When it comes to operating a successful business, Scott Welsh knows it’s all in the details. Since founding Courtesy Auto Service & Tire of Tacoma in 2003, he’s monitored, measured, evaluated and made adjustments along the way as needed.
The result is a finely-tuned tire dealership that has carved out its niche among loyal customers in the Tacoma, Washington, area. The single location business caters to clients who see the overall value in quality service—not just demand the lowest price—allowing Welsh and his staff of eight to form relationships, offer exemplary service, and act as problem-solvers to get the job done.
It’s no surprise that this year, Courtesy Auto earned the title of three-time Tire Review Top Shop Award Finalist, having also won the honor in 2018 and 2015.
Steering the Course
Welsh is a tire industry veteran, having worked for Goodyear for more than a dozen years in a variety of positions ranging from retail to marketing to wholesaling. In 2003, Welsh and a business partner bought a Goodyear tire shop at the Tacoma Mall.
“This was a Goodyear retail facility that was owned by Goodyear, and they were going to close it,” Welsh says. “We kept it open. We took a corporate store that had been run into the ground and created an independent dealership.”
Today, Welsh and his wife, Susan, are the shop’s sole proprietors, buying out their partner within a couple years after the business was purchased.
While Courtesy Auto is a thriving independent dealership, you’ll still find the Goodyear name on the building. Welsh says this is because the well-known brand appeals to his desired customer.
“The name ‘Goodyear’ is synonymous with quality, innovation and high value. There is a level of expertise and knowledge that is perceived in a well-known, branded retailer,” Welsh explains. “This helps us be a well-known facility in the market. It helps us attract quality people to work here. It helps us attract the right customer to make longtime clients.”
Despite this powerhouse branding, when Welsh opened Courtesy Auto, there were immediate challenges that came with breathing new life into the neglected store.
“We inherited a lot of problems with a lot of customers,” he says. “We inherited a lot of challenges with the location and a lot of reputation issues in the market, which we had to overcome.”
It was at that time that Welsh began closely monitoring business functions, tracking what worked and what didn’t, and standing at the ready to change course, if needed. He developed and still uses an extensive spreadsheet with years of data measuring many key performance indicators: average repair order, average hours per repair order, car count, new customers, discounts, and parts-to-labor ratio, among others.
The stats are tracked monthly and annually, through simple input at the end of each day. The information is used for analysis and goal setting, and is shared as needed in meetings with staff.
“This information can be helpful in adjusting your tire price matrix, parts matrix or determining if hourly labor should be changed,” Welsh explains. “It can help determine if your discounts are too high at any given time…or determine tech efficiency and effective hourly rate.”
Because of this data collection, Welsh decided several years ago to close the shop on Saturdays and move to a five-days-per-week operation.
“We had to review business, car count, payroll, customer service aspects, [then] analyze and create a plan, and make the change,” Welsh says of the challenging shift. “Good communication with employees and clients was important. We created systems for after-hours pick-up and added additional loaner cars to assist customers.”
Serving Ideal Customers
As it turns out, some of those very same steps taken to aid customers in getting their vehicles serviced Monday through Friday have been beneficial for Courtesy Auto’s operations during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We already had a lot of things in place that were easily adapted to this environment,” Welsh says. “For contactless pick-up of vehicles, I had lock boxes that we’ve been utilizing for a long time, where if somebody wanted to pick up the car after hours, I could secure their car and lock their keys in a box, and text them a code to the box so they can get their keys when it’s convenient.”
At the start of the pandemic, Courtesy Auto communicated to its customers that as an essential business, the shop was ready to serve them safely. A new marketing video distributed via email and posted to social media emphasized safety in the form of disinfection of key fobs, door handles, high touch points, etc.
“We needed to show people that we care about them, making sure that they understand we’re a safe place to do business with,” Welsh says. “We needed to make sure people understand that we’re serious about not only being there to fix their cars, but doing it in a safe way.”
This commitment to customer relationships echoes the shop’s goal of offering a better customer experience.
“We provide transparency during the entire transaction, using tablets to provide digital vehicle inspections and show photos and/or video of conditions with the vehicle. This keeps the customer engaged and creates trust,” Welsh says. “We have a CRM program to keep customers engaged. We offer a VIP program where clients can earn rewards for returning to do business with us. All of these things create a better customer experience and help build confidence in our business.”
Welsh isn’t interested in discount marketing or advertising to increase car count, or offering the lowest price in town. In fact, after operating Courtesy Auto for a couple years, he took steps to change perceptions of customers who seek low price over high value, putting the dealership in a position to better care for its ideal customers.
