If you asked Courtesy Auto Service & Tire of Tacoma owner Scott Welsh what he does for a living, he wouldn’t tell you he’s a tire dealer. He would tell you he’s a problem solver.
“Everyone from myself down to my newest guy, who is primarily a tire installations/general maintenance technician, we all have the same attitude about taking care of the customer and understand that is our primary concern,” Welsh says. “We want to do the best we possibly can and solve their problems.”
And that attitude is a primary reason why Courtesy Auto Service & Tire was selected as a Finalist in the 2015 Tire Review Top Shop Award, presented by Ammco/Coats.
The shop has been solving automotive and tire problems since 2003 when Scott, his wife, Susan, and a business partner bought an old Goodyear tire shop behind the Tacoma Mall, in the city. Nearly overnight, the shop was transformed. Today, Scott and Susan are the shop’s sole proprietors, buying out their partner a year after the building was purchased.
Courtesy Auto prides itself as the place for residents of Tacoma and nearby communities to visit for all of their tire and auto service needs. The business’ problem-solving mentality forms the basis of the eight-bay, auto repair and tire shop, as well as the practices of its eight full-time employees.
Grossing about $1.2 million in sales in 2014, 90% retail and 10% commercial, as part of the Goodyear Tire and Service Network, Courtesy Auto’s blue exterior and yellow-trimmed roof clearly brand the store, but this Top Shop Award Finalist is not your typical Goodyear dealer.
Spreading its Wingfoot
Welsh began his career in the tire business at 21 years old working as a tire salesman at a Goodyear dealership. Working his way up, Welsh has been in the Goodyear family for years in a variety of retail, wholesale and marketing positions for the tiremaker.
When the Tacoma location became available, Welsh jumped at the opportunity.
The store closed its doors on a Friday, and Welshes and their original partner took ownership immediately. Over the weekend they cleaned and re-merchandised the building, worked with vendors and were open for business Monday morning as Courtesy Auto Service &Tire of Tacoma.
“Owning my own store was a goal that I’ve always had,” Welsh says. “The tire business is in my blood.”
Welsh says learning how to run a business and assemble a team that worked well together were his biggest challenges. To help the shop’s performance, he created an extensive spreadsheet program to help him manage key performance indicators that he shares daily with managers and sales staff. He also found the right management team through constant recruitment.
In the last five years, Welsh has learned how to run a business instead of having the business run him, with the shop experiencing a 27.1% sales increase this year and a 5.6% net profit increase.
While Welsh takes pride in supplying his customers Goodyear, Kelly and some Dunlop branded tires – and participates in Goodyear advertising – he finds ways to differentiate the business from other Goodyear stores.
Courtesy Auto also operates a satellite facility for a passenger tire fleet account,located about 15 miles away from its Tacoma location. If they can’t get the job done there, the vehicles are brought to the main store.
“I think differentiation can come a lot of ways,” Welsh says. “It can come with the level of service that you provide when people call or come in and the attitude that you take in helping those people.
“We have to understand the only reason a customer comes to us is because they have a need, and we have to be there to listen to their concerns, ask the right questions, and get them to understand that we really want to help them and walk them through that process.”
Being in the Tacoma Mall parking lot, Welsh has positioned his business as the go-to place for automotive needs for businesses and employees at the mall. Creating special employee purchase programs helps get more customers into the store.
Welsh shares, however, getting onto your computer and surfing the Web is the easiest way to find Courtesy Auto.
“We had a really good digital footprint so people could find us because more people are throwing the Yellow Pages away and relying less on print media to find tire and automotive repair facilities and relying on the Internet to point them in the right direction,” Welsh says.
Welsh attributes Courtesy’s success to being at the forefront of Internet and social media practices. As the digital revolution was growing and social media and smartphones boomed in the mid 2000s, Courtesy Auto put a lot of effort into using digital media to communicate and market to its customers.
“It has led to a less expensive, measurable way of communicating with customers,” Welsh says. “It’s what the customer expects now and getting in early has allowed us to remain relevant and competitive.”
Online, Courtesy Auto updates social media feeds like Twitter and Facebook with new deals and posts informative videos on YouTube and its website. If customers are looking to learn more about TPMS or when it’s time to replace a tire, there are Courtesy Auto Minute videos on YouTube to help educate customers.
In these short clips, Welsh himself explains different automotive and tire problems and systems in a simple, visual and informative way.
“YouTube is a huge marketing avenue out there,” Welsh says. “And it’s owned by Google so if you have more content on YouTube it helps your SEO and Google rankings and listing.”
Courtesy Auto also heavily practices reputation management. Good word of mouth is great, but good word on the Internet is even better and an additional way to drive business.
The shop keeps its reputation ship-shape by focusing advertising and marketing dollars on digital.
“We spend more money on website presence, electronic marketing, database marketing, email marketing, things like that. And we do support some of the print stuff that Goodyear does,” Welsh says.
Besides the Goodyear print advertising and promotions, Courtesy Auto prefers email over direct mail.
Courtesy Auto uses Demandforce to send customers service and recommended services reminders via email and also requests feedback through surveys and reviews.
Courtesy Auto’s website – tacomaautorepairshop.com – is optimized for mobile and undergoes a redesign every few years to keep it updated. Appointments and service requests can all be made online, bringing in customers as well as information to use for future marketing endeavors.
The store also uses digital practices for workflow and customer programs with the use of iPads and tablets. Every customer at Courtesy Auto has the opportunity to sign up for the store’s free VIP Program. Welsh says the program is a great way to reward customers for their loyalty.
