The leadership at Kantner’s Tire Services will be the first to admit the business takes a unique approach when it comes to running a tire shop. Yet, Kantner’s customers will be the first to attest that the entirety of the business operates with such fantastic efficiency and operational accuracy that it makes you want to throw out the playbook, sit on the garage floor and start taking notes.
Ready? Here are a few examples:
The Shoemakersville, Pennsylvania-based three-bay tire dealership and third-generation, family-owned business has its own style, focusing on treating its technicians fairly and a combination of honest, fast service mixed with a genuine pride for the industry to keep the wheels turning.
Kantner’s has just about every SKU of every tire for every application imaginable, from little red garden wagons all the way up to enormous farm combines, in stock and on hand at any given time, and manages to keep its inventory neatly stacked and easily retrievable. Kantner’s also doesn’t touch vehicle service, instead depending strictly on tire sales/installation for profits.
The shop doesn’t take appointments; it’s walk-ins only. Its customers like it that way. Plus, Kantner’s hasn’t been open on the weekends since November 2021 and has found the move to be a great boon to the business.
The combination of honesty, intense tire expertise and a deep appreciation for its staff has earned Kantner’s Tire Service K&M Top Shop Finalist honors in the 2023 Mr. Tire/Big 3 Tire Top Shop Awards.
If It Ain’t Broke
The borough of Shoemakersville has a population of just over 1,300 people, yet Kantner’s technicians are actively changing tires around the clock. Kantner’s reputation reaches customers from all over Pennsylvania, as evidenced by the hundreds upon hundreds of five-star Google reviews the company has earned over the years.
“I’m blown away over the distance some of our customers travel to come here, and how many tire places that I know of off the top of my head that they had to drive past to come here – and I’m probably not even touching the surface,” says Troy Roberts, who is a co-vice president of the shop along with his brother, Todd. “I know it’s hard to believe, but I truly believe that word of mouth is our best marketing tool. There are so many folks that come through here and say, ‘Hey, I’m a first-time customer here, and I heard about you through so-and-so.’”
Focusing solely on tires and foregoing car care services has allowed the shop’s employees to become incredibly knowledgeable in their craft. Because of this, Kantner’s doesn’t take appointments. They don’t need to. Technicians are nimble enough to complete the installation process faster than it would have taken for the customer to purchase their favorite Big Gulp at the local gas station.
“When you come here, you’re getting in and getting your tires done here today. We’ll knock out four tires for them in 10 minutes, which is not unheard of,” Troy says.
The Roberts family has discussed at times adding car care services like oil changes, brakes and alignments to the business’s offerings, but it’s never made sense to the Roberts family to fix a model that isn’t broken.
“It’s always been a thing of my father’s [Glenn Roberts, Kantner’s president]. For years, he always had the itch to do front-end alignment. It makes complete sense because you’d get a heck of a lot of business out of that. You put a new set of tires on, throw them in another bay and do the alignment. But there’s a major time consumption there,” Troy says. “Now you have a mechanic that does strictly front-end alignments. What if a tie rod end is worn out and in order to fix that properly, now we need all those parts, that time, that labor. I just think what we do, we do to the best of our ability. We’re doing what we feel is best for our business, and we’re going to stick to it as long as we can continue to do so.”
Efficient, fast service isn’t the only benefit this strategy brings to customers. The Kantner’s staff is quick to respond to customer requests, too. Each staff member is trained to treat each customer with kindness and understanding, ensuring each one knows the full gamut of their options – even if one of those options is that they can go without service for a while.
“Being honest and fair with our pricing is a big thing for us, and any time we have anything that we have to address with customer concerns, we address them quickly,” Troy says.” Also, my wife [Heidi Roberts, the company’s secretary/treasurer] and [my brother] Todd are really up to par with keeping up with all the email quote requests because that’s really taken off. That’s an important part. We gain a lot of business through those quote requests. So, if you’re not up to date with that stuff, you’re losing out.”
Troy estimates 50-60% of customer communication takes place via text or email nowadays, but Heidi and Todd still make sure to answer every phone call and talk to customers face-to-face whenever possible.
“You need to have that communication skill set in order to be successful in the business world,” Troy says. “Think about it this way: To this day, every single vendor that still makes the effort to send tire sales reps around to each business are the companies that we deal with the most. Those are the companies that get the most business because you can put a face to that business. It just goes a long way, and the same can be applied here.”
For Kantner’s to serve its customers in the efficient manner they’ve come to expect, it’s important to always have a robust tire inventory onsite. To pull this off, Kantner’s has invested in ample storage space both within the store’s attached warehouse and a nearby, offsite warehouse. Employees all know the ins and outs of the storage system, simplifying the retrieval process and getting customers back on the road as quickly as possible.
