Continuous training and treating customers right has defined Craig Walter’s career in the tire industry.
Walter, a former Goodyear district automotive service manager, started in the industry working at a Citgo gas station to earn money in high school. By the late 1960s, Walter got a job as a tire technician at a Goodyear store and worked his way up through the ranks.
By 1978, he became a district service manager for Goodyear overseeing 33 company-owned stores in the Chicago area. As a career champion of training, Walter’s role was to make sure salespeople and tire technicians alike were properly trained and that the shop’s equipment was kept updated and in good order. From the late ‘70s to early ‘90s, he started working with independent dealers to help get them on track to meet Goodyear’s standards for their affiliated stores.
“The training was important first and foremost,” Walter says. “[Being a technican] isn’t just changing a part. You need to know why a part is being changed.”
Through the years, Walter worked in various roles for Goodyear, taking on commercial tire responsibilities and eventually was promoted to assistant district manager of retail. During his time with the tiremaker, he met Don, the founder of Don’s Auto Ade. After multiple salespeople had no luck convincing Don to buy more tires, the team at Goodyear brought Craig in for the job.
“I went to his shop one Friday, and I was there for like 40 minutes before he kicked me out,” Craig recalls. “I took that personally, so when I went back, he looked up and said, ‘I guess you didn’t hear what I said last time.’ The next Friday, I went back, and he said, “You’re pretty serious about this?’ I said, ‘I can also help you.’”
Craig certainly did. However, it wasn’t until years later –after Craig had retired from Goodyear and started doing some independent consulting with shops – that Don reached out again. Little did Craig know, that was the moment he would become an independent tire dealer.
“He called me back up and said, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing. You have to take this place over,’” Craig remembers. “I said, ‘I don’t want to.’ But I got home and thought about it and said, ‘You know what? I think I will.’”
Now 16 years later, Craig has hired new people and his shop – still under the name Don’s Auto Ade – is flourishing thanks to his attitude toward training and customer service.
“[Automotive work] has to be a constant training program,” Craig says. “There’s no such thing as not knowing how these cars are changing these days.”
At his shop, training comes in many forms: daily 10-15 minute demonstrations, readings, manufacturer training sessions after work and tests administered by Craig or other techs in the shop.
“I give them all the training they want,” he says. “It’s the proper way to do business…. You can’t afford not to send them to training. You can see the difference in customer satisfaction and selling more.”
Craig also believes in training technicians to talk to customers, bringing them behind the yellow lines in the bay to describe an issue with their car. Even his techs know and live out his motto: the customer is always right.
“If someone says they got an issue, trust me, there is an issue,” he says. “It might take you a minute, but if you handle it for them, you’ve got a customer for life.”
At Don’s Auto Ade, Craig takes customer service to the next level, cleaning customers’ car windows and educating them about their vehicle. In fact, he keeps a tire run to 4/32-in. tread depth to show customers when their tires need to be changed. He also has a TV in the store that he uses to teach customers how different parts of their car operate.
“If they’re 17, 18 years old all the way up to 90, they all get an education,” Craig says, “and they’re all always hungry for more information.”