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2012: Top Shop Finalist: McGee Tire Stores

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Gremlins have infested Florida. At least that might be the perception of anyone working the counter at McGee Tire Stores.

“We’ve had people tell us they have Gremlins in their trunk, Gremlins in their engines and even Gremlins in their tires,” says Bob Lanpher, vice president of the 27-location chain, headquartered in Lakeland, Fla. “It seems that the pesky Gremlin has caught on and replaced the typical customer descriptions of knocks, bangs, shakes, squeals and clunks with, ‘I’ve got Gremlins! Could you please make me Gremlin-free?’”

All this talk of tiny mythical creatures is the result of a successful marketing campaign initiated by McGee four years ago – a campaign that not only popularized the cute and colorful animated Gremlins featured in the dealership’s television commercials, but even window clings depicting the nuisance-causing critters.

Developed with the help of a local marketing agency, the campaign reflects McGee Tire’s belief in the necessity of adapting to a new consumer – and even reaching out to future generations. And the image branding accomplished by the timeless, recog­nizable and kid-friendly Gremlin – whose family is expected to strategically grow to include a wife and children – is con­ti­­nuing to bring in new customers asking, on a daily basis, that their Gre­m­lins be whisked away.
rare is the tire dealer that can claim gremlins for its success, but mcgee tire grew to 27 retail stores with the help of little blue creatures.
“The ‘Be Gremlin-Free with McGee’ campaign has proven valuable and continues to grow in recognition,” Lanpher says.

But McGee wouldn’t be a 2012 Tire Review Top Shop Award Finalist if its style wasn’t supported by substance. Banishing automotive Gremlins, after all, is serious business. And it’s cultivated by McGee Tire through a motto that ultimately has more to do with management than mascots: “Building Relationships Through Better Service.”

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“We have always known that we are in the customer service business first and tire and auto service business second,” Lanpher says. “Company founder John McGee pioneered that philosophy from the beginning. But the success of our company over 38 years is fully attributable to the dedicated service of those within it. Our team is the finest in the industry, and each member strives to deliver a better experience to our customer each day.

“It’s about becoming emotionally attached to each person entering our facility,” he says. That attachment is created by management’s encouragement of staffers to graciously greet each customer with enthusiasm and excitement, and to foster a corporate atmosphere of genuine care in an industry that the company acknowledges is “shrouded in negativity.”
service advisor space is sharp and neat, minus the confusing clutter. instead, the video message and price board allow customers to see tire and service options.
Managers promote the concept that “customer trust begins at the retail counter with our reception and approach, and depends heavily on our ability to effectively communicate the benefits and features of a product or service.” They also tout the phil­osophies that “unengaged, emotionally unattached associates create dis­engaged customers,” and that “customers are satisfied when their needs are met, but customers are loyal when expectations are exceeded.”

With those things in mind, customers are sent a follow-up e-mail and are personally telephoned to determine whether their expectations were at least met and their visit enjoyable. It all stems from a corporate culture steeped in the notion that “great customer service is 80% communication and 20% presentation.”

One new way that McGee bonds with consumers is through the use of monitors that allow customers, guided by team members, to interact digitally with vehicle systems. Customers can see for themselves – on the large, 51-inch screens – exactly what’s happening with their brakes, suspensions, electrical systems and other problematic areas. A menu board also allows staffers to better communicate educational information, service options and pricing to consumers, building their levels of trust and comfort.

“The monitors help us explain promotions, offers, services and pricing,” Lanpher says of the 27 TV screens distributed to all stores in the company’s five Florida markets. “It engages the customer and associates at the point of sale. Plus, our TV commercials are playing, which, again, associates the customer with our brand and image. And our video-on-demand system contains a complete library of vehicle systems, enabling our associates to interact and explain car issues in a simple way.

“In a society that emphasizes the use of technology,” Lanpher says, “it’s imperative to remain on the cutting edge, not only in the manner in which we deliver information to our customers, but also with the equipment that we utilize in our stores.”

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Cute To Cutting-Edge

Don’t let the Gremlins’ naughty innocence fool you: McGee Tire has, in fact, been a savvy pioneer in technology usage within the tire and auto service industry.

The $58 million company claims to be the first tire dealership to use Facebook for tire sales directly off of its page, which reportedly has a whopping 8,300 “Likes.” The page also can be used to schedule appointments, get coupons and search for tires. Customers can even use the Facebook page to provide instant feedback to McGee Tire through a CustomerLink database, with the reviews then being fed to various search engines for posting.

Among the online and social media products used over the last two years by McGee – to complement its use of traditional marketing resources like Valpak, Red Plum and coupon booklets – are Google Ad Words, Yelp and Ask.

“In today’s society, customers are finding us more than ever by the use of the Internet,” Lanpher says. “In order to make McGee Tire stand out in searches, we have implemented search engine optimization efforts through companies like Tire Company Solutions. Their efforts have led to increased website traffic and ultimately enabled us to dominate locally when customers are searching for reputable tire and auto service centers using industry-related keywords. In addition, we have redesigned our website to make it user-friendly.

“As with all businesses,” he adds, “mistakes do happen, and 100% customer satisfaction can’t always be accomplished. When this happens, it can result in negative customer reviews that others can see on the Internet. But this allows us the opport­unity to identify the problems, come up with solutions and continue to improve our business and customer service.”

