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2016 Top Shop Finalist: Dunn Tire

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Honesty, integrity and transparency. These are the core values that Dunn Tire LLC strives to present its customers each day. And it is these same core values that have made the dealership so successful.

Dunn Tire is a business engrained in the communities it serves. The dealership is an active participant in the betterment of the region and truly cares about serving its customers.

Founded in 1973 by James Dunn, over the years the business grew to include 11 stores in Buffalo and Rochester, N.Y., and Erie, Pa.

In the mid ’90s, he realized in order for the business to continue to thrive and grow, a new structure was needed; so in 1996, Dunn sold his business to Randy Clark.

dunntire-nfalls-insideClark, who was inducted into the Tire Industry Hall of Fame in 2012, was no tire industry novice when he purchased Dunn Tire. Prior to purchasing the dealership, Clark served as chairman of Dunlop Tire North America. It is Clark’s direction that led Dunn Tire to become the trusted community member it is today.

“From a leadership perspective and a vision perspective [Randy Clark] has really guided the company,” shares David Simons, executive vice president and chief financial officer for Dunn. “He’s really changed the perception of Dunn Tire from the shop around the corner to something that’s very recognizable in the region as a good retail operation that people trust.”

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Under Clark’s leadership as president and chairman of the board, Dunn Tire grew from 11 stores to 30 locations employing more than 500 full-time and 40 part-time workers. Headquartered in Buffalo, N.Y., Dunn Tire also operates stores in Syracuse, Rochester and Southern Tier, N.Y., as well as Erie, Pa.

In addition to its retail business, Dunn Tire operates a wholesale business in parts of Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York. Currently the dealership operates five warehouses, but is building a sixth warehouse, set to open in 2017.

It is this continual success and dedication to its customers and community that makes Dunn Tire a Tire Review Top Shop Finalist.

Built Around the Customer

Dunn Tire credits its success and growth over the years to a transition from a volume- and price-driven shop to a business that focuses on culture and delivering world-class customer service.

“Anybody in the automotive business can sell tires. We all basically carry the same brands and, for the most part, our pricing is all very, very similar,” says Robert Clark, managing director of retail operations. “Really, the only differentiating thing we have is who we are as a company and how well we treat our customers. So, we take that very, very seriously.”

dunntire-camillus-outsideThis customer focus can be seen every day in Dunn Tire’s core values: honesty, integrity and transparency. These values are featured in the dealership’s marketing message, hiring practices and customer service.

“We’re focused on doing things right and not doing things fast,” Simons says. “Any recommendations to a customer are really based on need and not on our desire to be more profitable or to sell more tires. I think more often than not we’re underselling rather than overselling. I think that is something in our industry that is a bit unusual, but I think it’s the right way to go about it.”

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Paul Pittner, director of inventory/distribution for Express Tire Delivery at Dunn Tire, agrees that the customer relationship is key.

“Our concern is for the customer. We put the customer and their needs first,” says Pittner. “We don’t try to oversell anything. We want to serve you, your son, your daughter and your wife. We want to go for the long haul; it’s not about a quick hit sale to see what we can get from you. We want to be a service partner for as long as we’re all around,” he says.

As part of its customer service philosophy, Dunn Tire developed the Customer Bill of Rights. These rights are printed and displayed at every Dunn Tire location and let the customer know what they can expect from the dealership. Below is an excerpt:

“At Dunn Tire our highest priority is serving our customers. We are 100% committed to you, our valued customer. We strive to make every part of your visit with us a world class experience. That’s why we’ve created this Customer Bill of Rights. These rights are our pledge that your business with us is subject to the highest level of service from everyone in our company.

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The Right to our responsiveness, and our respect.

The Right to be sold only what you need.

The Right to a clear explanation of costs before we do any work.

The Right to have trained professionals working on your vehicle.

The Right to always know the status of your vehicle.

The Right to a 30-day no hassle tire return policy.

The Right to a clean, comfortable place to wait.

The Right to be our most important customer.

The Right to be 100% satisfied with your Dunn Tire experience.”

Printed at the bottom of every Bill of Rights promise is Robert Clark’s contact information.

