If there’s any shop that deserves the distinction of being the first two-time Tire Review Top Shop Award Finalist, it’s Community Tire & Auto Service Specialists. The Phoenix, Ariz.-based dealership has done just that, adding the title of 2010 Top Shop Award Finalist to its lengthy list of accolades, which already included the honor of being a Finalist in 2007.
Community Tire – with five locations and sales that grossed more than $6 million in 2009 – did not sit back and rest after being named among the top dealers in 2007. On the contrary, the company continued its path toward further growth and improvement under the skilled leadership of owner Howard Fleischmann.
“Once again, we consider this a huge honor,” he says. “Because of the economic conditions, growth these last few years has been difficult. But we’ve made significant changes to our marketing strategy and our business management system, as well as remodeling our stores.”
In the past three years, Community Tire – which was founded in 1991 and regularly stocks Bridgestone, Firestone, Goodyear and Continental tires – also has won additional awards, has become AskPatty.com Female Friendly Certified and has become even more involved with its local communities and the customers it serves.
An astute businessman, Fleischmann, who entered the tire business after a 27-year career in auto parts distribution, has leveraged Community Tire’s 2007 Top Shop Finalist award to grow the company’s credibility in the eyes of customers, potential employees and competitors.
“From the retail aspect, we mention the award on our website, in publications we send out and on our telephone hold message,” he says. “And I do feel that other dealers pay more attention to what we say and do because we were named a Finalist.
“When I’m talking to and interviewing potential employees, they also are impressed by it,” Fleischmann continues. “Everyone wants to work at a place where they can be comfortable and that the industry has some respect for.”
Featured in the waiting room of each Community Tire location is a “brag wall” that displays trophies and plaques from the 2007 Top Shop contest, as well as other honors: the Better Business Bureau’s Business Ethics Award, the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce’s annual Impact Award for Small Business of the Year, and the Arizona State University W.P. Carey Spirit of Enterprise Award. “All our awards have contributed in some way to the business we are today,” Fleischmann notes.
While Community Tire’s fundamentals – “honesty and integrity beyond reproach” – have not changed, Fleischmann did give Tire Review an update on the company’s activities since we last checked in with the shop in 2007.
“One of the biggest changes we’ve made is switching to the Mitchell1 Manager Enterprise system, which has allowed us to track our customers much better,” he says. “Marketing programs are embedded in the system, which allows us to automatically send an e-mail to a customer after his or her visit for feedback. It also allows for better follow-ups both 30 days and one week before the next appointment. Customers really appreciate the contact and the continued reminders.”
The dealership, which staffs 36 full-time employees and nine part-time workers, completed the AskPatty.com Certified Female Friendly training program in October 2008. In order to receive the certification, Community Tire employees completed an extensive training program on how best to serve women. As a result, the dealership has seen its number of female customers increase dramatically.
“At the time we started the program, we had about a 60/40 customer mix; 60% of our customers were male and 40% were female. That figure is now reversed – about 60% of our customer base is female,” Fleischmann says. “It really has helped us grow our brand. If you treat female customers fairly and give them a good value for their money, they come back – and they tell their friends.”
As part of the effort, each Community Tire location will see waiting room and bathroom remodeling jobs followed by “grand openings” by mid-2011. The third remodeled location will be unveiled in about a month. “We bring in a focus group of women and have them help us design it,” Fleischmann notes.
Fleischmann’s wife, Patty, was an integral part of attaining the AskPatty.com certification, and was featured on a local TV news station when Community Tire completed the program.
“The program is a step forward in getting women to speak their minds and become more informed about what’s going on,” Patty says. “After their house, vehicles are the second largest investment they’re ever going to have, so they need to take care of them. There are more widows, single women and divorced women out there today – and they want to be independent. If we can make them feel comfortable and educate them at the same time, then we consider that a success.”
Fleischmann adds that the strategies learned in the AskPatty.com program can be applied to all customers, not just women. “Male customers also notice the changes,” he says. “They won’t complain about sitting in a wooden chair, but they sure like sitting in leather. They also won’t complain about a bathroom that is not up to the quality they’d want at home, but they certainly do comment when you offer the little extras.”
Reaching New Markets
Also in the past three years, Community Tire has kicked its marketing efforts into high gear with new, creative campaigns and a successful initiative to tap into new customer segments.
Fleischmann knew the economic downturn was no time to cut back on advertising, so he continued to set Community Tire’s marketing budget at 4% of the total sales numbers for each location. The company enlisted a local agency, Tony Felice PR & Marketing, to develop creative campaigns that set Community Tire apart – way apart – from its competition.
“They’ve done some really creative stuff,” Fleischmann says. “One of Felice’s comments is ‘If you’re not sitting on the edge, you’re taking up too much room,’ and that really shows in their work. We’ve had great feedback from our advertising campaigns.”
As part of its services, the agency learned the dealership’s business and target demographics before proceeding with any advertising. This allowed for custom campaigns, one in particular that was geared toward a market both Howard and Patty find important – the gay and lesbian community.
“We spent three years focused on this market, learning more about it and researching how to attract these customers,” Fleischmann says, adding that the company generally zeroes in on one market at a time – first the gay and lesbian community, followed by the female market, and beginning in 2012, the Baby Boomer segment. “You can have all of them going at one time, but when you start a campaign you’ve got to stay focused.”
The couple had already been involved with the gay community; Patty is a board member of the Greater Phoenix Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, while Howard is a former board member (he currently serves as a board member of the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce).
