About 12 years ago, Troy Smetzer, owner of Smetz’s Tire & Service Center in Ashland, Ohio, asked his staff to read a book. But it wasn’t just any book. “I wanted my employees to know why we sometimes ask them to do something that wouldn’t make us a dime more money.” In fact, Troy was playing the long game when he asked his managers and technicians to read the book “Raving Fans: A Revolutionary Approach to Customer Service.”
“It sounds funny, but when I was reading the book, I thought, ‘This is one of the reasons why we’re successful,’” Troy says about the book written by Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles, which teaches businesses the importance of growing an enthusiastic “fan base.”
Those fans were created from a consistent and positive customer experience that is at the heart of all Smetz’s Tire & Service Center does. You can see it in the way employees answer the phone, how staff greets customers and how the shop, of which half of its business comes from commercial tire work, responds to service calls on the road. Troy knows that creating a positive experience for the customer begins with his staff, which he empowers to go out of their way for the customer. Treating customers and employees “like human beings,” as he says, is key to any successful business. He saw it firsthand as a kid watching two generations before him hone quality service and relationships at his grandfather’s tire shop.
“If you can make the customer feel special, they won’t go anywhere else,” says Troy. “You have a customer for life.”
This mentality, as well as Troy’s ability to focus on constant improvement, is why Smetz’s Tire and Service Center has been named the Winner of this year’s K&M Tire Mr. Tire/Big 3 Tire Top Shop Competition. As a third-generation tire dealership, Troy’s business is a fixture in the community, from being the go-to spot for customers’ tire and service work to giving back to his community time and time again, and it’s primed to enter the fourth generation.
As a young boy, Troy remembers accompanying his dad, Ted Smetzer, to work at his grandfather’s shop. He changed his first tire when he was 13, and since then, he hasn’t looked back. When Troy’s grandfather sold his shop in 1990, Ted started his own business and leased an old building down the road from the old shop. He and Troy remodeled it and began selling tires on consignment from his cousin’s tire store.
“We started it on my dad’s credit card,” Troy recalls. “I remember [the building] belonged to a good friend of dad’s and he said we could pay him rent whenever we could afford it.”
Because of the business’s prime location and commitment to customer service, word spread about Smetz’s Tire & Service Center throughout central Ohio. Their building is located on a main thoroughfare in Ashland about two miles east of Interstate 71– a major truck route that runs through the middle of Ohio–and is less than 10 miles from other state and county roads.
“We grew faster than we thought,” admits Troy, who started right off the bat learning the back-office side of the business from his dad.
With the demand for commercial tire service expanding year after year, Troy and Ted decided to expand bit by bit. In 1999, they built another service center in the back of their existing building big enough for Class A trucks and farm equipment. Soon after, they took over an existing warehouse they owned—that originally belonged to Troy’s grandfather— to store tires for the many fleets they work with. Also in the late 90s, they added industrial tire work to their expertise.
While most people say it’s hard to work with family, Troy said he and his dad “had maybe two disagreements” when they worked together. Luckily, “we both always had the same focus on wanting to take care of the customer,” he says.
Years later, Troy would run the business as his father grappled with cancer that eventually took his life in 2015. That’s when Troy went from owning 25% of the business to the whole operation. Yet the value of taking care of the customer never wavered. In fact, Troy plans to pass it down to the next generation.
Today, Troy describes himself as a “hands-on” owner, waking up at 5:30 a.m. to open the business, pay the bills and work the front counter. His stepson, Riley Harpster, helps run the commercial side of the business, scheduling out tire service and working with the business’ national fleet and government accounts. Riley remembers helping Troy in the business as a young kid, and he studied business management and entrepreneurship in college to prepare him to take the reins one day.
“That’s been the plan for a while,” Riley says, excited to continue his stepdad’s legacy.
“My dad would be ecstatic that Riley is involved,” Troy says proudly.
Commitment to Customers & Employees
Today, Smetz’s Tire & Service Center consists of 50% PLT work, which is mainly done in the front building with seven bays. The back building with four drive-through bays can fit 18-wheelers and large farm and industrial equipment and takes the other 50% of the work. Additionally, Smetz’s Tire & Service Center has four service trucks that respond to road calls throughout the day. “That is a big part of our business,” Troy says.
Troy knows that in a competitive tire landscape, customer service is what has to set his business apart from others. With the slogan “where integrity meets the road,” Smetz’s Tire & Service Center strives every day to provide honest and trustworthy work to every customer that comes through its doors. From providing free TPMS resets to a variety of other services that expand the business to be a “one-stop shop” for a customer’s vehicle maintenance, Smetz’s Tire isn’t afraid to exhaust its resources to take care of customers. Its countless customer testimonials and 4.8-star rating on Google are proof.
However, Troy knows that his business can best serve its customers when his employees act as a team. And taking care of his team will, in turn, allow them to take care of the customer.
“You have to treat your employees right,” says Troy, who proudly shares that two of his 19 employees have been with him for 30 years while a majority have been with the business for around 10 years. “Communication is the key. That’s how we keep employees. I explain why we do certain things, and they know that it makes the business better.”
Troy doesn’t pay any of his employees on commission; it’s a practice that his dad didn’t believe in. Instead, “I pay them a fair wage and they work hard every day,” he says. Sound benefits and a Christmas bonus are also ways Troy strives to provide for his staff.
While both technicians and sales staff have ample on-the-job training, Troy also pays for his technicians’ Tire Industry Association certifications. In addition, he carves out time for his salespeople to take courses provided by Michelin and Goodyear to enhance their sales and product knowledge. Troy admits that while it’s been difficult for him to find qualified workers, his employees know that they can do whatever it takes to take care of the customer.
“Our reputation speaks for itself at this point,” Riley says. “It’s all word of mouth. If you treat people right, they’ll do the work for you.”
IMAGE Riley Harpster, Troy’s stepson who helps run Smetz’s Tire & Service Center’s fleet service department, helps with scheduling out tire service and working with the business’s national fleet and government accounts. Riley remembers helping Troy in the business as a young child and has plans to take over the business one day.
Serving the Community
Over the years, Troy has experimented with different ways to get the word out about his business, but nothing compares to getting involved in the community.
“Instead of going out and spending a lot of money on commercials, we feel that it’s better to reinvest that money in the community and get our name out there that way,” Troy says.
The list of ways Smetz’s Tire supports its community is endless. Each year, Troy and Riley spend two days at their county’s local livestock fair purchasing market animals from local youth who have worked hard year-round to raise their animals. The shop also sponsors Ashland’s popular Balloonfest every year, a hot air balloon festival with local vendors, merchants and entertainment. Another way the shop gives back is by partnering with its local YMCA “For a Better Us” program, which provides membership and scholarships for less fortunate families in the Ashland community.
On top of these three major programs, Smetz’s Tire & Service Center also sponsors local sports teams and schools.
“We try to do a lot of stuff with the youth since they’ll be the ones buying tires from us in the future,” Troy says.
This past year, Troy and his employees were able to give back to a local kid in a very special way. When COVID-19 hit his community in early 2020, two Smetz’s Tire employees heard that the child couldn’t have a birthday party since he had dire health issues.
“His mother put together a parade of trucks to drive by their house for his birthday, and two of our employees took it upon themselves to offer their Sunday afternoon to be able to take our service trucks through the parade for the boy,” Troy said. “I really just think this just shows the values we try to instill in our employees, their character and the love we have for our community.”