When it comes to tire dealerships, Rice Farmers Coop has unique roots.
The agricultural service and supply cooperative, chartered in 1940, now consists of a rice drying/storage facility, a retail and bulk refined fuel facility, and two Mr. Tire Auto Service Center locations in El Campo and Bay City, Texas.
Since its members are both local and familiar with farming, the tire dealership arm of the business is adept at meeting customer needs both at the shop and in the field. With a sales mix that’s roughly 85% tires and 15% automotive service, Rice Farmers Coop employs 16 full-time employees and four part-time staff at its Mr. Tire Auto Service Centers.
The tire dealership has grown thanks to the way in which its staff honors customer service, as well as the foresight of Rice Farmers Coop members to find and fill a need in the community—making this K&M Top Shop Finalist stand out against the competition.
The shop became a Mr. Tire Auto Service Center in 2001. Rice Farmers Coop opened its second Mr. Tire Auto Service Center in 2015 in Bay City, with plans to expand its fuel business there in the near future. The company also acquired another El Campo service center, so plans are on the drawing board to build a new tire and auto service center, along with a new retail fuel site, in the near future.
Rice Farmers Coop knows that word-of-mouth referrals are a key to its success, says General Manager Bobby Little.
“Our internal motto is to treat the customer like they are your family… Remember that the vehicle or tire you are working on is carrying someone that is important to someone,” says Little. “We want our customers to feel wanted and exceed their expectations while they are at our shop. A happy and pleased customer is our friend and the best advertising we can have… The worst is a bad experience of a customer. We all depend on that repeat customer.”
Gaining a positive reputation also comes with heavy community involvement, something Rice Farmers Coop makes standard practice. Little himself is involved in several local organizations and causes, from coaching youth sports and sitting on church and school advisory boards to serving as treasurer of the Western Rice Belt Production Conference Committee and president of Wharton County Emergency Service District #4.
“(Giving back to the community) is the way I was raised, I guess,” Little says. “I’ve been with Rice Farmers since I was 17. If you don’t have your community, you’re not going to survive. You’ve got to give back to the community that helped you. We stress that with our employees and encourage them to get involved.”
Rice Farmers Coop and Mr. Tire sponsor and donate money, materials and time to dozens of area organizations, including schools, churches, sports teams, chambers of commerce and more.
RFC annually sponsors two teams in the El Campo Youth Baseball Association and also committed to half the naming rights for “Rice Field,” constructed five years ago at the association’s complex.
Valued just as much as its customers are the dealership’s employees. Their expertise is substantial, with one ASE Master Auto Tech and another working on his ASE certifications, regular attendance by all in training presented by ACDelco and Carquest Auto Parts and having all tire techs be TIA certified. In addition, sales personnel complete online training from several tire manufacturers and RFC’s insurance company provides an annual tire safety class.
The entire RFC staff—35 employees total—meets several times a year to stress “the importance of treating each customer like you would want to be treated, or like you would want your mother to be treated,” according to Little.
“Our employees are family, as well as our coop members,” he adds. “We want our customers to feel that they belong to us and us to them. We think that our ability to survive for 80 years is proof of that.”