“Being involved with their community lets them know you’re genuine,” Fleischmann says. “Gay and lesbian clients want what everyone else wants: quality service, a fair price and to be treated with respect.”
An accomplishment that is particularly near to the Fleischmanns’ hearts is an award named in their honor, which was given to Community Tire and will be handed to other businesses in the area. The annual Howard and Patricia Fleischmann Spirit Award honors businesses that have aligned themselves in support of the gay and lesbian community.
Also new to Community Tire’s marketing efforts is the company’s foray into social media, which has rapidly gained in popularity since 2007. Fleischmann says the dealership’s largest successes have been with Facebook and Yelp, where customers can submit their own reviews. Community Tire’s Facebook page, with over 450 “fans,” features photos, videos, information and posts that are constantly being updated.
“I believe having a place people can go to comment about your business is very beneficial – even if it’s a negative comment,” Fleischmann says. “In that situation, you can respond, solve the problem and keep the customer. When you don’t hear the complaints, people just go down the street and you never have the chance to reply and correct whatever mistake you’ve made.”
The key to reaping the benefits of any social media platform is being consistent and willing to invest the time. “You have to work at it. You’ve got to be on there every day,” he says, but also adds that, “Social media and all the new things that are out there are great, but there’s nothing better than ‘shaking hands and kissing babies.’”
This fall, Community Tire will launch a revamped website – communitytireaz.com – that will feature a more user-friendly layout and offer even more information to its customers.
One thing that won’t change once the new site launches is the inclusion of Fleischmann’s personal contact information. Plainly laid out for all to see are his cell phone and home phone numbers, a feature that gives website visitors a true sense of the transparency and integrity with which Community Tire operates.
Fleischmann – who several years ago got the idea from a restaurant that showed a message from the owner, as well as his home phone number, on its menu – says over the years he’s only gotten a handful of calls at home.
“I was very glad to be there for one call,” he says. “A woman had been stranded downtown and just happened to have printed out the page from our website with my phone number on it. She called me from her cell phone, so we were able to send a tow truck to her and made sure she got home safely.”
Two of the calls were compliments, while the remaining two were customer complaints that were quickly resolved because Fleischmann was able to immediately talk to the person and fix the problem. “Because they were able to contact me on a weekend, we were able to save the customer and correct the problem. Both clients left happy,” he says.
Behind the Name
True to its name, Community Tire is deeply involved in area organizations and regularly contributes to local charities. “We’re proud of being able to give back and the differences we’ve made in the communities that have supported us,” Fleischmann says.
The company doesn’t have a predetermined budget for charities each year; instead, Fleischmann makes case-by-case decisions based upon need. But there are a handful of organizations the dealership supports every year, including 100 Club, in which a group of businesses join forces to provide financial help to injured or deceased police and firefighters and their families; Helping Hands for Single Moms, for which Community Tire repairs women’s cars so they are better able to re-enter the workforce; 1n10 (pronounced “one in 10”), an organization that provides support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and allied youth and young adults; and Red Means Stop traffic safety alliance, which aims to increase public awareness of the consequences of motor vehicle crashes.
“We’re also a member of Local First, a coalition of businesses that encourages consumers to help their area’s economy by spending money at local establishments. It’s creating a lot of stir in many areas, but Arizona is probably leading the pack,” Fleischmann says. “We just launched a program called Shift, which encourages people to shift 10% of their dollars spent to local businesses.”
In addition to having a strong presence at area events, Community Tire stays top-of-mind because Fleischmann makes regular appearances on a local TV news station. His monthly seven-minute segments on the station address a multitude of vehicle and tire maintenance topics, including identifying fluids, fuel pumps, tire safety and what to look for in a quality repair shop, among others. And while Community Tire is mentioned, Fleischmann doesn’t use the appearances as a commercial for the dealership.
“I talk about customers’ needs and about the industry,” he says. “Being a ‘local expert’ has given us credibility, but it also helps lift our industry as a whole to a higher standard in the minds of consumers.”
One aspect of Community Tire that has not changed a bit is the attention to detail and premium service offered to “clients” – the dealership uses that term, as opposed to customers, in order to reflect the long-term relationship formed with each person versus a short-term transaction.
“One of the biggest challenges is finding the customer base that best fits you and addressing those clients’ specific needs. In 2008, we started to do the wrong type of advertising and started bringing in customers that did not fit our philosophy,” Fleischmann explains. “They were people looking for the lowest price possible, and that’s not our customer – we price ourselves competitively in the marketplace, but it’s not rock-bottom pricing. We actually partner with our clients and let them know what it’s going to take to keep their vehicles running for a long time.” After that, the company altered its advertising to once again attract the right clientele, he adds.
Between the plush waiting rooms, vehicle pick-up and delivery, rental car program, welcome kits for new clients and a cold bottle of water waiting in each car when a client drives away, the dealership is a prime example of the importance of attention to detail. Community Tire even e-mails a special video, which includes a message from Fleischmann and a free oil change offer, to registered customers on their birthdays.
To continue in the dealership’s quest to deliver the best, Fleischmann plans to add two additional Community Tire locations by the end of 2011 in order to increase the company’s coverage of the Phoenix market.
“Our tagline is ‘A price you can trust. Dedicated to the communities we serve,’” he adds. “We’re proud of helping to set the standards for our industry. And we’re proud to be a part of the communities that have supported us all these years.”
And they are doubly proud to be the Top Shop Award’s first two-time Finalist.