the fact that its Phoenix area customers know first-hand that it is all true. Fleischmann and his team have worked hard to build the Community Tire name in the communities they serve, and they know they can ill afford to not meet and exceed expectations. In fact, Community Tire wants to set all new standards for service and customer attention – and customers say they are succeeding.
Boldness Pays Off
The first three words in one of Community Tire’s press releases are: “We make mistakes.” Isn’t that a fresh breath of air? The message continues with more refreshing language: “If we make a mistake, the first thing we do is admit it and take whatever steps necessary to satisfy the customer.”
When confronted with an unhappy customer, Community Tire team members are taught to ask this simple question. “What will it take to make you a satisfied customer?” The answer is usually quick and Fleishmann and his staff are quick to agree. The goal is to keep a customer rather than lose one, and more often than not the customer stays.
“One of our training policies is if there are any customer questions, the first question we ask ourselves is: ‘Is it right for our customer?’ We train our people to put themselves in the customer’s shoes, easier said than done sometimes. We stress putting the customer first, period.
“Before any work is performed on a customer’s car it is imperative that the customer has a complete understanding of the repairs and/or tire service being done. The customer must also be given a deliberate chance to give his/her approval of the total cost of the final bill.”
Fleischmann adds that if at any time an employee is caught intentionally being dishonest with a customer, that is grounds for immediate dismissal. Sounds tough, but it’s the right path to follow.
Community Tire spends a great deal of money and time on training its 45 employees while other tire dealers shy away from losing bay time. Here’s a quote from Fleischmann that should be filed and not forgotten: “There is only one thing worse than training an employee and losing them and that is to not train them and have them stay.” Brilliant.
“We also believe the only bad decision in our company is no decision,” said Fleischmann. “And our decisions must always favor the customers.”
Treating Employees Right
“This is all about respect,” says Fleischmann. “We respect our customers and our customers respect us. Taking that a step further, we respect our employees and prove it by providing in addition to our standard health insurance program a long term disability insurance program, which is 100% funded by Community Tire. We constantly invest in our business on behalf of our employees and our customers.”
“It’s all about happy employees and happy customers,” he says. “It’s a very simple equation, but as NFL coaches tell us, ‘sometimes difficult to execute.’ We believe it’s simple to be in the tire business if we can only hold our focus.
“Focus is the message and no one in the organization must lose his or her focus.”
What Suppliers Say
Here’s what their number one supplier says about Community Tire – and the feeling is mutual.
“In any relationship,” says American Tire Distributors, “there will be ups and downs and although we are efficient and though we make delivery errors less than 2% of the time, we are accustomed to having less than pleasant conversations with customers whose expectations we have not met.
“Such is the world we live in. Deadlines and commitments are the only things that seem to matter today. But not with Community Tire. It is truly a pleasure to work with an organization that gives us time to fix a problem without the extraneous distractions that can occur on occasion.”
Fleischmann well understands the role suppliers play in the success of any retail business, and he offers this advice to his fellow dealers. “Be very careful when choosing your suppliers as partners in your business. We did and we are prospering as a result.”
It is that kind of cooperation between dealer and supplier that permits Community Tire to publish the kind of break out advertising that might picture one tire (no price) along with these headline words: “Dedicated to the Communities We Serve. Your Best Choice for All Your Auto Repair and Tire Needs.”
“It’s all about today, it’s all about the customer and it doesn’t have anything to do with 15 years ago,” he says.
Call him a pacesetter, call him a genius or just call him Howard. He doesn’t care as long as you are pleased with his performance.