Grazing over platters of fresh fruit and homemade cookies, patrons cozy-up on plush couches and cushy chairs to watch a favorite show on the 50-inch HD television. Some break away to bar tables with their laptops, or go to the computer station to play games or get work done via Wi-Fi. And when the free soda and coffee ultimately result in a restroom visit, the fresh-cut flowers and soft lighting there have made at least one of them remark, “It feels like an upscale hotel in here.”
But this M&W doesn’t stand for Marriott and Wyndham. It’s M&W Tire. And the people basking in comfort are customers of Michigan’s very customer-service-oriented Tire Review Top Shop Award Finalist.
“Customer service is the cornerstone of our business,” says Mark Wade, vice president of the $2.5 million tire and auto-repair company in Benton Harbor. “It’s the litmus test of all we do. From the time a guest drives into our lot, visits our website or meets us on the street, we’re serving them.
“Our grounds are kept clean and groomed, and there are benches outside from which to enjoy the ever-changing Michigan weather,” he details. “The showroom is bright, clean and stocked with goodies. We recently added a viewing window and more seating so guests can watch their car being serviced. And when a guest is too busy to wait for repairs, we offer pick-up and delivery service, shuttle service, as well as a fleet of free courtesy cars.”
But M&W’s customer service involves more than hospitality.
“We treat a guest like a close family member,” Wade explains of the 36-year-old, single-location family-owned dealership. “We look out for their safety and control their expenses by not pushing services just because they’re high-profit. There are no aggressive sales techniques, just a presentation of facts allowing each person to make a well-informed decision.
“And our work area is clean and bright, with a bright blue floor and state-of-the-art equipment that assures the job is being done right, with test results, inspections and results electronically recorded, printed and e-mailed.”
M&W’s customers clearly notice the special attention. The company’s website has logged 500 certified reviews resulting in a 4.6-out-of-5 rating. Any respondent who posts a less-than-stellar review is personally contacted so the shop’s 15 staffers can learn from any shortcomings.
“Our guests expect to be treated kindly, have fast service and for us to be properly equipped for the job to be done right,” Wade says of the largely retail business. “What they don’t expect are the details. They expect their car to be returned clean, but not totally protected with tires shined. They expect us to be fairly priced, but not to go to our competitors’ websites to make sure. They expect our shop to be organized, but not power scrubbed and cleaned every day.”
Nevertheless, the thing that seems to elicit the most customer response is M&W’s hotel-like – or, in some cases, corner-pub-like – hospitality.
“We’ve been called the ‘Cheers’ of repair shops, where everyone knows your name,” Wade says. “This has been mentioned by several customers and we find it a huge compliment. Our counter people have a crazy-good memory and will not only remember names but family details that are shared with them. This really makes our guests feel appreciated and that we care.”
That customer service feeling extends to M&W Tire’s core products. A member of the Best One marketing group, M&W regularly stocks Bridgestone, Firestone, Mastercraft, Goodyear and Carlisle products, and carried a sales mix of 45% tires and 55% service in 2013.
The caring component of M&W Tire’s customer service is evident in its community involvement. “The adage, ‘People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care’ reveals itself to us all the time,” Wade says. “We believe if you want to make things better in your community, then roll up your sleeves and get involved.”
And M&W does – a lot. “A week doesn’t go by without someone coming in asking for support of their charity or cause,” Wade explains. “We help as many as possible with gifts, cash, time or promotion. We don’t get involved in everything, but the things we are a part of are the things we care about.”
That list of causes is long and diverse, from local schools to vehicle-safety programs to youth sports teams to Halloween-safety events. When the company isn’t lending financial support or donating items to charity auctions, it’s serving on boards, including those of the local chamber of commerce, airport and community-development group. M&W even has provided free electronic-billboard advertising for a local service agency that survives solely on donations.
“We believe in the strength of community,” Wade says, “and will continue to support ours for years to come.”
So, from where does M&W Tire’s distinctively caring approach come?
“Our philosophy is simple,” Wade states. “Treat people like you would want to be treated. It’s not a slogan but a way of life. Our people simply know the way we operate, and that includes treating our team with respect and working together to make our guests feel like royalty. If we make a mistake or fail to communicate properly, then we accept responsibility and make it right.”
In fact, Wade identifies this philosophy as the key element to setting his shop apart – not marketing, not staffing, but intangible matters of philosophy: “Trust, integrity and treating people as valued family members, not as a nuisance, are our keys.”
Bending, Not Breaking
That’s not to say, however, that M&W Tire’s success isn’t also rooted in more tangible and measurable factors, like exceptional management, product knowledge and use of technology. Its achievements in those areas are rooted in its history.
“In 1975, Bud Wade embarked on a mission to build the best tire and auto-service location of its kind,” the younger Wade says. “Having been an area rep for a major tire company, he was able to copy the best layouts and practices from shops across the country. Through some very difficult years and many sleepless nights we have evolved, and this goal continues to guide us.
“The commitment to excellence has many working parts,” he continues. “One of these is the ability to change directions and processes very quickly while maintaining an acute attention to detail. We will read about something a business does, discuss it and see if we can adapt it to ours to make us better. If it works, we refine it. If it doesn’t, we dump it and keep looking.”
One such case came in the wake of the Ford-Firestone recall in 2000.
