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From Dreaming to Doing: Building Your Dream Shop

If you could build your dream shop from scratch, what would it look like? What features would it include?
What would you do differently?

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If you could build your dream shop from scratch, what would it look like? What features would it include?
What would you do differently?

With this in mind, Tire Review talked to the owners and operators of newly constructed and newly renovated tire stores across North America to capture the inspiration and innovations that went into each project.

Bigger Is Better

When it comes to dream shop design, for some size matters. Wendel Burt, owner of Burt Brothers Tire & Service with nine locations in Utah, explains that “space” is the secret to what makes his dream shop designs work so well.

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Although the team closely collaborated with architects to design a “dream shop” concept, Burt said he just wanted everything to be “big, big, and big,” using the Riverton location as prime example.

“Riverton is the store that is just a machine to get the work out,” says Burt. “The shop’s spacious and everybody has room to work.”

Built three years ago from the ground up, the larger scale at that location includes 14-foot ceilings in a showroom decorated with giant graphics, a 65-inch screen, and big displays. In addition to its large restrooms and comfortable leather seating, the location boasts six privacy areas for customers to work or take calls while they wait. These separate areas also provide a level of privacy when service writers are making recommendations and finances are discussed.

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But it’s in the bay areas where bigger gets better.

“You take your basic shop, a 10-bay box, five and five, then you go ahead and increase that 30 feet wider and 50 feet longer,” Burt explains. “Now, you put the same amount of bays in there. Big doors, high doors, everything. You can just work around everything. Then, in the center, you’ve got this 25-foot area of back-to-back mechanics’ equipment, tools, everything. Then, we have another equipment room for seasonal pieces of equipment… so it’s not all cluttered around your shop.”

“Everything is at your fingertips. I’ve got water everywhere, air everywhere, guns and hoses everywhere. It’s on each side of a hoist, so it’s not like we’re dragging stuff around underneath cars or anything like that. Everything has got space to move around. You’ve got room to work. And you can pull in F-350, four-door long bed trucks into every bay and still have plenty of room to get around every truck. You say that to most guys and they can’t even get that truck in their bays.”

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Small and Smart

Even if you don’t have acreage to build out a new shop, working smarter with the space available can make a difference – especially for fast-growing startups like Lucky Eight Auto in Richmond Hill, Ontario.

Owner-technician Barry Butavia left his Firestone-store roots to start his own shop in 2011. After quickly outgrowing his original two-bay garage, he decided to invest in a new five-bay location that opened in March 2017. A granite business originally occupied the space.

“We demolished everything and rebuilt it,” Butavia explains. “Basically, it’s just like my old shop, but on steroids.”

After making the decision to build out his own dream shop, Butavia also invested in new equipment including a John Bean V3300 alignment machine.

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Similar to Burt, Butavia looked for other in-shop efficiencies. In addition to strategically placed air lines around each lift, he added a separate room for the compressor to minimize shop noise. He also added more storage space above the office for customer off-season tire storage.

$50,000 Showroom Makeover

At the K&M Tire’s annual dealer meeting in January, Bobby Davis, regional director of My Tire Place in Louisiana, won a $50,000 showroom makeover, sponsored by Falken Tire.

With construction about to begin this month, Davis says the main focus of the funds will be to improve a recently acquired location that was once a retread facility. 

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“All the retread equipment is gone now, and we just made bays out of that, but we never did anything with the showroom,” says Davis. “It was just an office for the clerk. Let’s just say if you get five people in there, they’d better be friendly.” 

Plans are underway to open up the space. That tiny waiting area will soon be accommodating 15 to 20 comfortably with windows into the service bays.

“We were looking at another year or so before we could really start doing any upgrades,” says Davis. “The Falken money has definitely helped us speed things up and get where we want to be in an extreme limited amount of time.”

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Shop decor will combine wood and metal for an “upscale cabin” look suited to their rural location. To reduce wait times and help improve quality, Davis says they’ve found additional budget for equipment upgrades. “Well, in that [retread] facility, their wheel balancer was kind of old and dilapidated. [We just got] a new Coats 1250. So, that’s in there, and that’s really helped to speed the service up, as well as quality work – it’s more accurate with less returns on shaking issues. That’s helped tremendously already.”

