If you live along the southern border of Maine, there’s a chance that you have a reliable and “go-to” car guy or gal at Don Foshay’s Discount Tire & Alignment.
As the founders of Don Foshay’s, the Foshay family has had success at their Maine retail shop through excellent customer service, maintaining customer loyalty and a well-trained staff that rivals “big-box” retailers in the area.
Don Foshay Sr. started his career in the tire industry in high school at the age of 16. He worked for Yudy’s Tire in the South Portland, Maine area for 16 years before becoming a territory rep with Noyes Tire. After ten years, Foshay Sr. decided to open two grocery stores in South Portland. He didn’t turn his back on the tire industry, though, as his stores also sold tires.
In 1982, nearly 30 years since his first tire job with Yudy’s Tire, Foshay Sr. opened his wholesale business, Summit of New England, that is still around today. After five years, the Foshay’s took on the Cooper Tire line, which prompted the opening of the first Don Foshay’s retail location in South Portland, Maine. The partnership has paid off, as Don Foshay’s is now the number one Cooper Tire distributor in northern New England.
Don Foshay Jr. uses what he learned from the way his father did business and applies those values as the president of all six Don Foshay’s retail locations as well as overseeing relationships with suppliers for Summit of New England. Foshay Sr. still helps with the wholesale business and inventory with his other son, Mike, who mainly handles the day-to-day management of Summit of New England.
Foshay Jr. first began to work with his father in 1985 at Summit of New England, two years before the first Don Foshay’s retail location was opened. He learned a lot from his dad and particularly noticed how he interacted with his wholesale customers.
“I was really struck by how he and his wholesale customers had become very good friends,” says Foshay Jr. “In effect, when he made his wholesale calls, he was really spending the day with friends.”
The days when customers take their car to just one shop for service needs are waning. So how has Don Foshay’s been able to grow year over year with new customers while retaining faithful ones? It might have something to do with their ability to overcome whatever is thrown their way.
No Growth Without Obstacles
This isn’t the first time Don Foshay’s has been nominated for Tire Review’s Top Shop award. In fact, the business was among four finalists back in 2019, and its repeat nomination comes as no surprise, as it has only grown and improved since.
In the shop’s 2019 Top Shop profile, Foshay Jr. said he had a goal to grow the tire business in the next few years with four more locations. He considers 10 locations ideal so that the business can continue to make its suppliers happy and provide opportunities for employees without having to worry about the outside stress that comes with too many locations.
Those plans were temporarily put on pause with the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite not adding locations, Foshay Jr. saw this as the perfect opportunity to gain an edge over his competitors.
“Early on for us, we [realized that we have] a decent bit of size, but we’re small enough to remain pretty nimble,” he says. “We were just super aggressive in our COVID management strategies, and we actively promoted that. It gave us and our customers a sense of confidence in our approach that some of the big box competitors just really couldn’t duplicate.”
That approach is just as simple as saying “yes” to customers’ service needs. Need some sort of tire service? Don Foshay’s will not only say yes but will have it done for you that day.
“Our counter guys and girls do a great job selling the ‘Leave the car and we’ll get it done,’ kind of concept. It’s all part of [the] ‘Just say yes’ mentality that we’re using,” Foshay Jr. says. “During snow tire season, we had two employees from one of our bigger competitors come in with snow tires, and we installed them because they were booked out three weeks on tires at their shops. That’s part of the reason why we’re [ahead of the competition] because we just say yes. If they can drop the car off, we’ll get the tires on and won’t close until service is complete.”
Foshay Jr. attributes the sustained growth to more than just great customer service. He said one of the most important parts of any business is the core team. To him, a well-trained staff is the strongest tool a shop can have.
While some folks in the tire industry cut big chunks out of their employee base to compensate for pandemic struggles, Don Foshay’s has maintained 97% of its employee base while losing zero core leadership. Even with the most unexpected year in recent history in 2020, the six locations still saw gross revenue increase by 3% from the previous year followed by a 23% increase in 2021. Things are looking great for 2022 as well, as Foshay Jr. anticipates a 28% increase concluding this year.
