It’s not entirely surprising that Alexander “Lex” Brodie lived an astonishing 98 years before dying in January of this year. His active life, strong business sense and ultimate success were exemplary – even legendary. He was called “one of Hawaii’s greatest entrepreneurs” time after time, and his life and accomplishments were well recounted in a massive 1,700-word obituary in the Hawaii Reporter.
The business he founded in 1961 – Lex Brodie’s Tire Co. in Honolulu – also is known for its longevity, for surpassing expectations, for its level of success and commitment, certainly earning the moniker “legendary.”
But while virtually anything Lex Brodie’s Tire does seems larger than life, reputation alone did not propel the company to its second Finalist designation in the 2013 Tire Review Top Shop Award, presented by Ammco/Coats. The dealership earn- ed the same honor in 2008.
From its highly recognizable television and radio ads, to its status as the inaugural winner of the International Better Business Bureau’s Award for Excellence in Customer Care, to its management team inordinately comprised of seasoned businessmen, to an award-winning community-outreach program that offers its own awards, Lex Brodie’s Tire is a veritable public-relations campaign on wheels.
But the accolades don’t just come from spin. Internet searches reveal a long stream of glowing customer reviews, proving that, despite the five-location company’s position in the proverbial big time, its impact comes from the little details.
And if one takes care of the little things, as the saying goes, the big things take care of themselves. For Lex Brodie’s Tire, that big thing may be its annual gross sales. Last year, they totaled a whopping $22.5 million from tire and service sales, up 6% year-over-year (Of that total, the company reported $6.9 million came from fuel sales, as well).
Lex Brodie’s Tire is 98% retail, selling primarily Michelin, BFGoodrich and Uniroyal lines, along with Falken, Hercules and Granada lines. Tires make up 51% of the business.
Its 109 employees man five massive retail stores on Oahu, and are fixed on delivering on the company’s rather straight-forward mission statement: “We are here to serve our customer and to make their day better, to grow each other as a team and to consistently improve and support our community and help protect the environment.”
Though founder Lex Brodie sold and retired from his namesake company in 1991 in order to devote time to serving on the Hawaii School Board, many of the dealership’s current methods of operation are rooted in traditions that he established.
Brodie, a former engineer and facility manager for pineapple grower and processor Dole, started with a Chevron service station in 1958 that evolved into the independent tire dealership we see today.
The irony was that Brodie was fired by Dole for fighting to stop the company from illegally dumping waste into the ocean; his true nature led to a simple gas station in Kaneohe, and in 1964 to the first Lex Brodie’s Tire Co. location on Queen Street in Honolulu.
“While Lex operated the tire company,” says current co-owner Scott Williams, “he became legendary for his high level of customer service, his television marketing campaigns and his involvement with helping other small businesses in Hawaii operate in a tough business environment. This team took the foundation Lex had laid and put in motion the change needed to adapt and keep up with the changing tire market in Hawaii.”
The team of which Williams speaks is an ownership group established seven years ago that put in place a CEO with 20 years’ experience leading five diverse businesses; a president with 27 years in the tire and auto industries under his professional belt; and a vice president of operations with 31 years’ tenure in the tire business. The CEO and president also remain chairmen of other companies, nonprofits and organizations, offering testament to Lex Brodie’s level of professionalism and involvement.
Equally important, though, is the testament to Lex Brodie’s Tire continuity of “legendary” service, even amid changes in ownership and management: Half of the staff has been with the company for five years; a third for 10 years; and 15% for more than 20 years.
It may be this combination of progressive new leadership and time-tested tradition that ultimately results in the recognition regularly heaped on the company, from the aforementioned International BBB award, to a 100% total satisfaction rating with AAA Hawaii, to several awards from regional and trade magazines.
“These awards are a nice validation that our efforts for exceptional customer service are hitting their mark,” Williams says.
If a well-publicized list of honors isn’t enough to prove Lex Brodie’s Tire’s focus on service, there’s always its “Customer Bill of Rights.”
This service ‘contract’, handed out to customers, details 10 promises made by the company, embellished by the familiar Little Joe cartoon-character caveman creating a wheel that’s depicted on much of the company’s marketing materials and signage. It’s just one of many corporate documents emphasizing Lex Brodie’s Tire’s commitment to customers, with others being mission statements of vision, core values and purpose. All refer to such concepts as compassion, excellence, positivity, dedication, teamwork and integrity.
“We’re careful to never get complacent,” Williams says, with just a smidgen of understatement.
Few things about Lex Brodie’s are understated, consider its marketing and advertising campaigns.
First, there’s the suggestive “Lex Appeal,” detailing the company’s attractive traits. Then there’s the butt-kicking “Lex Rocks…So You Can Roll!” The company also bills itself as “Your Family Doctor For Your Vehicle” with a “Fixed Forever Auto Repair Warranty” and “The Lex Brodie’s Advantage.”
After all, “Change Happens at Lex,” especially the kind involving oil.
Humor aside, change does seem to be an ongoing consideration at Lex Brodie’s Tire. Simple as it is, the company’s “Thank You…Very Much!” catch phrase has long been the most recognizable taglines in Hawaiian marketing history. But the business hasn’t allowed itself to rest even on that laurel, updating itself to feature the aforementioned slogans and campaigns for a new generation of consumers.