The company is known for being a one-stop shop for tires fitting nearly every application, from wheelbarrow tires all the way up to large farm tractor tires. The shop regularly stocks tires for a variety of applications from brands like Goodyear, Bridgestone, Firestone, Cooper, Mastercraft, Falken, Hankook, Michelin, Uniroyal, Carlisle, Galaxy and Mitas.
Troy says customers are often blown away by what’s in stock.
“I like to show the customer the tires because he wants to see the real deal. He’ll look around and say, ‘Geez. Look at all these tires you have,’ and I’ll say, ‘This isn’t even a quarter of it.’ It may seem like a lot, but once you get the feel of it and where things are, our process is fairly simple – to us anyway. When somebody calls for the price of a tire, I’m amazed sometimes because, for a RAV4, for example, there are, like, eight different choices we have in one size because it’s a very popular size. And those tires not only fit a RAV4, but maybe five or six different vehicles on the road. It’s hard to believe that a little three-bay operation has eight choices in one size.”
But, Troy says, despite the enormous range of tires in stock, he can never have enough.
“You would be surprised how many quote requests of things that Todd and Heidi go through and how many special-order tires we end up getting in a week’s time. It’s unbelievable,” he says.
Good help is hard to find these days, and Kantner’s isn’t immune to the technician shortage plaguing the industry. However, when it comes to retaining the great technicians the company already has, Kantner’s has a bit of a retention superpower going for it in the form of respect.
Troy says each staff member is highly valued, and Kantner’s makes sure to utilize the specialized skill sets of every technician so they never just feel like a number. Troy knows first-hand what those skills are because he isn’t shy about getting in the trenches with the rest of his employees.
“They sure as heck don’t want to see somebody like myself sitting back here with my glasses on acting important. They like to see the boss out there working next to a guy that just started three months ago. This is what we do. This is why these guys stick around, because they see that,” Troy says. “I always just kind of grew up with that old-school thinking because of my father. That’s what I took away from him–to have that presence amongst your employees and work side by side. It seems to go a long way.”
The company employs 12 full-time staff members. The employee with the shortest tenure is about four months, while the longest tenure is about 38 years.
“I would have to say we have a very good core of guys that have been with us for quite some time, and I’m happy with the way everything is going,” Troy says. “All the guys, I feel, including ourselves in here, are very friendly. They’re great one-on-one with the customers and at being honest. We don’t have a lot of employee drama at all.”
Kantner’s also goes out of its way to offer a competitive employee compensation package to its staff, and in November 2021 even decided to give everyone every weekend off to help improve work/life balance.
“I think it was a much-needed thing in order to keep doing what we’re doing and to keep everybody engaged, refreshed, happy and wanting to be here. I missed out on a lot over the years, all my kids’ Little League games, things like that, and this is one of those things that helps with that kind of thing,” Troy says. “These guys, we bust chops for nine-and-a-half, 10 hours a day, Monday through Friday. So there’s nothing better in the world than that feeling of Friday at 5 o’clock.”
He adds that the move has proven to be a great marketing tool whenever it’s time to hire a new employee.
“Especially if somebody’s been in the tire industry looking to come here and they’ve been through that gamut of working Monday through Friday and then a half-day or a whole day Saturday. I mean, that’s a great incentive,” he says.
At the end of the day, Troy says, his company’s success depends upon the happiness of his employees, so it’s important the company invests in them.
“Whatever employees you find, you’d better treat them well if you think they’re worth something,” Troy says. “Pay them well, treat them well and treat them with respect. You’ll get respect, and you’re going to have good, reliable guys.”
All in the Family
In 1977, Glenn and Jane Roberts purchased Kantner’s from its original owner, Paul Kantner. Glenn had worked at the shop — which originally opened in 1968 — for a few years prior to the sale. Though Glenn is now 73 years old and has reduced his role in day-to-day operations, he still serves as Kantner’s president and is involved in the decision-making process — as is Jane, his wife, who is fully retired.
Brothers Troy and Todd Roberts soon joined their parents in the family business and today serve as the company’s co-vice presidents. Troy’s wife, Heidi, is Kantner’s secretary/treasurer. Troy’s oldest son, Trevor, is a service call technician for the shop and specializes in agricultural tires. Troy’s youngest son, Derek, is currently working as a tire technician with plans to integrate into a business management role down the road.
Troy says that the biggest misconception about being a part of a family-owned business is that family members can work whenever it’s convenient, coming and going as they please.
“Maybe there are some people out there who are able to do that, but in the tire world, you are just not able to willy-nilly get up and walk away and say, ‘Hey, I’m going to go with my friend Joe for an hour lunch up the road,’” he says. “It just doesn’t work that way. It’s a little more involved than that and you definitely feel a lot more obligation and responsibility when you’re a smaller, family-owned business.”