When you’ve got your whole team pulling in the same direction, not only can goals be well outlined — but they are more easily attained. While this concept may sound simple to achieve, it’s actually a deeply rooted core philosophy at Plaza Tire Service that helps drive its success.
With a whopping 69 locations (and a 70th store set to open in Jonesboro, Akansas, around mid-September as of presstime), delivering up a sales mix of 70% tires and 30% service for the past 58 years, it’s proof positive that the formula is working. So, it’s no wonder the dealership has pegged Finalist status, for the second year in a row, in Tire Review’s 15th annual Top Shop competition.
As a family-owned company, one of Plaza Tire Service’s core values is relationships, where every employee works hard to earn customers for life. Similar emphasis among the dealership’s management is to develop long-term employees who provide a solid foundation of consistency, trust and service excellence that keeps customers coming back.
Over the past almost six decades in business, Plaza Tire Service management has studied its customers and listened to their feedback. Using what they have learned, they position their stores to meet customer needs with a level of efficiency and meticulousness that rivals their competitors.
“We take tried and true principles – fast work by friendly people – and we perform better than our competitors in that area,” says Mark Rhodes, co-owner of the Cape Girardeau, Missouri-based dealership, along with his brother Scott Rhodes.
“We have a constant conversation with our employees on how important speed is in all aspects of what we do. In our world, everybody’s vehicle is their lifeline,” explains Mark. “We have more of a sense of urgency than our competitors, and we try to turn that into an advantage.”
In the last decade, many dealerships have gone away from stocking inventory, in favor of a just-in-time inventory model, but Mark wasn’t quick to jump on that bandwagon.
“We never went down that road,” Mark quips.
The game-changer for Plaza Tire Service’s array of stores is to keep several thousand tires at each location (yes all 69 of them), to be able to fill customer demand on the spot. That allows Plaza Tire Service’s store managers and technicians to work with a sense of urgency and to deliver as promised to their loyal customer base. Based on reviews and customer feedback, they know how important time is to their customers. “We know that time usually outweighs everything,” says Mark.
Positive Domino Effect
Delivering on customer service goals also requires a cohesive team that is empowered to make decisions.
The stores are structured so that there is an area supervisor, who oversees a group of stores, that are each staffed with a store manager, who leads the team in their respective store.
“It starts at the top,” says Mark. “If you have really good [area] store supervision, they’re going to hire really good store managers, and then [those] good store managers are going to hire good people.”
Not to mention that Plaza Tire Service promotes from within when possible and teams are incentivized to take ownership of the business and the role they carry out within it.
“They take pride in it and make good decisions based on the well-being of their store and their employees,” explains Mark.
Sam Rhodes, Mark’s son who works primarily in Plaza Tire Service’s wholesale and marketing departments, chimes in with details about the dealership’s culture, expertise and its team’s sense of ownership.
“It’s the speed and the ‘do it now,’ [attitude]” Sam says. “And, that’s what we’ve ingrained in our guys and you see that in our stores.” The bottom line, he adds, is for the service advisor to get customers in, take care of them and make them feel welcome — and do what it takes to make the sale. “They don’t have to check with their boss. They don’t have to check with anybody to make a customer happy.”
It’s all part of the Plaza Tire Service value proposition — fast, friendly service — at a good value. “We’re going to do it right. And be friendly. And, you’re going to get a good bang for your buck,” Sam explains.
Plaza Tire Service is able to aggressively price its tires because it buys direct from manufacturers in large volume, Mark explains. And, while price may be the initial trigger for some customers to come to Plaza Tire Service, it opens the door for the opportunity to build a relationship with customers — one that hinges on knowledge, expertise and trust. Ensuring that customers have the best possible experience pays dividends in return customers and the ability for stores to flourish in new markets, he adds.
With an average of 500-600 customer reviews a week, and close to 100,000 reviews in total, customers weigh in on their perceived value of doing business with Plaza Tire Service. This so-called customer feedback “playbook,” as Mark refers to it, guides decisions and reinforces strategies. Between Google reviews and Plaza Tire Service’s CRM program, more than 93% of customer reviews are a four- or five-star rating, he proudly says.
Plaza Tire Service employees also deliver as promised. If a customer’s job is quoted at $600, then that’s the price, says Mark. “It’s not $602, or it’s not $605. We don’t want to be casual with other people’s money. And, if we tell them it’s going to be an hour, it better be under an hour. We respect their money, and we want to respect their time.”
Fueling Future Success
Five years ago, Plaza Tire Service added an experienced tire store manager and supervisor to its staff as a full-time trainer. In addition to training new hires, this person travels to all of its stores as needed to reiterate best practices and work with associates to make sure the customer experience meets the Plaza Tire Service expectation.
The quantity and location of Plaza Tire Service’s dealerships require this level of focus on training, Mark notes. “We have stores that are 300-plus miles from our headquarters. So, to keep everybody on the same page, to keep the culture the same everywhere, it’s imperative to have somebody who’s telling them the same thing in Northwest Arkansas, that they are in St. Louis, Missouri. This is how we do business. This is what we think is important. This is what we know works, and this is how we want it [to be] executed.”
Beyond having a dedicated, full-time trainer, Plaza Tire Service launched the “Plaza Tire Service Training Store” in January of 2019 — a model store located adjacent to its warehouse and distribution center in Cape Girardeau. The training store includes a five-bay shop equipped with all of the equipment a real store utilizes including lifts, an alignment machine, tire changers and balancers, plus all the necessary tools required to change tires, change oil, perform flushes, set alignments and more. There is also a showroom and a classroom within the training store that is equipped for traditional training and roleplay.
“The training store is an invaluable tool for us,” Mark says. “We can perform hands-on demonstrations, critique processes and teach our employees the best practices we expect them to utilize each day. Group size is kept at optimal levels for learning and individual instruction, and all this is done in a familiar setting that is very much like the store where our employees work normally.”
Keeping up with training and education among all team members keeps Plaza Tire Service competitive. Amidst waves of industry consolidation, where private equity-backed companies have been acquiring independent tire dealerships at a fast pace, Mark says that while it’s another challenge, it doesn’t really affect the way he does business.
He says with a smile, “to me, that’s evolution in a business world. In some areas, consolidation is a benefit for us; in some areas, it’s challenging. Sometimes it creates competitors that are similar to us, or sometimes it gives us an extreme advantage.”
Sam chimes in, “they’re just another competitor, really… they may be a little different than the original owner, but you approach it a little differently.”
Shining a light on the resilience, ingenuity and resourcefulness of the independent tire dealer, Mark reflects: “I was taught a long time ago by my father… ‘we’ll run our business and you let them run their business.’”
That’s some sage advice from the man who started it all. Mark, Scott, Sam and their team heed those words of wisdom, making decisions with their business’s principles, values and goals top of mind, all the while remaining steadfast and focused on servicing their customers better than anyone else.