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Dealer Diary: Picking the Keepers

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Picking the Keepers

For the past two years, Tire Review has brought you Dealer Diary, a monthly series that focuses on typical tire dealers and the ins and outs of their business.
This year, we’re excited to be profiling a unique and well-known dealer – and someone whose primary focus is customer service – Barry Steinberg, owner of Direct Tire and Auto Service, headquartered in Boston. By making the customers the focal point of business, Barry says, and treating employees well, everything falls into place from there.
We’d love to hear your comments on the series. Drop us a line or send us an e-mail at
[email protected].

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Diary Profile
Barry Steinberg, Owner
Direct Tire (Four locations)
Location: Boston, Mass.
Years in Operations: 26
No. of Bays: 50
No. of Techs: 22 service techs and 34 tire techs
Tire Brands Carried: Toyo, Cooper, Dunlop, Falken and Pirelli
Average Jobs/Day: 275-325
Tire/Service: 45%/55%
Other Non-Tire Services: Complete undercar services, brakes, shocks, exhaust, suspension, batteries, alignments, CV joints, and balancing.

Tough Interviews, Fair Pay and Morale Builders Push Direct Forward

Employees are a fact of business. You need them to get the job done. Even a business of one still has an employee.

Some companies see their employees as a necessary evil – simultaneously bringing money into the shop, yet taking it out with their paychecks. But that’s rare. Most companies value their employees, understanding completely that nothing would ever get accomplished and the doors wouldn’t be open too long without talented help.

However, finding and keeping talented employees is something that every dealer acknowledges is a problem. Everyone needs more help. But there isn’t a wealth of people lining up to work in tire shops. So that puts an extra burden on the dealer to pick out superior employees and keep the employees he already has.

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That’s a fact Barry Steinberg can attest to.

Direct Tire’s interview process is intentionally set up to weed out sub par candidates. It takes each hopeful candidate three interviews at three different times – each while facing multiple interviewers – simply to get hired. Basically, it’s designed to put you through the rigors of working at Direct Tire.

"The interview process is pretty simple really," Steinberg said. "I try to interview or have my managers interview prospective hires three times. The reason is pretty basic. We want to make sure that the person’s energy level and personality don’t have a lot of swings to them."

Energy level, personality and may other things are looked at during an interview, but it’s hard to gauge them. A 30-minute sit down meeting isn’t going to reveal how well a person functions bright and early in the morning, or under the duress of a crowded store. Nor it is going to show how much that person has left after a 10-hour workday.

"Typically the first interview is very early in the morning, usually at 7 a.m. This lets us see if the applicant is prompt, awake and alert," Steinberg said. "Our stores are usually very busy first thing in the morning, so it allows the person to observe what he or she is getting into, and we can see how they respond to the pace of the work."

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Sometimes, that’s enough to scare off prospective employees, which is exactly what Steinberg wants. If you can’t handle the Monday morning push, it’s time to rethink your career.

"If they survive the first interview with a positive result we’ll then schedule another with the person they will be directly working for," he said. "This meeting is usually at the end of the day, again to see if their energy level and persona has changed. If this one goes well we will typically call them back to hire them and go over all the human resource and policy details."

Paying For It
Once Direct Tire selects an employee – be it a store manager, sales person, technician or driver – Steinberg knows how to keep them happy. And it starts up front with compensation. If you want the best, you’ve got to be willing to pay for it.

"Our pay scale is pretty simple," Steinberg said. "I do not pay anyone on commission or spiff them to sell a specific tire, shock, road hazard warranty, etc. I really feel that this compromises our integrity because of someone’s need to make more money.

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"I pay on team performance and attitude. The old bad apple in the barrel just does not exist here because the employees simply won’t allow it."

Steinberg feels that by taking commissions out of the compensation equation, his employees won’t hurry through one job to get to the next. Things are done right. Because at the end of the day, it doesn’t make a difference financially if a tech worked on 10 cars instead of 12, or if a sales person helped 20 people instead of 25. The pay’s the same, but Direct Tire focuses on quality not only quantity.

Incentives For All
To go along with the fair salaries, Steinberg also has an employee incentive program. It’s not really a competition, but it does make all Direct Tire employees work harder, knowing there could be a payoff at the end of the year.

"This year at our seasonal holiday party we gave away four week-long trips to Bermuda to the employees of the year from each of the our four stores," said Steinberg, who makes sure the employee’s spouse gets to go, as well. "We also had a raffle for a computer and a Bose stereo system. Those were definitely some happy guys.

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"The employees of the year are chosen by management for consistently high efforts, high levels of customer satisfaction and for being the type of employee that everyone considers a major team player. We have a lot of fun with that."

As Steinberg alluded to, Direct Tire also has a lot of little fringe benefits for its employees, such as a holiday party. And there’s also a summer picnic for all employees and their families.

"We are planning our summer outing for the month of July for all employees and their spouses and kids," he said. "It’s typically on a Sunday, and last year we had 190 people including a zillion kids. It was great."

And just for the employees, each of the four locations has a little summer barbecue during the day. "We also do lunch cookouts at the stores during the summer, usually three or four during the summer," Steinberg said. "The managers typically pay for it somehow. I don’t tend to ask. As long as they have a good time and morale stays high.

"Another perk Direct Tire has is that, because we do so much radio and TV advertising, we get tons of tickets for the Bruins, the Red Sox, the Patriots and a lot of concerts in the area. I like to give those out to my employees."

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For Steinberg, it is a business. But it’s also about making sure his people are satisfied and happy with what they do. He wants them to be professional at their jobs, but have fun at the same time. What he wants is for them to enjoy coming to work each and everyday.

"I think we try to make the atmosphere as business-like as possible so guys can be proud to work here and they can be more at ease knowing they’re in a legitimate place of business," he said. "We expect them to work as if they’re working in their own shop, and we want them to go home and be able to say that they did a good job and enjoyed working that day."

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