“The implication is, if you didn’t get the service that we just promised you in the aforementioned points on our Bill of Rights, pick up the phone and call right to the top of the retail organization, and we’ll get it handled,” Clark shares.

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Clark says he doesn’t get many calls but when he does, customers are surprised to have reached him directly.

“When a customer gives us feedback, good or bad, we get to it immediately. That Bill of Rights is not a pacifying marketing piece by any stretch. It’s the way we run our business, and we take it very, very seriously. If that phone rings, that customer will be taken care of immediately,” he says.

dunntire-union-rd-outsideIn addition to its Customer Bill of Rights, Dunn offers several other services with the customer in mind.

The Dunn Dozen, or out-the-door pricing, provides customers with a detailed description of everything included in the tire purchase price. Included in the Dunn Dozen are: mounting and balancing; nitrogen inflation; TPMS reset; nationwide road hazard warranty; 24-hour roadside assistance; free tire rotations; lifetime pressure checks and nitrogen top off; free lifetime flat repairs; lifetime alignment checks; and 200% price protection guarantee.

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“That transparency in pricing is a very big step toward building that trust and long-term relationships. Customers looking at competitors may find they charge restocking fees, and there’s an additional fee to balance your tires. They basically put out a lower-priced tire, and then when the consumer comes in the door hit them with additional behind-the-scenes charges,” Clark says. “We took an opposite approach to that. Here’s our installation price. There is no extra anything. If you just want to purchase tires, put them on your vehicle, you get all those services 100% of the time.”

Another program Dunn offers customers is its overnight program. Offered during the region’s winter and spring changeover seasons, the overnight program gives customers the option of dropping vehicles off on the way home from work, and picking them up the next morning with their tires changed. The program has been very successful for the dealership and is now in its second year.

Dunn’s retail customers aren’t the dealership’s only priority. Dunn also focuses on being a strong business partner to its wholesale customers.

“What we try to do is deliver the best service possible for our wholesale customers as well,” Pittner shares. “We offer frequent delivery, a wide range of products and we work with our customers to help train them. We want to help them be better at their business. We’re not just a supplier, we want to be a business partner.”

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Employees Lead the Way

While world-class customer service is a key differentiator at Dunn Tire, employees are driving the dealership’s success.

dunntire-technician“The strength of our company resides in the culture of our company that we’ve created,” Clark says. “Customer service is not really a set of guidelines or a book of regulations; it really comes from the individuals that you employ. If they’re well-trained, motivated, happy, work in a clean and safe environment, they’re going to deliver that customer service for you.”

“Having highly qualified employees with a very high level of morale creates an environment that delivers world-class customer service,” he continues.

In order to get the best employees, Dunn is constantly recruiting. The dealership is always soliciting resumes, even if there aren’t any job openings.

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“We’re always trying to find the best people in the market to work at our company – whether it be in the stores, in wholesale or our distribution centers. That’s our goal,” Clark says.

Once hired, every new employee at Dunn Tire has a future career path at the dealership.

“All of our employees basically start at the same level, with 95% starting out doing the back of shop training, regardless of where they were going to end up in the company,” Clark shares. “We start them off in that vein, and they either can choose the management track or we would put them on the mechanical track.

“What we’re trying to build for is a very dynamic workforce. One that a person can come up front and be very proficient at understanding and meeting the customer’s needs from a sales standpoint and, at the same time, be able to go in the back shop if there’s any kind of resource constraint.”

Training includes time in the classroom and hands-on training with TIA and ASE-certified instructors. The dealership also provides employees with a tire tech handbook and store operations manual. Additionally, Dunn Tire offers an ongoing employee mentorship program.

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“In the automotive business trying to train for all the circumstances that somebody might see every day is a very difficult thing to do,” Clark shares. “We found that the experience is really what translates.”

Partnering a senior staff member with a new one helps employees feel comfortable in their jobs and accelerates their training, the company says.

dunntire-oil-changeIn an effort to promote a safe work environment, Dunn Tire annually trains all employees on hazard communication, auto lifts, ergonomics, lock-out/tag-out and hand and power tools, as well.

