Successful tire shops tend to exceed customer expectations with perks like free coffee, having the right parts in stock to expedite repairs and putting down floor mats to keep the customer’s car clean. The top tire shops, however, are not only known for exceeding their customer’s expectations, but the entire community’s expectations as well.
As a proven pillar of its community, Findlay, Ohio-based Carko Tire and Auto is one of those top shops.
The company, which has been named a 2020 K&M Top Shop finalist, has a reputation not just for selling tires and servicing vehicles with honesty and integrity, but also for being the region’s go-to shop for a product few other tire dealers have any experience with: mobility scooters.
According to Carl Peterman, who co-owns Carko Tire with his son, Jeffery, selling and servicing mobility scooters wasn’t ever part of the plan when he started the business in 2005, but he began integrating these products into the company after recognizing the need in his area.
“We got started several years ago when a tire customer, who we found out works for a local medical supply business, asked if we could get batteries for mobility scooters. I said we could, but we don’t stock them. Within a week someone called inquiring about the batteries and purchased some,” Carl says. “From then on we stocked the common size.”
As word spread that Carko could provide mobility scooter batteries, Carl says those customers started requesting more specific scooter repairs. That’s when Carl made the decision to become a certified Pride Mobility dealer, selling and servicing its line of mobility scooters, power chairs, and powered mobility carriers and lifts.
The decision has proven to be a boon for business. In 2018, Carko’s new mobility unit sales were up 30% over 2017, and those sales are up 47% this year over 2018, Carl says. Of course, Carko is still a tire dealer first, so Carl says he’s learned to use his scooter sales as a strong supplement to his business. Inside his shop, customers can view display areas for tires, service, truck accessories, wheels and Pride Mobility products.
“We had a customer come in for a flat repair and see our mobility display. He called his neighbor, who was just talking to him earlier that day about needing a unit for his wife and was looking at driving 45 miles to the closest place they could find in the phonebook. They came in that same afternoon and actually purchased two new units, his and hers,” Carl says. “The flip side is someone may find us with a mobility need first, but when they come in, they see we are a tire dealer and mechanical shop, so they see us for all their automotive needs as well.”
Carl says one of the areas he’s most proud of in regard to his business is its level of community service. He is an active member of both the Findlay/Hancock County Chamber of Commerce and the Millstream Career Center’s Automotive Technology Community Advisory Board, and the company is also involved with the local Cancer Patient Services office and Findlay’s Community Advisory Committee for Millstream Career Center, a high school tech prep program.
In addition, thanks to Carko’s specialty in mobility products, the business also works closely with the local Community Action Commission, donating batteries and other items to low-income or senior citizen CAC customers who need mobility assistance.
“A couple of years ago, we were contacted by their director about a local individual who had gotten to the point of not being able to even maneuver their manual wheelchair and was looking for other alternatives. It was then that I decided that we would help this person and donate a battery [for a used electric mobility scooter donated by a local resident] so that they could remain mobile,” Carl says. “[The director] was so touched by the way the entire community had rallied around this individual and wrote a letter to the editor to the local newspaper.”
Carl recommends all tire dealers leverage community involvement to drive customers to their business.
“Find a charity or good cause to support. It may change throughout the years – that’s OK too,” he says.
‘What If We Were That Person?’
Carko does advertise online and through social media, but Carl says he’s also had good luck relying on word of mouth advertising because he trains all of his employees to put an emphasis on customer service.
One way Carko builds this goodwill is by picking up and delivering customers to work when needed. With Carko’s mobility customers, employees will pick up and deliver units in town, and will even deliver a loaner unit while a customer’s mobility scooter or wheelchair is in for service.
“We really try to put ourselves in our customers’ shoes. What if we were that person?” Carl says. “I put myself on the other side of the counter. I try to be fair to the customer, fair to my employees and fair to myself and my business.”
Carl maintains a well-trained staff, taking advantage of clinics and training offered by companies like K&M Tire, Ford, Cooper Tire and Pride Mobility whenever the opportunity comes up. He says good customer service also means maintaining a reputation of being honest.
“Our industry has a perception issue because of a few bad apples. Our good word-of-mouth advertising is a powerful testament to our honesty. [Customers] can buy tires, repairs or accessories at 50 other places, but they come to Carko because they trust us,” Carl says. “Today’s customer is educated, savvy and product-knowledgeable with the internet at their fingertips. They probably do not want to know that their vehicle may cost hundreds of dollars to repair, but when they trust you, they are confident that you are not selling them unnecessary parts or services.”
Carl says the values of his business are the same values he has instilled into his son and Carko co-owner, Jeffery, who Carl says specializes in working with truck accessory and mobility customers.
“I have had many a little old lady compliment me personally on what a kind, professional young man he is,” Carl says.
Carl credits his shop’s honesty and integrity with bringing back repeat customers. But being a lifelong resident of Findlay, Carl doesn’t discredit the power of the personal relationships he’s built with the people of his hometown over the years.
“Being born and raised in Findlay, I know everyone – at least that’s what my kids claimed growing up. They couldn’t get away with anything!” Carl says. “These relationships are with teachers, doctors, neighbors, family and friends, and build the trust that is needed between the shop and the customers.”
Is K&M Tire one of your distributors? Do you have what it takes to be a Mr. Tire/Big 3 Tire Top Shop? Nominations for the 2021 contest are open! Visit www.MrTireBig3TopShop.com today.