When customers enter the store, a kiosk on the counter holds an iPad that prompts customers to enter their information and immediately be texted or emailed a $5 coupon. Returning customers use the same kiosk to check-in, which logs their visits. After five visits, customers are rewarded with a $40 gift card. VIP members also receive excusive deals via text or email every month.
Courtesy Auto is big on utilizing email and text messages to communicate deals and services to customers. If a customer drops off his or her for car maintenance or to have tires replaced, technicians record everything on a tablet to show customers before they make decisions on repairs.
Since July 2014, Welsh and his team have used Mobile Manager Pro to utilize tablets to make workflow and communication more efficient.
Using the tablet system allows Courtesy Auto to consistently document the good, the bad, and things that might be an issue in the future. The system communicates directly with the shop management system and allows for VIN scanning, photographs, notes and recommendations – all integrated into the shop management system. With all this information, an inspection report is created that can be sent to the customer. And the information is also accessible 24/7 via the cloud.
“I’m able to text you with the inspection report link that you can look at and you can see what’s going on with the car,” Welsh says. “If we made a recommendation for a new air filter, for instance, you can see a picture of the old air filter and how dirty it is. So that creates transparency with the customer that they can really understand because visual is a lot better than just talking to the customer over the phone.”
“We are able to communicate with them quicker and show them what we recommend and what is good, bad, and different with their car and have a conversation with them. It makes it easier for them to make informed choices on repairs for their cars.”
Welsh says that the tablet system has bettered the store’s efficiency and allowed for higher gross profit, increased technician efficiency, and, of course, increased the shop’s problem solving abilities.
Creative Drives and Touchdowns
Courtesy Auto has no problem coming up with unique ways to market their brand; the shop’s promotions have included everything from driving a Lamborghini for a day to riding in the Goodyear blimp.
For the past two years, Courtesy Auto ran a contest for a 24-hour Lamborghini Gallardo rental. The promotion runs for about three months and culminates at the dealership’s Benefit Car Show in late August or early September.
“It’s not every day you see a Lamborghini rolling through Tacoma,” Welsh says. “That generates a lot of excitement and differentiates us in the market because nobody else does that. Everybody else runs a sale, everybody has rebates, everybody does certain things but they don’t do things out of the box like that.”
Come football season Courtesy Auto stands by the state’s NFL pride – the Seattle Seahawks – with promotions that connect with the team’s legendary “12th man.”
To say Courtesy Auto likes the Seahawks is an understatement. The shop and its customers are huge fans, evident by the touches of Seahawk decor at the shop and the popular Seahawk promotions all season long. If the Seahawks play like they have in the past, the promotions should go well this year, Welsh jokes.
The Seahawk promotions start with merchandise giveaways like jerseys through Facebook and email marketing. The shop relies heavily on Facebook to push a final score-guessing contest to extend customer engagement and keep the Seahawks’ “12th man” in mind.
Courtesy Auto also designs $12 off coupons that are emailed to customers and are posted on the website.
“It plays on that community feel,” Welsh adds. “It doesn’t matter if you are in Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia, everybody watches the Seahawks and we are all 12th men.”
In the Community
Over the years, Courtesy Auto has been heavily involved in bettering the community.
Courtesy Auto is Envirostars Certified, meaning the shop has demonstrated a commitment to reduction of hazardous waste in the community and has taken steps to reduce its power consumption.
The shop also donates and works to with numerous charities.
After someone close to Welsh suffered a heart-related tragedy, Courtesy Auto began sponsoring the annual Hot Rods 4 Hearts Car Show that benefits the American Heart Association.
“We feel there is importance and great satisfaction in helping those in our community,” Welsh says.
During the holidays the shop has helped support groups that make Christmas special for the less fortunate, such as the Forgotten Children’s Fund and the Pierce County Santa Cops.
“There are organizations out there that do a lot of different things that need funding and we try to find a way to do that,” Welsh says.
As part of the Network of Tacoma, Courtesy Auto also supports different charities each quarter such Soup Ladies, which provides meals for first responders; Changing Rein, an horse-riding therapy group for special needs children; and Tears Foundation, a funeral assistance organization for families.
“We also collaborate with other businesses to get them involved in the charities that we support,” Welsh says. “As important as it is to grow our customer base, we find it equally important to grow trust and to have a feeling of responsibility and pride in our city. Whether supporting a local elementary school or something on a larger scale, it simply feels great to be able to help in some way.”
Auctions are a big way Courtesy Auto generates donations, often having help from Goodyear to supply items for auction.
The store has donated auction proceeds to Point Defiance Zoo, civic organizations like Kiwanis International and Rotary International, and The Rainbow Center, a non-profit that provides a safe space and resources to the LGBTQ community.
Despite its size, Welsh says Tacoma is really a small town and the shop winning a spot as a Top Shop Awards Finalist is big for the community the shop tries to give back to.
While helping the community will always be a priority, expanding charity and business in the community is a goal. Welsh would like to find a way to take a small percentage of overall sales, or net profits, and put it into a fund that Courtesy Auto would support on a annual basis and give to a charity each year.
As far as business goes, Welsh hopes in the next five years to buy the property and building where Courtesy Auto operates. Expanding into another location in the market is also a possibility if an opportunity comes.
But, for now, Welsh and the Courtesy Auto team are happy to keep solving problems in Tacoma.
“I think it’s huge for Tacoma to have someone that is recognized as a Top Shop, and it reflects what we do,” Welsh says. “I’m very pleased with that, and very happy and very honored.”