My DNA is not being a follower; my DNA is being a leader. I don’t jump through hoops. I create hoops for people to jump through. And that’s what I’m proud of doing. And the reason I do it is because I want to raise the bar, and I don’t want to be told no or that something can’t be done. So, once you tell me it can’t be done, it’s going to get done. — Alpio Barbara, Owner
Meet Alpio Barbara, owner of Redwood General Tire — his pride and joy. With those guiding words fueling every move, this consummate professional and perfectionist, whose passion for delivering excellence and the “perfect customer experience” never wanes, pays attention to the smallest details and never cuts corners. “You have to be when your customers are the most important part of your business,” he says.
With a huge appetite for success, Alpio serves up “white-glove polished professionalism” with a hand-picked team to form what he calls an “unbeatable group.”
And, unbeatable they are. Having been a finalist in the Tire Review Top Shop competition, presented by Coats, three times (in 2007, 2014 and 2017), Alpio and his team at Redwood General Tire have taken the top honor this year — being named the winner of the prestigious national competition. Receiving his award at the recent Top Shop event in Nashville, Alpio said: “The single-store independent tire dealer can do it — [you can] compete against the big guys as long as you take a lot of pride in what you do and become the greatest of all time in your neighborhood. Work hard, be honest, support your community, support your employees, do as much as you can for others — try to be a role model and elevate the industry. That’s all it takes … and you can win the Top Shop award.”
We caught up with Alpio to take a deeper dive into his business to find out just what makes Redwood General Tire a Top Shop.
So, why should someone bring their vehicle to Redwood General Tire?
“You [should] bring your vehicle to Redwood General Tire because we’re an independent tire dealer, we’ve been here since 1957 and we’re not going anywhere.”
Top off that longevity in the business with a highly experienced team (for example, three employees have been at Redwood General Tire for 30 years, the parts manager for 20 years and two techs have been there since Alpio took over the dealership in 1985), and you have an unequivocal lineup that drives customer satisfaction. “My point,” insists Alpio, who knows that familiarity breeds content, “is that when you come back, you’re going to see the same people who sold you your tires, who worked on your car and who probably gave you a ride to work. And, we’re involved in the community and we support a lot of things in the community.”
Walk us through the ‘perfect customer experience.’ What will one experience? What will one remember?
Redwood General Tire can handle all repairs, from scheduled maintenance to diagnostics (electrical, emissions and mechanical), and it’s a California STAR-certified smog inspection facility that can carry out smog failure diagnostics and repairs.
But, there’s a host of personal touches, too, that make the customers’ experience all that much more memorable.
“When you arrive at our door, you will always be greeted with a friendly greeting and a smile by our sales team,” says Alpio. “We’re going to talk to you and make you feel welcome. Our goal is to [have you] invite us to your next barbecue at the house.
“You’re going to experience a clean showroom; it’s going to smell fresh.” [And, the bathrooms are impeccable — an indicator that customers’ vehicles will also get that much attention, he notes.] “From there, we will listen to you and make the appropriate recommendations,” continues Alpio. “Once we take control of your vehicle, you can rest assured that we will handle it with care, by using floor, seat and steering wheel covers to avoid any unwanted stains or grease marks. We know how important your vehicle is to you, and we want to treat it as if it was our own.”
Care is also extended in the time spent answering customer questions and offering solutions to get to the root cause of the problem — whether they are tire-related questions or mechanical. Alpio explains that a lot of times, customers will come in and say that they need an alignment because their vehicle is shaking, but what they really have is a balance issue. Or, they’ll come in and say that they want their tires balanced because their car is pulling to the left, when, in reality, it’s an alignment problem.
In a nutshell, Redwood General Tire customers will have peace of mind that they brought their vehicle to the right place because they’re going to be well taken care of and treated like family, says Alpio. They’ll be given the ultimate customer experience that will make them want to come back.
And because happy employees make for happy, satisfied customers, the well-being of Redwood General Tire employees is also of utmost importance. Beyond a host of benefits and a profit-sharing program, plus creature comforts that include a nice, clean place to work, air conditioning and heat (if needed), employees are involved in the decision-making process on matters that relate to the business.
But beyond gaining their input, it makes them feel like they’re integral to the business and part of the team because their opinions are valued. “That goes a long way for morale,” says Alpio, “They’re not just a number; we respect everyone’s opinion.”
Kurt Boegner, who has worked at Redwood General Tire for just over 34 years, says he appreciates the teamwork aspect and values his role in the company. “We all rely on each other to accomplish our goal of taking care of our customers,” he says. “My favorite part about working here is we are given all the tools and freedom to make the deal and take care of our customers. I have been here so long because I am a creature of habit, and as long as I’m treated with respect and given a good wage to provide for my family, why would I want to go anywhere else?”