Stay tuned to www.tirereview.com for updates on their progress.

Reinventing the Showroom

While some try to improve on traditional shop design, others prefer to take things in a completely different direction.

After being “uniquely inspired” to renovate their original location (see page 41), Gerry White, general manager of Maryland-based Bay Area Tire & Service Center along with owner, Craig Arch, set out to completely reinvent the tire store experience.

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“We got started [with the inspiration] and from there, we were coming up with ideas…. We also thought about all the things we didn’t like [in a tire store], like counters that are high that build a barrier between you and the customer, a store that smells of tires, and just took it from there and came out with what we think is the showroom of the future,” White says.

With five existing locations around the Baltimore area, the “showroom of the future” at their Severna Park location is devoted to exceeding customer expectations. White says today’s customers deserve nothing less.

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“Customers of today are paying a lot more money to have their cars serviced and to purchase tires,” White explains. “They deserve – you know, everybody would say they expect, but I don’t think the word is expect – I think they deserve to come into a nice, clean professional outlet, more so than the old conventional tire store that had tires stacked up everywhere.”

The building itself is not new – it’s one of the original Goodyear stores that once sold appliances. That large showroom space offered an opportunity for offices to be built while still allowing for a more open environment for customers – one far more stylish than the typical tire store.

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After gutting the existing space, White said they raised the ceiling about two feet, replaced the basic drop ceiling, added recessed lighting and installed a decorator slate floor with a coordinating accent wall where tires are displayed.

Bay Area’s showroom also includes a wall of programmable screens, a café bar with espresso, a well-stocked refrigerator and glass shelves lined with wine glasses. The upscale customer area is complete with work areas and custom-built seating designed around the people they serve.

“We had at one time a very heavyset customer who didn’t like [the customer area] because of the furniture – he couldn’t fit in it,” White recalls. “So, now we [designed] furniture taking into consideration heavier people. Then, rightfully, we had furniture considering older people who need arms to get up. Each piece is beautiful leather and for each piece there was a thought process of what kind of [person] this furniture would this attract to sit in it.”

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For this level of renovation, no detail was too small. Even the tiles in the remodeled bathrooms were each hand selected by Arch and White – an important change from the concrete block that was there originally.

“You know, historically, tire showrooms are very boring. They have a lot of tires in them. As much as various vendors send you stuff that you think looks unique and interesting, it really isn’t. I mean, it is somewhat, but it’s still tire related,” White says.

According to White, the location remained open during the seven-month build out. Since then, the business has grown – even when the rest of the market was down.

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“The customer response to all of this has been overwhelming,” White says. “Not only the customer response, but vendors. If I meet with an equipment vendor or a parts vendor or somebody, it’ll be, ‘I have never seen a tire store look like this.’ You figure, this has been over a year and the customers are still commenting.”

White says her favorite part is the openness of the space. “And what I like more so than that is that we’re different. We’re professional. We’re upscale.”

She says plans are already underway to introduce a similar look into their other locations, but on a smaller scale.

How a Pair of Panties Inspired a Store Redesign

Sometimes the best inspiration for tire stores comes from other types of retailers.

Running a few errands together while at the 2015 SEMA show in Las Vegas, Gerry White, general manager of Bay Area Tire & Service, stopped into a flagship Victoria’s Secret location while her boss, Craig Arch, stopped at the shoe store next door. She had a coupon about to expire for a free pair of panties. Arch said he would catch up when finished.

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“He walks into [Victoria’s Secret], looks up and says, ‘That’s exactly what I want.’ I’m thinking, again, he’s talking about the pretty gowns, the models. But they had in there this collage of televisions, and, obviously, a scantily clad young lady, hair blowing, on screen,” White recalls. “You know how it is; I thought he was talking about her. I said, ‘Yeah, right, everybody would.’ He says ‘No, no, no – for our wall! Can you imagine the overwhelming effect this would be for our customers to come in and [experience this]?’

The wall of 16 screens could display one large image or be divided into four separate sections. “That’s where it started, yes, just the impact that we thought that [wall of] screens would have to our customers.” 

