Don Foshay Jr. knows what his shop is and what it isn’t. The six-location Maine dealership, founded in 1987, isn’t as large as the big box stores; it doesn’t have the marketing budget of a New England-wide tire chain.
Instead, Don Foshay’s Discount Tire & Alignment expertly uses what it does possess — customer loyalty; a caring, well-trained staff; and tech-savvy digital marketing — to ensure growth, success and customer satisfaction.
The 2019 Tire Review Top Shop Awards Finalist, which employs 75 full-time and 6 part-time staff members, saw gross sales of $15.9 million last year from a mix of 60% tires and 40% vehicle service. Of those sales, 45% were from retail, 49% were from wholesale, and 6% were from commercial.
Don Foshay’s is a member of TIA, NETSA, Cooper Medallion, Falken Fanatic, Pirelli Fast Track and NAPA Auto Care. The dealership regularly stocks tires from Cooper, Falken, Starfire, Pirelli, Firestone, Bridgestone, Michelin and Goodyear.
Among other factors, the shop’s success can be chalked up to founder Don Foshay Sr.’s willingness to adapt his business to meet demand, as well as the second generation’s passion for growth and focus on the right mix of traditional and new marketing.
The Early Years
At age 16, Don Foshay Sr., a South Portland, Maine, native, began working with a tire shop in nearby Westbrook. He stayed with Yudy’s Tire for 16 years before moving to Noyes Tire in Portland as a territory representative covering all of New England. Ten years later, Foshay ventured out on his own to open two South Portland grocery stores, which sold produce, meats and sandwiches — in addition to tires.
Though the stores prospered, in 1982, Foshay decided to return his full focus on the tire industry, opening Summit Tire of New England, a wholesale business and warehouse, in Biddeford, Maine.
Don Foshay Jr. also entered the tire industry after the grocery business, having worked first as a grocery store manager. When the growth of Summit Tire called for his attention, Foshay Jr. joined his father in 1985. Two years later, Summit entered into a strategic partnership with Cooper Tires, setting up the company’s first retail store in South Portland: Don Foshay’s Discount Tire.
At that time, the Foshays emphasized the fact that the shop was locally owned, focusing on a “no-frills” approach that centered on great prices and service from people the customers knew. The tires-only business model didn’t include automotive repair or service.
The company continued to grow in both wholesale and retail sales, and another son, Michael Foshay, joined the business in 1990. Successive store openings occurred in Brunswick in 1993 and Camden in 1999. At that time, the company began offering extended mechanical services and was renamed Don Foshay’s Discount Tire & Alignment. In 2001, the original store in South Portland moved down the road to the area known as Cash Corner, with greatly expanded facilities.
With the addition of locations in Hallowell in 2008, Damariscotta in 2010, and Belfast in 2012, Foshay’s now has six stores — all of which have been awarded the ASE Blue Seal of Excellence. Every store has AAA-approved auto care status and each is a member of the Better Business Bureau. Today, Don Foshay’s has grown to be the largest Cooper Tire dealer in New England.
Smart Marketing Mix
Aiding in that substantial growth is the company’s unique mix of marketing and branding; in recent years, this includes a focus on online reviews and a website that is optimized for mobile use.
“Trying to match the large box store and the New England-wide tire chain stores in advertising and merchandising is always going to be a challenge,” Don Foshay’s Top Shop entry materials state. “So, one of our best strategies over the past 18 months has been to leverage our biggest asset: our customers.”
During that time, the company has garnered more than 600 total customer reviews on either Google or Facebook. The dealership’s average Google review stands at 4.8 out of 5.
“Studies show 90% of customers read at least one online review before visiting a business,” the entry form states. “This is particularly true with millennials, who shop reputation as much as price. For a review to be relevant and meaningful, it needs to be current, fresh. A steady flow is trustworthy.”
To aid in procuring reviews, Don Foshay’s employs an app that allows a shop manager to text the customer a review request while they are still in the store, increasing the probability that the customer will follow through with the request.
Foshay Jr. views the occasional negative review as a chance to publicly demonstrate great customer service.
“Customers look at negative reviews not just to see what the complaint was, but to see how the company responds,” he says. “We’ve had some negative reviews that have been very helpful to our business because it gives us a chance to show our character.”
Caring for Customers and Community
Of course, marketing would not lead to success without excellent customer service.
Due to the longevity of the dealership’s store managers — 10 out of 16 managers have been with the company five years or longer — regular customers are greeted by name and with a smile. Staff members work to ensure the customer experience is courteous and hassle-free, from the spotless waiting area to the complimentary coffee and Wi-Fi. Technicians use seat covers, steering wheel covers and floor mats to make sure the vehicle is returned in first-rate condition. Four-legged friends are also welcome in the shop, and managers keep dog treats behind the counter.
As part of the fabric of the community, Don Foshay’s supports numerous charitable and civic organizations. The company makes annual financial contributions to dozens of causes, from local schools and sports leagues to area clubs, public radio stations and more.
One cause that is particularly meaningful to Foshay Jr. is the Portland Boys and Girls Club. Last year, Don Foshay’s teamed up with the group to fund its new “Bicycle Repair and Ride” program, which focuses on fostering safe riding skills, physical well-being, and meeting peers. A select group of participants — those who are interested in mechanical skills — are enrolled in an advanced bicycle repair class. They service bikes that are donated to the program, as well as bikes of other participating members.
Equally as important as its customers and community is ensuring the employees of Don Foshay’s are treated well.
This includes keeping up-to-date on equipment and training, according to Foshay Jr., who says that all managers and tire technicians are TIA-certified upon hire and are rewarded for advanced TIA training. In addition, ASE certification training takes place in every store and Foshay pays for the certification testing.
“We can be the best marketers in the world and the best buyers in the world, but when somebody walks in and they’re standing in front of the counter, it really is about the people,” Foshay Jr. says. “Although it’s hard for me to be objective, I believe we have the best people in the state. Most of them live in the communities that they serve, so they have a vested interest in keeping customers happy. They are reminded often that the Foshay family name is on the building; they treat customers as if it’s their name on the sign.”
The future of Don Foshay’s Tire looks bright, as Foshay Jr. plans to open two or three new retail stores within the next five years.
“My goal has always been to get to 10 retail stores and to continue to maintain a wholesale business,” he explains. “Ten retail stores is big enough to keep your suppliers happy and provide opportunities for your employees, but also a size where I can have a really good, solid feel for what kind of product we’re turning out. I never had any aspirations to own 50 stores; I just wouldn’t feel comfortable.”
Foshay Sr., 82, is still involved in the business, working in the dealership a couple days a week and managing the wholesale inventory. While Foshay Jr. owns the retail side of the business, he and Michael Foshay are partners in the wholesale business, Summit Tire of New England.
“The tire industry has given me an opportunity to build a business with my father and my brother, who I consider to be my two best friends,” Foshay Jr. says. “We’ve never had a cross word in 30 years, which is highly unusual in a family business.”
Check out the rest of the October digital edition of Tire Review here.