“That leads to the fact of working with a better class of customer—and working smarter, not harder—and it pays off,” he says. “When you’re trying to provide a really good value to them and educate them, and trying to be a problem solver, you can build your value.”
As one way to target and develop the desired customers, Courtesy Auto stresses the value of the cost of proper diagnosis. Whether the diagnosis encompasses the brakes, steering, suspension or other systems on the vehicle, Courtesy Auto charges for inspection and diagnostic work. Some inspection fees, such as for the brakes, may be refunded if the customer has the recommended services performed.
“We have these conversations at the counter and have an opportunity to build value, engage the customer and create the proper perceptions and expectations,” Welsh explains. “This approach allows for additional income and helps create a relationship where the customer understands the value that our expertise provides. If we experience resistance to this proposition, it gives us a good idea where this customer may fit relative to our ideal target.”
It’s an approach that has worked well, as evidenced by the shop’s overwhelmingly positive reviews (4.7-star rating on Google) left by customers.
“The best judge of how well we meet our customer service philosophy is the feedback clients leave in the form of reviews,” Welsh says. “It is heartening to see the time they take to write reviews.”
Those online reviews are a key part of Courtesy Auto’s digital footprint, along with a robust website (tacomaautorepairshop.com) and frequently updated social media pages, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, Yelp and more.
The shop uses a variety of merchandising and marketing techniques. Rather than marketing the lowest price like many competitors, Welsh chooses to market the experience and high value that a customer will receive.
“We leverage the Goodyear brand name to attract a customer with high service expectations,” he says. “We talk about service, results and expertise; it is a message consumers appreciate and want. We market these messages in-store, online, in local neighborhood magazines, on social media and in email marketing. This differentiates us from most other tire retailers and auto repair facilities in our market, chain stores and independents.”
Throughout the year, Courtesy Auto cross-promotes through social media with a Seattle Seahawks promotion, a Seattle Sounders FC2 promotion and a Seafair promotion. The shop also has held a “Drive Lambo” promotion. Courtesy Auto’s large social media following likes to participate in the contests and promotions, resulting in reach, engagement and positive branding.
Community & Environmental Impact
Courtesy Auto is deeply involved in the community, as a member of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber of Commerce and an accredited member of the Better Business Bureau of Washington. Welsh also is a member of Network of Tacoma, in which he works with other local business owners to expand networks and collaborate on new ideas related to marketing, operations and other business challenges.
The shop supports numerous charitable organizations, but places emphasis on Pierce County Santa Cops and Hot Rods 4 Hearts. The former is a Pierce County Sheriff’s Department program that helps hundreds of families who need assistance during Christmas, with deputies and support staff making the deliveries. Hot Rods 4 Hearts is a charity car show in which Courtesy Auto participates as a primary sponsor and helps raise funds for the Pierce County Chapter of the American Heart Association.
In addition to giving back to the community, Welsh prioritizes a commitment to the environment. In 2019, Courtesy Auto reduced its carbon footprint by converting and rewiring every light fixture (roughly 640) to LED; over the last few years it also took four in-ground lifts out of service, drained and sealed them, and installed above-ground lifts, mitigating any underground contamination. The shop recycles used oil and transmission fluid, scrap metal, wastepaper and all old oil filters.
Because of these actions, the shop received the 2020 Tacoma Environmental Business Award from the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber of Commerce. Courtesy Auto also is an EnviroStar Business in its market, a designation administered by the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department.
“I think if you are part of your community, you have a responsibility to make sure you do what you can to make it better,” Welsh says. “We are in a state that is environmentally-conscious, so we practice what our consumers expect, and we talk about it. There are benefits: cost savings, proud employees and happy clients.”
Welsh plans to continue to operate Courtesy Auto as he always has: providing top-notch customer service and using data to steer the course. “We want to continue to grow the business, we want to acquire new customers, and we want to make an impact in the community,” he says.
For Welsh, this also means working on, rather than in, his business. Because of his well-trained and loyal staff, as well as the systems in place, he’s able to spend more time in the community doing network marketing, calling on outside accounts, or working on operational tasks like business planning.
“I have recruited and kept key people who have taken over mostly all customer service aspects and this has allowed me to work on my business. If you’re going to be a business owner, you can’t be everything—you can’t be the guy who fixes a car and everything else.”
Though he still performs daily management and customer service duties, for the past few years, Welsh has had the opportunity to spend more time performing executive management tasks and working on the business.
You’ve got to have people who you can count on and you have to have everybody on the same page,” he says. “Everybody has to have the same vision about the type of customer you want, how you take care of the customer, and why we do it the way we do it.”