Clever marketing and business savvy aren’t the only things that define Van Kleeck’s Tire in Lake Katrine, New York. It’s the way the staff and owners Clayton and Karen Van Kleeck think about creating a memorable customer experience that creates repeat customers and a unique–even fun–culture in the business.
Those reasons and more are why the single-location dealership that covers just about any tire you need was named K&M Tire’s Mr. Tire/Big 3 Tire 2020 Top Shop Winner. Each year, K&M Tire, in partnership with Hankook Tire & O’Reilly Auto Parts, crowns one Top Shop Winner that represents the best of what the industry has to offer. Van Kleeck’s dedication to improving the customer experience and not being afraid to stand out among their competition led them to take the cake.
At K&M’s 2022 Dealer Conference in February, Tire Review sat down with Clayton, a second-generation tire dealer with a keen eye on the tire business, to dive into what makes his business a Top Shop and how K&M has helped him grow his business (and continues to do so) into what it is today.
TR: Clayton, it’s been two years since Van Kleeck’s Tire was named the winner of K&M Tire’s Mr. Tire/Big 3 Tire Top Shop competition. Top Shops are really known for their innovation and willingness to change and improve and you obviously embody those qualities. How do you feel since winning the award your shop has sort of evolved or changed?
Clayton Van Kleeck: Well, I think the environment has had a big effect on us. Watch what happened in those past two years. But, one of the things that we found the biggest help is we decided to go to scheduling appointments–something that our business had never done. We now make appointments for everyone, for everything and the customers really like it. It’s made our business more efficient. It’s made our employees better able to anticipate what’s coming in, and it’s working great for us. That’s a total surprise. I never would’ve imagined it would.
It came about as a recommendation by some of our staff, but it was the pandemic that proved that it was valuable. I was a bit hesitant. I wasn’t comfortable at first, but it really has worked out well.
TR: Clayton, at the 2021 SEMA Show, there was some pretty exciting news released about the commercial side of your business.
CVK: I had a truck tire retread shop, and we needed software to run the shop. My crew and I developed software for ourselves and all of a sudden somebody saw it and thought somebody else could use it. All of a sudden, now we have about 26 shops using our software for manufacturing management in their retread shops. It’s all about helping retreaders out. The software is called Treadwear.
We knew what we wanted because we were originally a customer of a retread shop, then owned a retread shop. We knew what we needed from the software. We knew the information we needed. So my shop manager and his brother were both computer literate, and they just started experimenting, and all of a sudden through the marvels of technology, we have come up with software and we have the support of a good technical company. It’s just a dream come true. It’s something I never would’ve imagined. Who would think that a tire guy is now a software guy.
We were needing to interface with point of sales systems, such as FOG’s ASA and FreedomSoft’s TireShop. In that process, we started to get a good relationship with ASA and FOG, and…now they’re going to sell our product throughout North America.
TR: Now for your shop, you do your own radio commercials and you’re known for your merchandising and marketing efforts. Van Kleeck’s Tire’s tagline is, “home of the best free cup of coffee on the planet.” How do you remain clever, like this, and relevant with your marketing?
CVK: That’s an ongoing joke in our family. I always wanted to be in radio as a little kid, and that (radio) as an artistic outlet for me was something else. I did not want to work on Saturdays, so I just made coffee to make it seem like I was just going in for coffee. Well, that became an infectious disease. And now we have to have coffee for everyone. And then one day, I just challenged it and I said, “we have the best free cup of coffee on the planet.” And that became the tagline in our radio commercials. And you know what? It’s not about tires. I’m not talking about price. It’s just something funny that people remember. And they laugh when they think about Van Kleeck’s Tire. It works.
It has kind of become like a joke… I have other people call me and want to challenge me. I say, “Bring it [your cup of coffee] on in.”
TR: That’s awesome. I have to drive up there and get some coffee. So, you have radio but describe the company’s marketing mix.
CVK: We used to do a lot of print. We have pulled back from that. We are very happy with the radio ads. They’re hitting the demographics that we want. Plus, I like doing it. I’ve turned over the social media side to my daughter and the younger group. They understand it, and it’s really worked to our benefit. I’m really pleased.
TR: Clayton, after being named the 2020 K&M Tire Top Shop Winner and seeing others at K&M’s Dealer Conferences every year, what do you think really makes a Top Shop in our industry?
CVK: There’s three things. First, Integrity. K&M is a company of high integrity. When we walk these floors [of the conference], I’m impressed with the integrity of the dealers, people that are here. No. 2, it’s customer centric. Like K&M, we’re about servicing our customers. What does the customer need? We think about it that way. The third thing is we really strive. It’s to have our customers be our raving fans. I want to be able to walk into a diner, walk into a restaurant and not be accosted by someone that we did work for. I want them to be proud of us. To either joke about our coffee or just think that we gave them a good experience. Tires aren’t that cool, so we want to make their experience with getting them better.
TR: Last question: Can you describe your relationship with K&M Tire and how you guys work with them?
CVK: When K&M came in and took over from the other supplier that we had, we basically told them they would really work hard to have to screw it up. And well, they have done a wonderful job. They have never missed a beat. They provided what they said they would do. They have a great delivery staff.It may sound trivial, but that driver’s important to us for sure. The supporting staff has been wonderful to work with. They seem like us. They deal with us in the way we deal with our customers. We like that. It makes us comfortable.
Sponsored by K&M Tire.