“We touch almost 17,000 vehicles a month,” he says of the dealership, which saw gross sales of nearly $48 million last year through a mix of 40% tires and 60% vehicle service. “Who’s going to go a perfect 17,000 for 17,000? Nobody.”
When taking a close look at the business practices of this Finalist in the 2015 Tire Review Top Shop Award, presented by Ammco/Coats, no flaws are readily apparent. The Southern California dealership, with 30 retail locations and 270 full-time employees, has built upon the dream and vision of its founder, Chris’ father Nicholas Mitsos, with the highest standards and a level of quality that is fully steeped into the company culture from the top down.
While the shop’s history offers important insight into Mountain View Tire’s success, it’s the way the company has adapted throughout its 28-year history to meet the changing needs of customers in each era.
From Meals to Wheels (and Tires)
Mountain View Tire’s story is a true testament to the American dream.
Nick Mitsos, born in Youngstown, Ohio, in 1943, is the son of Greek immigrants who entered the U.S. through Ellis Island in the early 1930s. Settling in Brooklyn, N.Y., the couple soon bought the Express Restaurant in the Bronx.
“My dad spent most of his teenage years working at that restaurant,” Chris says. “He also became an All-American baseball player at Fort Hamilton High School, and was drafted by the New York Yankees.”
Because his father thought baseball was no way to make a living, Nick joined the U.S. Army in 1962. After serving two years in the 82nd Airborne Division, he went back to work at the Express Restaurant. He married Irene shortly after returning home.
When his parents passed away in the early 1970s, Nick sold the restaurant. He stayed in the food business, opening a sandwich shop in Long Island in 1974. Three years later, he moved into the world of food vending machines and enjoyed moderate success until a union work stoppage in 1983 forced him to re-evaluate his career.
After encouragement from a friend who was a Goodyear store manager, Nick decided to learn the tire and auto repair business.
“At 38 years old, my dad took a retail sales position with Goodyear making just $6.25 per hour plus spiffs,” Chris says. “His plan was to stay with Goodyear for just a year or two and then go out on his own.”
Those one or two years became five, as Nick flourished with Goodyear, earning a place in the prestigious General Manager’s Top 20 Club in 1985 and 1986.
By 1987, he knew the time was right for a move. Nick approached upper management at Goodyear and asked to be an independent dealer. He was told he would need to move to California in order to start his own store.
“In the summer of 1987 at the age of 43, he moved our entire family to Los Angeles,” Chris recalls, adding the first Mountain View Tire store in Duarte, Calif., opened for business on Dec. 3, 1987.
A Family Business
In addition to the strong support he received from Irene throughout his entire career, Nick was joined in the business by his three sons, Michael, Paul and Chris.
Today the three each share the title vice president and oversee day-to-day operations, while Nick remains CEO and “spiritual leader,” according to Chris, ensuring his sons are carrying out his vision.
After Nick opened a second store in Pomona, Calif., in 1989, Michael, who had been in landscaping, joined the company. A year later, Paul, the youngest brother, joined the business after college. In 1993, when Nick opened another two stores, Chris made the move to Mountain View Tire from selling airtime for radio stations.
“My dad grew up knowing the value of hard work and he made sure my brothers and I knew the same lessons that his parents imparted to him,” Chris says. “When Michael, Paul and I joined the family business, it wasn’t in the executive suite. We each began as a salesman behind a counter. Dad taught us the business at the store level first. We were promoted to store manager only when we were ready and had earned the position.”
For many years, each brother worked at least six days a week, including every weekend and any holidays the stores were open. “That required a lot of personal sacrifice,” Chris says. “To this day, we don’t ask our employees to do anything that we’re not willing to do. For that reason, my brothers and I still work Saturdays and many holidays.”
The close-knit brothers carved their respective roles based on natural talents and interests. Paul, an active district manager, is responsible for 12 Mountain View Tire stores and serves as a guide for the other district managers. Michael is responsible for sales, personnel, sales training, store scheduling and some HR tasks, as well as overseeing equipment repair and purchasing, plus building repair and maintenance. Chris covers marketing and advertising, pricing, tire buying, relationships with suppliers, and oversees IT functions.
Branding and Re-branding
An exclusive Goodyear dealer for many years, today Mountain View Tire also has a direct relationship with Cooper. While the dealership can get any tire brand through its distributors, it regularly stocks Goodyear, Cooper and Starfire.