“[Retaining our employees] was extremely important,” he says. “We really felt that we owed them, and we approached this in a team concept. They all know that. If you look at our website, you’ll see our managers and assistant managers have been here for an extremely long time.”
Technicians Choose Their Path
If there’s one major issue that Foshay Jr. has been fighting since before the pandemic, it’s finding skilled technicians. After all, the shop prides itself on having quality technicians and training to continue its improvement.
“Everybody’s battling the same thing: [finding] qualified auto repair technicians,” he says. “It was tough back then, it is now, and it’ll continue to be extremely difficult. I just don’t think young people are getting into [the trade] at the usual rate. So, what myself and all our competitors end up doing is fighting over the same guys, pretty much year after year, and that really stands in the way of growth.”
As Foshay Jr. realized the lack of interest, he changed up his business’s hiring requirements. No experience? No problem. Foshay Jr. said Don Foshay’s trains every new employee and gets them certified to perform tire service.
“It’s more often now that our newly-hired tire techs are inexperienced, but they’re car crazy,” Foshay Jr. says. “They’re not allowed to touch a tire; they’re not allowed out in the bay until they complete their TIA training. At that point, they go out with a tire changer supervisor, and they just shadow and then a little bit more at a time. The TIA training for us, the basic tire changer training and the advanced TPMS training, that stuff must be completed before they touch a car.”
If hired at Don Foshay’s, Foshay Jr. and the team will show you a diagram that says, “Choose Your Own Path.”
“It shows where you could possibly go from a tire tech,” he says. “If you see yourself behind a counter five years down the road, [we show you] which steps you must complete to start that process, and what you can expect to get paid. If you want to go the automotive repair route, [we show you] what you do to make that happen, between getting a Maine state inspection license, ASE certifications and that sort of thing. At the end of the diagram is what a store manager or automotive master technician can expect from us.
“[We want new employees] invested – [they’re] not going to be a tire changer all their life. We’re trying to sell [them] on the concept of a career in the automotive field.”
According to Foshay Jr., the pandemic created a major shift in the way his technicians are paid. The team at Don Foshay’s came up with a plan called Project 15, which gave the team a chance to improve customer service while adding to employees’ paychecks. Foshay Jr. said that while other tire retailers were focused on increasing costs for their products and services, his business saw bigger opportunities to improve its entire system. To pay for a wage increase, Foshay Jr. and his team went through every line item of recent or potential revenue to find where to save and make more money. The team wanted to find opportunities it was missing–whether that be what is not being asked at the counter or whether they upsell when given the chance. Foshay Jr. says in many ways, it was about improving the customer experience in the store.
To continue this program and account for increases like a $15 minimum wage, each Don Foshay’s location has a monthly report card to track the performance numbers of 12 different services and sets goals based on that information. Foshay Jr. anticipates that wage increases will come again based on information gathered from recent reports.
Business Growth and Community Involvement
In 2020, Don Foshay’s was focused on overcoming pandemic obstacles. In 2021, the business revamped its hiring practices and customer service strategies. This year has been about creative thinking to overcome issues.
Though it may not be here yet, Foshay Jr. said that 2023 is about qualitative growth for the business and the community around him. While plans to grow his 76-person employee base and hope to add more locations remain alive for early 2023, Foshay Jr. wanted to highlight a special scholarship that helps future trade-industry professionals.
Don Foshay’s has participated in the Maine Blue Collar Scholarship Program since 2020, donating $5,000 per year in the name of Don Sr. and Nancy Foshay, Foshay Jr.’s parents. The Don and Nancy Foshay Scholarship goes directly to assist students pursuing a career in automotive repair.
“We named the scholarship after my parents. I got to stand up at my old high school’s recent graduation ceremony, and present a scholarship to a young man who was going into the trades,” says Foshay Jr. “After we presented [the scholarship], the young man came over to the store. I got to meet his mom and dad and spend some time with them. It was special stuff, not to mention the fact that the award is named after my parents, and we’re going to carry that on going forward.”