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This quickly led to, “Okay, then let’s remodel the whole store. But the whole thing started from walking into Victoria’s Secret with a coupon for a free pair of panties – and a quarter of a million dollar later,” she laughs. “I said they were the most expensive panties I’ve ever seen in my life!”

The panties (shown below) are now framed in the management offices of the Severna Park location.

Customer Focus

After finding success with their original tire store located in a business district, owners Cami and John Mourao decided to do it again – only better – with a second location of Auto Spot Tire Pros in Jacksonville, Fla.

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Cami says John’s technician experiences working at new-car dealerships inspired her to introduce unexpected conveniences for their customers, including online appointments, professional shuttle services, in-store privacy for financial discussions, and more. The Mouraos were able to make specific modifications to the plans from their original location to find some savings.

“I’m always trying to think of what I should do next,” she says. “I might have set the bar high, but I’ve got to keep raising it because the competition is after you every day of the week. I’m always looking for that next little thing to make sure that we’re different.”

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Another shop taking its cues from car-dealer competition is Telle Tire & Auto Centers, with locations in Missouri and Illinois. In addition to building new locations, fourth-generation owner Aaron Telle is investing in a brand refresh, a custom-built website, updated showrooms with artwork to promote the customer experience instead of the product lines they carry, and creating a consistent environment with a spa-type feel of natural wood and open space.

“We recently purchased eight new Chevy Sparks fully wrapped as our complimentary loaner vehicles for our customers,” says Telle. “We’re about to buy five more. For our customers, it’s all about time and convenience. [That’s why we offer] free shuttle service, provide a brand new [loaner] clean car, valet service, loaner vehicle drop off when we pick up their vehicle and more. It’s our answer to the car dealer as they become more aggressive in the service business and tire market.”

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But Telle says the increased investment showrooms and marketing may not be enough. “Culture – that’s actually what’s at the heart of creating a dream shop,” he says. “You could have the most expensive gear and diagnostic equipment, all of the things that are great, but none of that matters at the end of the day. It’s being so aware of the culture and creating an atmosphere where people want to join the team so you can grow. We’re not in the tire business – we’re in the relationship business.”

At the beginning, Telle’s father (who passed away in 2009), was somewhat discouraging when Aaron would talk of expansion. “I told him that I would rather try to expand, grow, and fail than try to decide what would’ve happened. There are no guarantees. But to see the plan, the execution and to see the transformation of the business take shape – and to have people buy in and be excited – that’s what I’m most excited about.”

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Another builder of dream shops – certainly at scale – is Tire Discounters, headquartered in Cincinnati. The leadership team indicated that once a solid, well-tested plan is in place, the rest gets easier. In fact, their eight-bay dream shop template has helped them quickly grow from 50 locations in 2010 to 103 locations today – with more currently under construction.    

“About five or six years ago, we decided not only to make a push on our growth, but if we were going to make this big growth push, let’s do it right,” says Jamie Ward, president of Tire Discounters. “Let’s take our known store footprints and really put some efficiencies into it, really look at our building materials, really look at parking lot size, really look at everything. We just pretty much dumped the box upside down and kind of refilled it with as many best practices as we could…. Then we assembled a team to get it done.”

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The process included testing many of the details. Some of those tests included floor finishes (tested inside their distribution center for heavy use), alignment and balancing equipment (they chose Hunter Engineering), children’s areas, and in-store counter placement.

Location is also a key growth consideration. According to Bob Oestreicher, senior vice president, corporate secretary and chief legal officer who handles the company’s real estate development efforts, the team chose locations close to businesses like Starbucks and Panera. Though more expensive, they see it adding value to the customer.

“We’d love it if they stay in our shop all day, and we’ve built it that way, but again, we recognize that people are busy, and we want to make sure that they can knock out their other chores and tasks if at all possible.”

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Abbey Dryden, vice president of marketing for Tire Discounters, added, “Being a dream shop isn’t just building the most beautiful store in the world – although we’re very, very proud of how beautiful ours is. It’s about how we treat people, and I think we do a pretty darn good job of that, and it’s a huge priority for us.”

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