If Muskegon Brake & Tire President Andrew Cutler, who runs tire shops in Muskegon and Norton Shores, Michigan, could hand-pick his company’s next customer service advisor, sales representative or service writer, the businesses he would scout when making his selection might surprise you.
But, as someone who entered the tire industry 16 years ago with a few years’ worth of restaurant industry management on his resume, he doesn’t stutter when it comes to making his pick.
“I would love to get ahold of someone like an Applebee’s manager who is tired of working in the restaurant industry, who’s passionate about cars. I think they would probably be some of the best customer service people you could find,” he says. “They have been in the trenches. They have dealt with the grief. It’s a totally different industry, but it’s interesting how similar [it is to tires] when you get down to the basics of it.”
Andrew always has customer service top of mind and employs innovative business practices, as evidenced by literally hundreds of glowing reviews praising his shops online. Reviewers rave about everything from the shops’ text and email progress updates, to the child-friendly waiting areas, to the trust they have in the business to tell them if a requested repair or service is not needed. He also recommends investing in an online reputation management service to help solicit positive reviews, as “an angry customer is going to leave a review anyway. The ones we need a review from are the ones who leave with a warm, fuzzy feeling,” Andrew says.
His shops are also known for initiatives like the Wine, Women & Wheels Car Care Clinic, that demonstrates his shops’ professionalism, knowledge and friendliness to the community.
The clinic, started in 2010 by Andrew’s father, Bob, involves a wine tasting, a charcuterie board, door prizes and an invitation for customers to learn more about their cars, all free of charge.
“We’ll get so many women who come in and will lead with ‘I don’t know anything about cars,’ but my comment back to them is ‘guess what, nobody knows about cars anymore,’” Andrew says. “Nobody’s out there wrenching on their vehicle unless they’re enthusiasts. So, we just try to empower women when it comes to automotive service. We go through and give them the rundown on different dash lights, what kind of tire treadwear they need to look for, what their TPMS sensors do, where the spare tire is and how to get it out, and just take questions.
“We ask for feedback and, by and large, it has been super positive,” he continues. “I have customers who have been to every single one.”
Muskegon Brake & Tire is also “AskPatty Certified Female Friendly,” which signals to female consumers the shops are a safe and reliable source for expert automotive advice and research.
Andrew says one of the big unknowns facing the near future of the tire industry is the global microchip shortage currently disrupting production in an automotive market which relies heavily on semiconductors.
On one hand, he says, OEMs aren’t producing as many vehicles as they normally would, and that means consumers are running their older cars longer than they normally intended. This will give the service and repair industry a nice bump in sales over the next two years or so, he predicts.
On the other hand…
“They are predicting two or three years until [OEMs] recover from this chip shortage,” Andrew says. “The good news is that we’re busy in part because of the lack of new car inventory, so it’s a good place to be, but it’s also worrisome because we need new cars to enter the market or we won’t have cars to fix later.”
Another prediction Andrew has about the industry is that automation processes will continue to be added to shop equipment in an attempt to combat the ongoing technician shortage.
“All of these automatic machines are going to get better, and the price is going to come down a bit,” he says. “If someone wants to be a mechanic, there will always be a job for them, and if somebody wants to service vehicles, there will be a job for them. But, in 10 years, there won’t be enough.”
From Andrew’s perspective, he says his best defense against the shortage is to do what he can to take care of the quality technicians his shop already employs.
“We do everything we can to make sure they have training available at a time that’s convenient for them, and we make sure that their pay makes sense for what they do,” he says. “We make sure our guys are paid appropriately and that they want to stay with us.”