“When the recall hit, we were more than concerned,” Wade remembers. “Not only are we the only authorized Firestone dealer in the area, but we used that brand in everything we did – right down to answering the phone as ‘M&W Firestone.’ We learned how to turn this into an opportunity to show off our service and professionalism. We gained trust and demon- strated our ability to take care of the guest, even if they’d been our competitors’ customer.
“This is just who we are,” Wade says. “We monitor things constantly and make course changes immediately when needed. If we need a $2,500 tool, then we get it. If it stops working, looks bad or slows us down, we fix it, replace it or improve it.”
Following that approach is in fact the most significant piece of advice, according to Wade, that he’d give to fellow dealers: “Reinvent yourself daily,” he says.
“Just because it has worked for 10, 20 or 30 years doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look for a better way to do it. And embrace technology. Make it work for you and give it a try. Don’t dump it because it sounds too complex. If it flops, move on and try something else.”
One thing that is not too complex for the Top Shop Finalist is staying ahead of the complexities of vehicle service. For a one-store business, M&W Tire employs two ASE Master Techs (the shop’s other service techs are all ASE-certified), one TIA-certified tire service trainer, and three TIA-certified tire techs.
Old and New
Use of technology is, after all, one of M&W Tire’s areas of expertise, seemingly balancing with its intangibly philosophical approach. “The tire and service industry has been innovative in many ways and yet lagged behind in many others,” Wade says. “We try to stay on the cutting edge of everything.
“Technology is one area we excel in,” Wade begins. “We schedule all work electronically and integrate the schedule on shop computers for our technicians and sales staff to update, so they can keep our time commitments. Those shop computers are tied to the Web so our technicians can access all possible resources to solve difficult cases or just confirm their diagnoses. Our inspections are done on an iPad and can be emailed or viewed online.
“We have the latest alignment, inspection, tire-changing and balancing equipment available,” he adds. “We use inter-office instant messaging to aid in communication. And we create our own reports to help the office run smoothly and so the sales staff knows where we need to improve.”
In addition to staying on the cutting edge of technology, M&W Tire also keeps up with advancements in green initiatives.
“Environmental impact is important,” Wade says. “We replaced all of our lighting with green technology to save on consumption. We burn waste oil for shop heating and recycle coolant to reduce our environmental footprint. We have registered all of our customers’ tires for them for years, instead of handing them a paper card and hoping they complete it. We’re also working toward a paper-free work-order system to reduce paper con- sumption.”
Driving business is a mix of old and new marketing methods. M&W Tire says it is involved “in all forms of advertising,” and builds on its core theme of “Family, Trust and Community,” says Wade.
“Our recent full-page newspaper ad was devoted to thanking our veterans,” he notes. “The last TV commercial featured a sponsored youth football program and our last radio script was customer testimonials.”
Social media, like M&W Tire’s Facebook page, he says, are often focused on safety suggestions and safe driving tips. Direct mail is used for special events and service reminders, while email alerts customers to “happening now” programs.
“One of our most successful programs is a peel off card that we sell for $79 to $119 that entitles a guest to six prepaid full-service oil changes. It’s a loss leader, but generates repeat business and a real value to a value-minded consumer.”
Such high standards, Wade reiterates, are simply embedded in the company’s history.
“This store was the brainchild of Bud Wade,” he says. “He would make notes of designs, systems and layouts and kept all of that together until it was time to build his dream. In 1975 an opportunity presented itself and he teamed up with Paul Zurcher, Ray Monteith and Firestone to purchase two locations in southwest Michigan. After a couple of years he found a central location and combined the two stores into one state-of-the-art facility. We changed our focus from medium truck tires to only passenger and light truck, and converted our truck tire center into auto service bays, which brought our bay count to 16.”
Now M&W Tire is a second-generation family business under the leadership of president Adam Wade, with the third generation “on the fast track to management,” according to Mark Wade. Zurcher remains involved as a silent partner, and Bud Wade is enjoying retirement.
“Success is our people,” he says. “We feel if you make your team members better people, then the results will trickle down.
“We’ve had our staff read several leadership-based books and report back on them to fine-tune our methods,” Wade explains. “We’ve had several store meetings at resort lodges like Great Wolf and Kalahari, where we paid for everyone and their families. We’ve worked on teamwork and taught from Lou Holtz’s “Do Right,” Bob Farrell’s “Give Them the Pickle” and from Equine Assisted Leadership Training. It’s all directed toward making each person reach their full potential.”
As M&W Tire has reached its own potential, it has earned considerable honors and accolades.
“Getting accreditation like ‘AAA Approved Repair’ has been a real honor,” Wade says. “It requires a 90% customer-satisfaction rating and an annual business review to be part of the program.
“Also, Bosch came to us and wanted us to apply to be a ‘Bosch Service Facility.’ We were told we were the kind of shop they want to direct customers to. Bosch also requires annual reviews and high stan- dards among technicians to attain certification. And our Better Business Bureau rating is A+. We’re an accredited BBB member.”
So, what does the future hold for this high-achieving dealership?
“We now have the third generation involved, and with that comes fresh ideas, renewed energy and new perspectives,” Wade says.
“We’re looking to grow into new ventures, increase our footprint in our county and push our brand into new areas. Whether that means more stores, new services or better ways to deliver outstanding service, the future is exciting.”