“For years, in our opinion, Good-year had the best dealer program out there,” Chris says. “All the way into the early 2000s, other than a couple of national deals that Goodyear had with Sears and a few others, if someone wanted to buy a Goodyear tire, they had to go to a Goodyear dealer. That was pretty special; we were loyal to them and they were loyal to us.”
He notes that Mountain View Tire will always be a Goodyear customer, but will no longer be part of an exclusive arrangement – which is one reason the dealership currently is undergoing an important rebranding effort.
“We’re in the process of re-skinning several of our older stores,” Chris relates. “In addition to a fresh, updated appearance, we’ll add new signage that focuses on the Mountain View Tire & Auto Service brand as opposed to the Goodyear name.”
Scott Greggory, chief creative officer of Madison Avenue Marketing Group, Mountain View Tire’s marketing agency, says that while Goodyear’s brand recognition has benefited the shop in the past, the current effort will “emphasize the Mountain View Tire name over the Goodyear name,” playing up the dealership’s “strengths as an area company employing local people, providing a great local experience.”
“We really want to provide a consistent message with a consistent sign and a consistent store – basically, ensure people will get the same customer experience whether it’s online, on the air or in person,” Greggory adds.
While inconsistent signage may have been a small hurdle to overcome, Mountain View Tire’s other marketing initiatives are soaring high.
For many years, the shop has used a combination of different print advertising, including ValPak direct mail on a monthly basis, post cards sent each month to customers due for an oil change, and a regular presence in two small coupon-heavy publications in a few targeted SoCal areas.
Chris adds that Mountain View Tire also has used radio advertising on and off for a number of years. “As the face and voice of our company, I recorded most of our spots,” he says.
While radio proved effective in generating brand recognition and top-of-mind-awareness for the company, the cost of a consistent presence in the nation’s second largest media market became prohibitive, Chris notes, adding he plans to employ a new creative approach to target adults ages 25-34 and younger families. He’s also considering using either terrestrial radio or an online service such as Pandora.
New Marketing Pathways
Not relying solely on traditional marketing methods, Mountain View Tire is on the leading edge in its digital and online efforts.
“We’ve recently increased our commitment to online advertising, using text and display ads, as well as remarketing to promote awareness of MVT’s brand, our services and exclusive offers,” Chris says. “We’re currently testing a digital advertising campaign for a group of seven stores. It’s going very well, driving traffic to those stores, so I’m confident we’ll be expanding our spend in the near future.”
The dealership’s Facebook page, updated 10 to 15 times each month, is used to push out current promotions, links to blog posts, auto-related news from other online sources, reminders of how the shop can serve customers and more. Its Twitter account is used strategically, as well; its three daily updates serve the following purposes: one tweet to promote the brand, one to share content about the tire or automotive industry, and one that’s a more fun approach to auto-related topics.
For more than five years, Mountain View Tire also has connected with existing customers through a monthly email that features an exclusive offer, plus links to blog posts and easy access to the appointment, estimates, locations and coupons pages of its website.
That leads us to what is perhaps Mountain View Tire’s most significant digital effort: its website, mountainviewtire.com. Among the best in the industry, the site offers visitors several features that range from convenient to innovative, including an easy system for requesting appointments, plus a dynamic tire selector that retains vehicle information from page to page and adjusts the customer’s price as features and services are added or deleted.
The site also serves as a reliable resource for people looking for automotive information, Chris says, while giving Mountain View Tire top ranking in search engines and serving as a way to reinforce the company’s brand identity.
“Our blog and ‘Good News’ section are updated regularly with valuable content that reinforces our commitment to serving our customers and their families,” he says, adding the blog takes more of an informative approach, rather than a hard sell stance.
“It’s easy to see how consumers could get very tired of just that kind of message,” says Greggory, who writes the blog posts. “We want to provide good content that folks will come to time and time again, that they’ll share with their family members and friends, or re-post on social networks. We want Mountain View Tire to be viewed as a reliable resource.”
As a testament to the hard work the Mountain View Tire staff puts into its website, Chris says that in January 2013, the dealership received 8,490 calls; 6,160 were unique callers. The following month, the shop began improving its website and online marketing efforts. In May 2015, Mountain View Tire received 11,218 calls; 8,631 were unique – a 40% increase in unique callers.
Passion Turned Marketing Piece
Also an important part of Mountain View Tire’s branding efforts, the dealership owns and operates its own professional NHRA drag racing team – an endeavor that came about as a result of Nick Mitsos’ passion for the sport.
