The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about more than a bit of uncertainty for small business owners, but it has also proven three things to Joe Mullaney, a shop manager at Mullaney’s Tire & Car Care Center in historic Matawan, New Jersey, located in the suburbs between New York City and Philadelphia.
Joe says COVID-19 hit Mullaney’s in a way which many tire dealers can relate, straining his finances and forcing changes in his business he never expected to have to make. But Joe says he didn’t hesitate to make those necessary adjustments to protect his business, his staff and his customers.
This proved to Joe that tire dealers are adaptable.
“Our primary goal internally was to maintain our staff and payroll in order to protect our employees and business from a financial impact. Thus far we are doing well, with slightly reduced volume, but it could have been much worse if we were shuttered or our employees were furloughed,” Joe says. “We are doing more to protect our workers and our customers. We are supplying gloves to all of our personnel, and cleaning the office and passageway door handles and keys and steering wheels.
“We have also marketed and utilized our email and postcard CRM communications with our customers so that they know we are here and ready for them when they need us. This has leveled out the lower car count and put our customer base at ease so they are confident we can still service their cars as needed.”
Joe says he and his staff used lessons learned from the Great Recession in 2008 to prepare for events like this pandemic. One of those lessons was to focus on customer trust, using the shop’s six bays and multiple lifts outside for expedited, efficient tire installation and service work. Mullaney’s also offers multiple financing programs, helping to reduce the pressure on customers.
While the pandemic pushed Mullaney’s to reduce hours a bit through the week and close on weekends, Joe has found a way to turn this into a positive for both his staff and customers.
“This gives our employees time with their families and a much-needed break we normally do not enjoy. This has helped morale and kept our team intact,” Joe says. “But, we forward all of our after-hour phone traffic to our cell phones so we can still be available at the times our customers are accustomed to. We need to be here for them, and we need them here for us.”
Joe admits he wouldn’t be able to weather this COVID-19 storm alone, and he depends on a host of individuals who all play an integral role in keeping his company’s wheel’s turning.
As the coronavirus has continued to reveal the unexpected challenges of owning a small business, Joe says the pandemic has also done a great job in proving its second point: Tire dealers are people you can depend on.
Joe turns to his father, Bud, as an exceptional example of this. Bud, who just turned 75, is the owner of Mullaney’s and still comes into work every day to assist with payables, insurance and bookkeeping needs. Bud started the company in 1964 with the purchase of a gas station located a block away from where Mullaney’s sits now on Broad Street, which Bud purchased a few years later.
Joe credits much of what he knows about the tire industry today to Bud and other members of his family, as Joe grew up in the ’70s and ’80s watching his family work on the business. Joe remembers sweeping floors, making deliveries and repairing tires, laying the foundation for the work ethic and engineering knowledge he says are needed to succeed in the industry. Today, with Joe at the helm running day-today operations, Mullaney’s specializes in import car/SUV service, with a 25%-75% tire/service ratio.
There’s also the shop’s accountant, Larry Burns, who Joe says is an automotive industry expert and has been “instrumental in steering the ship.”
“Our employees are probably our best partner, and our backbone,” Joe adds. “They are all different and complement each other. Many of our employees have been with us for many years, and we had one employee that was with us for 48 years. They really are our family and, as such, we look out for each other.”
Joe says his shop currently has 10 employees of different ages, styles, backgrounds and strengths.
Mullaney’s is a Bosch Service Center, and Joe says he considers Bosch “a partner that will help guide our future,” as the company helps his business keep up with evolving technology trends. He also credits another of his suppliers, Worldpac, for its support to his business both during and outside of COVID-19.
“The offerings they present us with as well as the support they give us are simply not found in the industry and they should be recognized for their excellence for independent shops like ours,” he says. “I do not think we would be the shop we are today without having them as a supplier and we truly appreciate their support.”
And, Joe says he’s happy to have the support during these uncertain times, as despite COVID-19’s refusal to disappear, he says the work the shop’s bays is increasing every week.
This, Joe says, proves that tire dealers are essential.
“The fact that our industry is deemed ‘essential’ is quite accurate. We are proud to be included in this designation because this means we have a chance – a chance to fight for ourselves, our employees and our customers,” Joe says. “We are in control of our futures to a certain extent, or at least have a say in our direction.”
He says independent tire dealers have a leg up over the big box stores when it comes to choosing that direction – if dealers are willing to do the work.
“The most important thing for us is continuous learning and improvement. Tomorrow will be very different than today and if we don’t keep reading, learning and growing then we will become yesterday’s news. It can be difficult, expensive and tiring, and you cannot take these things personally as you never know it all,” Joe says. “Most big boxes, car dealerships and gas stations sell tires, but independent tire dealers know tires. There is a big difference, and this is why the market has not pushed independent dealers out of their share.”
Check out the rest of the May digital edition of Tire Review here.