Within retailing, and especially the retail tire business, it’s hard to find it. But when you do, you have to take a moment to step back, take a deep breath and say, “Now that’s a beautiful thing.”
About a month ago, I received a gracious invitation from Bridgestone/Firestone North American Tire to spend a few days out of the office and have some fun learning a bit more about its tires. Hmmm! Have some fun? I liked that idea! It was an offer I simply could not refuse…a ride and drive, but not any ordinary ride and drive.
This little pleasure cruise was taking place on a training track at the Bridgestone Racing Academy near Toronto. I was going to put my butt in the seat of a Formula 2000 car. They only had to ask this boy once.
In short, the trip was fantastic. The school was the best I’ve ever attended, and it gave me a chance to reminisce about a previous time in my life when I did some SCCA Formula racing. And the experience of driving showroom Bridgestone Potenza S-O3s on a Formula racecar was unforgettable. (More on that in our next issue of Tire Review.)
Driving aside, one of the most interesting and unexpected surprises of this event was meeting local Toronto tire dealer Eric Latino. The event at the racing school was mainly designed for media folks. At the last minute, one of their dealers (Eric) came along for the ride, which gave me the opportunity to talk shop with a tire man during some downtime trackside.
After we chatted about the usual this-and-that, Eric opened up a bit and explained his business model, one that was far from the norm. You see, this tire dealer entered the tire business by way of his performance engine building business and had no great expectations or desires of ever owning a tire dealership.
Eric got started in 1985 repairing and then building performance engines at the ripe old age of 20. Eight years later, in 1993, Eric had the opportunity to purchase an existing Firestone store.
The plan was simple: combine the two operations performance engines and tires and allow one business to play off the other. Not a bad idea. Fast forward to the present, and Eric is sitting on a $3 million business.
I don’t mean to minimize all of Eric’s hard work and success over the past 11 years, but I only have 700 or so words here. The title of this column is “A Beautiful Thing.” But I’m not talking about the success Eric has had combining these two businesses. No, it’s not about that at all.
When you walk into Redline Firestone & Performance, there is a certain harmony that one quickly recognizes that unique harmony between a successful tire dealer and his customers. You don’t see that kind of harmony often, and it’s a true delight when you have the opportunity to experience it first hand.
Two outstanding characteristics come to light in this dealership: the number of customers in the shop doing business and the number of customers that stop in just to have a cup of coffee and talk. You can feel the buzz in the air when you walk in the door.
As Eric said: “Tires and performance go hand in hand.” On the fly, this guy oversees his showroom, answers tech questions, meets and greets his customers and talks to them. More importantly, he listens to them, and they listen to what he and his team of experts have to say.
“People stop in just to say hello and talk about their cars,” said Eric’s tire manager. “Advice is free in this store, and we like to see them hanging out.”
So, what does all this chit-chat, free advice and free coffee earn you? Eric moved 12,000 tires out of this single location last year. Now that’s a beautiful thing.