“My dad has been a very big drag race fan from the time he was a very young man,” Chris says. “In fact, he drag raced in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but in order to finance the buying of the business, he had to sell his racecar. He always vowed that if his business was successful and once he got his family raised, he would get back into it.”
And get back into it he did, teaming up with a friend in the 1990s to get back on the track.
“One thing led to another and in 2001, they had a very competitive purpose-built racecar and decided to start racing at the amateur level,” Chris says, adding Nick raced until 2007 with a decent amount of success.
“In 2008, he decided to make the jump to the pro stock car category; he raced a partial schedule for three seasons and didn’t have a lot of success,” Chris notes.
“Then we decided to make a change regarding who was driving the racecar. We got a young kid named Vincent Nobile to drive for us, and we had immediate success.”
At that point, the Mountain View Tire team began racing full-time on the tour; it has finished among the top 10 in NHRA standings every year since 2011.
The Mountain View Tire and Auto Service logo appears before millions of fans in the stands and those watching race day coverage on ESPN 2 – a branding bonus that overshoots the dealership’s SoCal market, to be sure. But nevertheless, the message is clear: “If we can get a Pro Stock racecar to travel a quarter mile in 6.5 seconds at 214 mph, we can take good care of the average family’s cars,” Chris says.
Customer and Staff Treatment
“My dad determined that he wanted his business to be known as the home of the WOW Experience…to have customers literally say to themselves, ‘WOW! What a great experience!’ as they left our stores,” Chris says. “It’s that foundational philosophy that continues to drive our commitment to delivering great customer service.”
Once inside a location customers see Mountain View Tire staff members wearing company-issued uniforms in a showroom that is clean and visually appealing. Customers have access to DirecTV, coffee and tea service, free Wi-Fi, clean restrooms and, in some locations, a separate area where they can work.
“We choose not to compete on price alone, so not only do we preach excellent customer service, we teach it,” Chris says. “It begins with a smile and treating everyone we encounter with respect and dignity, from customers and fellow employees to the mail carrier and auto parts delivery people who visit our stores.”
Employees are empowered to make decisions in order to create a positive customer interaction. “The customer gets the benefit of the doubt every time,” Chris notes. “Our employees are expected to be thick-skinned, to avoid becoming defensive, and to always take the high road.”
Part of that empowerment involves going above and beyond for customers – opening early or closing later if a customer needs it or providing service free of charge in the event of an emergency.
The entire team has received training from AskPatty.com regarding how to communicate and better serve the unique needs of female customers. Employees also are taught to “speak with assertions and positive declarations, and to make and keep promises – a technique called ‘The – Language of Commitment’ that Dan Molloy, of Molloy LLC, taught our staff many years ago,” Chris adds.
“We have a deep, authentic regard for our customers, our employees and our brand,” he says. “We understand that the war is won on the ground. Every satisfied customer represents good word-of-mouth and a potential lifelong revenue stream. The happier our employees, the better and more consistent our customer experience.
“Also, it’s personal,” Chris adds. “As a family-owned company, our name is on the line each time we work with a customer or interact with a member of the public. It’s important to us that people trust that name and, by extension, every employee in the Mountain View Tire family.”
Each year, Mountain View Tire donates money to dozens of local charities and organizations within its locations’ communities. As opposed to supporting larger, national causes, the dealership prefers to contribute to local schools, sports programs and law enforcement agencies.
“The organization that we’ve probably supported the most over the last five years is actually our church, St. Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Church,” Chris says. “They, in turn, support many other charities.”
Since 2010, the shop has worked with the Auto Technology Department at Golden West College, located in Huntington Beach, Calif., providing internships to give future automotive technicians a chance to broaden their education while working in a professional environment.
Rather than focus on growth for growth’s sake, Mountain View Tire will look for opportunities that make sense moving forward.
“We will continue to open new stores when we see an opportunity in an under-served area,” Chris says. “Conversely, if we reach the end of a lease on a grossly under-performing store, we will close it. We are pursuing quality, not quantity.”
It’s this quality that will carry Mountain View Tire & Auto Service into its third generation someday.
“We focus on creating raving fans first and selling tires and automotive services second,” Chris says. “Our success is the result of hard work, determination and surrounding ourselves with the best people in the industry. Our mantra, ‘Failure is not an option,’ is the driving force behind our family and our company.”