That updating has included heavy involvement during the last two years in Web-based media. Lex Brodie’s Tire now works with a website developer that has increased its site’s conversion of visitors into sales, as well as with Net Driven to add tire catalogs and service information to the site.
The company is a member of the AskPatty.com Certified Female Friendly social media program, and offers a Mobile Device Text Club to customers, extending special offers, coupons and entertainment via text-messaging to those who join. Plus, it uses the often-problematic feedback site Yelp to its advantage by replying to all posts, showing a caring and professional responsiveness that could turn a negative review into a positive situation.
“Many companies are frustrated with Yelp,” Williams says, recounting its “the consumer is always right no matter what” attitude toward small business. “But Yelp is here to stay, so we decided to make the most of it.”
Almost as bold as its marketing and advertising campaigns is the physical appearance of the business’s five locations, situated throughout the island of Oahu. “Our locations all are very unique,” Williams admits.
One 10-bay facility was converted from a drive-through car wash. Another location, with 14 bays, once was a furniture store. The company’s newest 10-bay facility was converted from a warehouse known for “shady dealings” in a neighborhood that “was thrilled when we cleaned it up,” according to Williams.
And the original Lex Brodie’s Tire store on Queen Street has grown from a one-bay, one-pump gas station into a 26-bay tire and service facility that takes up half a city block.
The shops may be funky, but are never junky. “Our key is to have clean, well-organized and inviting locations,” Williams explains. “We’re constantly improving our facilities to keep up with our high standards.”
The cities in which these distinctive facilities stand are more than mere business markets for Lex Brodie’s Tire. That’s evidenced in the company’s heavy involvement in community outreach – so heavy that it has garnered national recognition for its neighborly programs.
“It’s very common for me to be stopped on the street by folks who’ve been part of, or were touched by, our programs,” Williams says. “I’ve had rough-looking characters stop me with a ‘Hey, bro!’ I’ll be thinking at first that I may be in trouble if they’ve had a problem with our service, only to be told that they come to Lex Brodie’s Tire because of the programs we have for local school children.”
The most notable of these is the Thank You…Very Much! Award, named after the company’s recognizable tagline. The program invites fourth-through-12th-grade students to submit a thank-you letter to someone who has impacted their lives. It recognizes one winning student-writer per month, so far totaling 88 winners from 200 Hawaiian schools.
Also helping Hawaiian children, as well as the environment, is Lex Brodie’s Earn and Learn Program, which teaches students how to organize fundraising drives of recyclable bottles and cans. Through this activity, students in Honolulu have raised more than $60,000 for their schools.
Meanwhile, the company’s GreenFleet Hawaii Program, which has become a stand-alone 501(c)3 organization, encourages Hawaiian commuters to carpool. And the list goes on and on.
“Community efforts are rewarding, both to those whom the programs serve and to those who help implement them,” Williams says. “We’ve found it’s okay, and healthy for business, to have a business motive behind community efforts. Sometimes this is necessary to get the efforts started. But, once you start to see the impact you have in others’ lives and on the community, you quickly become compassionate and do as much as you can within reason to give back. We call this business sustainability.”
Such sustainability is important to Lex Brodie’s Tire, given what it calls the “extreme market challenges” imposed by competitors like Costco, Sam’s Club and Sears, especially within Oahu’s tight geography and high property and operating expenses. The company also faces unique challenges inherent to being on the world’s most remote island chain, requiring it to pay special attention to shipping times, inventory and sales-trend forecasts.
Nevertheless, the dealership projects a 20% increase in growth this year, which it largely attributes to its ability to balance maintaining a profitable company with caring for the community as well as employees.
“With any business, the company is its people,” Williams explains. “Our company name refers to our founder, and our company is built on his foundation. But 22 years after his retirement, we can state that the current team of employees has maintained – and even improved upon – Lex’s legendary standard.
“It starts at the top, with the example from senior management, store managers, lead techs and our 20-plus-year veterans. They set the example for the younger crew. We believe our biggest asset is our people.”
Honing that asset requires training, not only in service techniques, but in tire knowledge, safety and even phone skills. Lex Brodie’s Tire utilizes in-house resources, online support, certifications, outside classes and even an apprenticeship program to make its staff the best it can be. And founder Lex Brodie himself probably would have expected nothing less.
“Following in the footsteps of a local legend isn’t easy,” reads the company’s literature. “We’ve carefully built upon the strong foundation that our company founder laid. But, as the tires roll along, a business needs to be able to change and adapt to the changing business environment and the changing needs of the customer. We welcome change. Change is an opportunity to grow and improve and to challenge ourselves.”
Exactly what changes does the company foresee in the near future?
“We expect to continue to grow and improve in all areas,” Williams says. “Any adversity we face will be used as an opportunity to get better.
“One of my favorite sayings,” he adds, “is that 10% of what we face is out of our control; the other 90% is how we react to the 10%. Essentially, this illustrates that the attitude we take as we face challenges will dictate how we come out of them.
“We choose to be positive and optimistic whatever the challenges may be. We also fully expect competitors to try and catch up to us. This only motivates us to continuously work to be creative and watch for new ways to better serve our customers.”
That, after all, is what makes Lex Brodie’s Tire so, well, “legendary.” That’s why customers come back time and again, even for generations. And that’s why they are being honored by the Top Shop Award program yet again.