McGee Auto Service and Tires began as a small local tire dealership in Lakeland, Fla., but with four decades of quality products and vehicle service mixed with exceptional customer service, the family-owned business quickly turned into one of the top automotive and tire retailers in central Florida.
It started in 1974 when John McGee purchased two O.K. Tire Store outlets in his hometown of Lakeland. From the beginning, McGee had the ambition to be the best in town.
He worked tirelessly on his goals, becoming a Goodyear dealer in 1979 and working with his son, Mike, to open additional local tire and auto service shops.
“Over the course of about 10 years, they acquired four more locations and then in the early 1990s, we started our first commercial truck tire center in downtown Lakeland,” explains Kevin McGee, third-generation co-owner of McGee Auto Service and Tires. “Then we went on to our retread facility, which was opened in 1997-98 and basically, a lot of our growth started from there on.”
The company now operates a total of 28 locations, including 24 retail tire and auto service stores and four commercial truck tire and service centers. They also own and operate a retread facility.
Kevin McGee, grandson of John and son of Mike, serves as the district manager of the company. Following in his father’s footsteps, McGee has spent his entire life in the industry.
“After college I worked down south for another company, but about five years ago it was the downturn of the economy and I was asked to come back,” he says. “I do all of our advertising. The day-to-day roles can be everything from dealing with a disgruntled employee to hiring and firing to dealing with a crazy situation in the shop.”
With 290 employees, Kevin says they put in the extra effort to make sure they build and maintain a family feel.
“We try and get to know every single one of our employees as best as we can, as we get around to the different locations,” he says. “I know every single employee and probably their wives and their kids. We try and speak to everyone on all levels, whether they are a store manager or technician.”
The company hosts quarterly store manager meetings as a way to share ideas and stay on top of the latest technology and training.
“We keep the guys up to date on everything from our advertising to our latest equipment and technology,” he says. “We’re constantly educating our employees just to stay ahead of our competition out there.”
All of their technicians are ASE certified and the McGees also make sure the retail counter associates are well-trained.
“We send them to classes that are one or two weeks long; it gets them out of the shop for a few days so they can really focus,” he says.
Between its locations, McGee Auto Service and Tires performs everything from full engine diagnostics to removing and replacing motors to transmission work to brakes and, of course, tires.
As a courtesy to customers, the company also performs a full vehicle inspection. “We try to find the type of maintenance that has been done on each customer’s vehicle, even at other shops, so we have a head-to-toe of what has and has not been done,” says Kevin.
At its four commercial truck centers, McGee Auto Service and Tires offers full service for over-the-road trucks and large diesel applications, including fleet diagnostics, suspension repair, transmission service, diesel engine repair, brakes, electrical system repair, and truck tire and wheel balancing and repairs.
The shop also is a Goodyear authorized retreader and is one of two retreaders in the state to offer in-house shearography inspection.
Kevin says the biggest competition is large chain stores and car dealers, and that one way the business stays ahead of the game is by consistently updating equipment to ensure its techs have the proper tools to do any job.
“You have to do that in order to keep up with today’s technology and the new cars and all of the diagnostic stuff,” says Kevin. “We have recently put Hunter HawkEye aligners in most of our locations, as well as some new laser wheel balancers, and we have brand-new, updated Snap-on diagnostics.”
Another way the company stays ahead is by using the latest in marketing and advertising techniques.
“We have a pretty extensive marketing campaign right now,” says Kevin. “For the first time ever, we’re doing television advertising and we have different ways of newspaper advertising. We also do both direct mail inserts and email.”
The company also uses several Internet promotions. “We had huge success with having our customers write Google reviews,” says Kevin. “We do a lot of incentives and contests within our stores, such as who can collect the most email addresses and who can get the most customers to write reviews about the store. We get our store managers to actively participate in our marketing campaign efforts.”
The company has an easy-to-navigate website where customers can browse the services offered, search for store locations and shop for tires. It also has a Facebook page with more than 8,000 fans.
McGee Auto Service and Tires offers printable coupons and uses Groupon, a website that sells discounted gift certificates to the public as a way for customers to try local businesses.
“We’ve done three Groupons in the past year-and-a-half and we sold 2,200 oil changes,” says Kevin. “I would say 95% of those customers were new and we’ve seen a lot of them return.”
Along with their presence in advertising, the McGees also are active in the local communities where their stores are located. They are members of six chambers of commerce, as well as the Emerge Young Leaders, Tampa Young Leaders, Zephyrhills Rotary, Lakeland Rotary, Kiwanis Club, Polk County Sheriffs, Young Professionals Temple Terrace, and I-Tech Group.
They also sponsor youth baseball and softball teams and donate to many organizations every year, including March of Dimes, United Way employee contribution, American Cancer Society-C-Young Trucking, Busting Clays-Polk County Sheriff, Lakeland Christina Rotary, Kiwanis Club, and Lakeland High School.
With the momentum they’ve built in four decades, Kevin says there are no plans to slow down anytime soon.
“The last few years have been very good, and we had some great opportunities to grow, so we went with it and it’s been very successful. We’ve been running around like crazy, but it has been worth it,” he says. “We are looking to grow into another retread facility in the future and we are looking to grow into more retail outlets.”