Denny Reiser, general manager at Redwood General Tire who has worked with Alpio for 40-plus years, echoes Kurt’s sentiments. “When we set policies and systems for the business, it’s always with all of the team involved and, in Alpio’s words, ‘if it doesn’t work, we can always change it, no idea is a bad one, eventually we find something that works for everyone involved and, most of all, for our customers.’ The way Alpio includes all of his employees in the decision-making [process] makes you feel like you’re a big part of the success of Redwood General Tire.
“He considers all of us as family and treats us as such. He has reached out on more than one occasion to help employees on personal matters and has done so without hesitation. He knows how important it is to keep employees happy and employed for the success of Redwood General Tire.”
If I’m the competition, why should I fear your business?
With competition at every turn, literally with an America’s Tire franchise next door, Alpio says he has the upper hand because of the level of ownership he and his team take over each and every customer’s vehicle. “We want to take possession of your car. We want to take ownership of your car,” Alpio explains. “So if we’re going to put tires on your car, we’re also going to align it. And, we treat everyone the same, whether you drive a Volkswagen or a Ferrari. We respect other people’s property. It’s really common sense; it’s basic stuff.”
And, being a one-stop-shop for tires and service, customers don’t have to run around town or to the dealer to get everything fixed. “We do everything from a simple tire repair, to diagnostics, to brakes, to alignment, to offering the best tires you can buy — on all makes and models.” Plus, Redwood General Tire prides itself on the expertise of its technicians who Alpio says set his store apart from the competition. “Having experts makes us a stronger team. To be a part of our technician team, you must have the desire to learn and bring a positive attitude.”
Turning to the store, it looks more like a gearhead’s dream, says Alpio, as it’s equipped with a large-screen TV, massage chairs, business workstations, sports memorabilia collection, toolbox collection and very interesting collections that can keep customers engaged.
What customers will also notice is the sales staff who are all dressed in the same button-up dress shirt with a Redwood General Tire logo. Taking multiple calls and all working on something, but immediately greeting customers with a smile, the atmosphere is something reminiscent of the old days.
Alpio has also invested heavily in the appearance and technology upgrades at Redwood General Tire. In addition to upgrading the building’s appearance two years ago, he upgraded to a new POS system that helps eliminate human error when selling tires and services. It integrates with vehicle manufacturers’ data and Redwood General Tire’s vendors to provide the latest up-to-date information. This setup also helps determine inventory movement, time spent on any job and streamlines repairs — all in the spirit of improving the customers’ experience.
This tire and service ‘empire’ that you’ve built… What did it take to get to this point? How did your upbringing prepare you for this role?
Alpio’s upbringing, in a household where he was the youngest of six children, fostered many of the values he holds true today. “It’s the way we were brought up, to respect one another and to have a hard work ethic,” he says. Following his lead, this is the same ethic that emanates from among the Redwood General Tire team, who he says take their roles very seriously. Never forgetting where he got his start in the business as a tire changer, Alpio notes, “I remember where I came from and I respect every employee that I have, because without them Redwood General Tire is not a Top Shop.”
What does the future hold for you and your business?
Having owned the business since 1985, Alpio says that if he sells Redwood General Tire someday, it will be to an owner who will continue its legacy and heritage — rather than someone who will tear down the building and put up a high-rise — and who will keep his employees, who have been the lifeblood of his business. “I’ve got to take care of them because they’ve been here with me for a long time serving our customers and our community.”
Owner: Alpio Barbara
Year Business Founded: 1957 and purchased by Alpio in 1985
Number of Locations: 1, Redwood City, CA (near San Francisco)
Size: 12,500 sq.-ft. repair facility on a 53,000 sq.-ft. lot
Years in Business: Total – 60 years, Current Ownership – 34 years
Tire Brands Regularly Stocked: Michelin, BFGoodrich, Uniroyal, Continental, Bridgestone, Firestone, Goodyear, Dunlop, Kelly, Hankook, Kumho, Pirelli, Nitto, Toyo and Nexen
Sales Mix: 50% tires (with 4,000 tires a month sold); 50% vehicle service
Approximate 2018 Gross Sales: $11,000,000
Number of Employees: 43 full-time employees; 15 of whom are auto technicians
Number of Bays: 19, equipped with the latest state of the art equipment and tools
Marketing / Buying Groups: Independent Tire Dealers Group and Tire Pros (ATD)
Fun Fact: Alpio has an event center in Arizona, known as Alpio’s @ Troon, where he displays his vintage muscle-car collection, vintage gas pumps and iconic American memorabilia.