McGee Tire’s use of technology, however, goes beyond marketing and customer relations and into its service bays. The dealership’s philosophy values investing in the latest state-of-the-art equipment, including scan tools, alignment racks, tire machines and on-car brake lathes. Among the company’s newest purchases are Hunter Hawk Eye aligners, force variation balancers, tire changers, Snap-On Verus engine diagnostic equip­ment, and Bartech TPMS relearn tools.

A new point-of-sale computer system also has been integrated at McGee Tire, allowing associates to process quotes and service tickets faster and more efficiently. It encourages customers to choose from a variety of tire and part brands, taking into consideration price and quality. Plus, paper flow, manual filing and paper usage can be streamlined into an electronic storage system, resulting in greener, more efficient and less expensive procedures.

“Our industry is changing rapidly and our technicians must keep pace with changing diagnostic procedures and new ways to properly fix vehicles,” Lanpher says. “In the coming years, technology will only continue to advance and we are committed to keeping up with the latest automotive advancements. Our technicians are constantly updating current diagnostic software to the latest onboard diagnostic scan tools.

“The modern car is engineered by – and ultimately controlled by – sophisticated computer systems,” he explains. “You must be able to adapt, evolve and have the equipment to interpret and diagnose the latest in auto technology. We research these advancements by attending annual conventions, where we learn about new advances in automotive technology. We also visit other local and national dealers to incorporate best practices that can be used to our advantage.

“If we fail to stay ahead of the curve of technology advancement,” he summarizes, “then we fail.”

People Power

Technology, however, is worthless without training, and McGee Tire is proactive in keeping its 260-member staff as up-to-date as its equipment. Not only does management attend and hold training sessions in several areas of business, but each McGee location also has at least one ASE Master Certified Technician on staff.

All service associates are scheduled to earn at least one ASE certification per year. And team members train annually through NAPA for automotive and diesel applications. Meanwhile, upper-management associates are required to attend at least six management-development cour­ses each year. As a result, most of them are highly certified or degreed.

“Ongoing individually-focused training paths, and progressive training tactics focused on the evolving needs and demands of our customers, are critical elements to our company’s success,” Lanpher says. “We focus on consistent technical training for our team members and believe strongly in assuring we have a highly trained ‘counter-brilliant’ sales team focused on problem-solving ability and effective initial customer contact at the front counter.

“But what works for demonstrating great customer service skill today won’t necessarily be effective in meeting the needs of our customer tomorrow,” he adds. “Our training focuses on staying current with the demands of customers today while remaining progressively aggressive in searching for new ideas for the changing demographics of tomorrow.

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“However, driven to our core, and held in highest regard by each of our associates since our beginning – no matter what changes have come our way – is the belief that we are truly honored by each customer that honors us with their visit,” he says. “The associate-customer relationship that occurs is a remarkable testimonial of relationship-building through emotional attachment – and is truly the secret of what makes McGee Tire different from all the rest.”

Better With Age

Some of these McGee Tire philosophies and approaches existed back in 1974, when John McGee purchased two OK Tire stores. Current co-owner Mike McGee proudly promotes the time-tested, down-home values by which his father lived and worked – largely revolving around human and customer relations – in one of the company’s recent TV commercials. But other approaches evolved with time, as the business grew from that two-shop operation to a 27-location chain. Lanpher says it wasn’t always a fast or easy process.

“Two years after John McGee bought OK Tire, he converted the stores into Goodyear retail centers,” Lanpher begins. Even today, McGee Tire proudly offers Goodyear, Kelly-Springfield and Dunlop tires.

“From there, McGee Tire grew slowly. Over the next 15 years, we acquired additional locations one-by-one, expanding from Lakeland to as far north as Tallahassee and as far south as Venice. Our company grew greatly in 1998, with the addition of our retread facility, and so began our commercial division, which has grown into four full-blown tire and service commercial centers.”

Business picked up even more in 2009, when McGee Tire purchased its first multi-location chain. And in 2011, the company scored its biggest buy-out yet, garnering the former Superior Tire’s eight stores. Now, Mc­Gee Tire is an integral part of the 27 communities it serves, offering involvement and donations to dozens of charitable and business groups, including Mike McGee’s service on several community-based boards.

“The single most important thing that has contributed to our success is our investment in training our employees and providing them with the necessary knowledge, tools and equipment needed to succeed,” Lanpher says. “Not all of this success came without our fair share of trials and tribulations. Over the years, we have had to close low-performing stores to ensure the continued existence of our more profitable locations. Today, we continue to seek opportunities for growth.

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“Our desire to grow as a company is what drives our success,” he concludes. “That fosters our innovative ideas and pushes the investments in technology that ensure customer satisfaction and drive the future success of our team.”

Meanwhile, co-owner Mike McGee waxes philosophical when considering his life’s work: “Having been in the tire and automotive business for 37 years, I’ve experienced many changes in the industry,” he says, “from technological advancements in the automobile to changes in customer trends.

“But the one thing that has never changed is our passion for serving our customer. This passion has carried us through nearly four decades of success. I can’t imagine having a more rewarding journey in any career than I’ve had in this one.

“The people that have driven my passion for customer service within our company have also driven its success far beyond what I have imagined. I am so grateful to have learned that only when you believe you are a servant of others will they loyally support you.”

And, perhaps, it doesn’t hurt to believe in Gremlins.

To see more photos of McGee Tire Stores – as well as this year’s other finalists and the Top Shop winner – click here.

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