Employee recognition is also an important part of the Dunn Tire culture. The dealership recognizes employee success publically through its “Mission World-Class” platform. The online employee recognition system is open to all employees. Personnel can recognize each other for performing consistently at a high level, for exceeding expectations and for greatly exceeding expectations. Every recognition can earn staff members points that can later be redeemed for gift cards.

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Dunn also uses the system to conduct internal surveys twice a year. The survey asks employees for their opinions on the work environment and communications as well as the level of service provided to customers.

“It helps us keep an honest assessment from an executive team perspective. We can look and can sort of get a pretty good deep-temperature check on employees and see if they feel like we’re delivering what we promise to the customers and to them as employees,” Clark says.

Sports-Driven Marketing

Dunn Tire’s marketing is also a reflection of the dealership and its core values. The company’s tagline – “Service you deserve, professionals you trust” – embodies that message.

“Most of our competitors are talking price, price, price. We touch on price a little bit, but really, the emphasis of our message is to stress our core values as a company,” Clark says. “It’s that honesty, integrity and transparency that we want to show the customers out there. They can come and buy from us with confidence…Our advertising is a commercial versions of our Bill of Rights, if you will.”

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Dunn Tire advertises through most traditional channels including, television, radio, Internet and some print. The dealership has an internal marketing team that handles most of its programs, but Dunn will work with outside agencies on some projects such as television spots.

Dunn Tire’s major marketing campaigns revolve around sports. The dealership has partnerships with the Buffalo Bills, Buffalo Sabres, and Rochester Americans. Additionally, Rex and Rob Ryan, coaches for the Buffalo Bills, also served as Dunn Tire’s first spokespersons.

dunntireteam

“We have an incredibly loyal sports fan base in Buffalo and the surrounding areas where we have our locations. They’re among the top in both the NFL and NHL,” Clark shares. “There is no media that brings us more eyes to the television or more ears to the radio than those local sports.”

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As part of its sports sponsorships, Dunn Tire gets signage at the games, in-stadium promotions, and tickets. Additionally, Dunn can use the Bills and Sabres logos in marketing materials.   

Dunn also utilized its partnership with the Bills internally. Front-line employees were allowed to forgo the traditional shirt and tie and wear a Bills/Dunn branded polo shirt.

“We actually allowed our employees during the promotion, to wear polo shirts that were co-branded with the Bills logo right next to the Dunn Tire logo. The Bills partnership not only generated positive advertising using Rex Ryan and talking to the outside market, it generated a tremendous amount of internal momentum, support and pride from our own employees,” Clark says.

Dunn’s Bills and Sabres partnership also has other benefits for the dealership. The teams are owned by Pegula Sports, which has invested in a revitalization effort within Buffalo the past several years.

“Pegula Sports has really uplifted a sense of renaissance within Buffalo. To be able to partner with a local company like Pegula Sports, who is doing those kind of community-based activities and improving the city, is definitely a partnership we’re very proud to be a part of,” Clark notes.

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Strong Community Ties

Like Pegula Sports, Dunn Tire is more than just its day-to-day operations. The dealership is also extremely active within the community.

dunntire-tire-rotation“There’s a lot of pride in living in the area we operate in. For us, it’s very important to support local businesses, local charities and be part of that community that has supported us so well over 40 years. It’s good to be able to give back, and we should give back where it makes sense,” shares Clark.

As a company, Dunn gives back both with its time and money. Several members of the dealership’s senior leadership sit on non-profit boards as well.

“We’re very much hands-on. And it’s not just write a check and move on. The things we get involved with, almost 100% of the time, we really do get behind with both ourselves at the executive level and our employees,” Clark continues.

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For example, Dunn will sometimes bring employees out to the Boys and Girls Club to discuss careers in automotive repair.

Some of the other programs Dunn gives back to include:  Sisters Hospital; Heritage Centers; National Foundation for Just Communities; the United Way; Roswell Park Cancer Institute; Invest Buffalo Niagara; and Buffalo Renaissance Foundation.

Future

In the future, Dunn Tire will continue to innovate in order to maintain its dominant position in the market, the dealership says.

“Our biggest key to success would be keeping the culture of customer service strong and we’ll continue to grow,” says Clark.

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