With the industry rapidly changing, it seems like each day presents new challenges. But Robert Duckworth, COO of Jacksonville, Florida’s Tire Outlet, is used to tackling those challenges head on. A store on the brink of closing? Rob was up to the task and turned it around in 90 days.
“I wasn’t ready to give up on it yet,” Rob recalls, who at the time was regional manager of the 12-store tire dealership. “I convinced my boss to give me 90 days with the location… My first course of action was to make the store more operationally efficient. We slimmed down our services and focused on what makes us the most profit… We also did small things to make the store more presentable and look updated.”
Today, that Tire Outlet location in Palatka is one of the dealership’s most profitable stores. Why? Because of Rob’s experience in each position in the shop—from installing tires to answering phones. He knows what hard work looks like and how a well-run business operates efficiently.
“They were grooming me for other positions within the company and I had to learn every aspect of the job,” he recalls about working his way up the ladder. “I’m really thankful for that experience now. Without it, I wouldn’t be able to do the job at hand.”
Rob initially joined the tire industry in October 2007 as director of sales for a wholesale tire company after receiving his bachelor’s degree in consumer behavior from the University of Connecticut. He then switched to the e-commerce realm, serving a two-year stint as chief operating officer of SelectTire.com. Finally, he joined the Tire Outlet organization in 2013 and worked his way up. Now, Rob is chief operating officer of the organization with 98 employees and a 13th store on the way, slated to open in winter 2021.
However, Rob knows that the growth and accolades he and the dealership have seen didn’t come without their fair share of challenges. Most recently, in the form of COVID-19.
“We were preparing for the worst outcome,” he says. “Protecting cash flow, managing how we were going to take care of our employees and looking at every possible way to weather the storm. However, we didn’t prepare for what actually happened—a record sales month. All in all, we’ve done very well this year and anticipate we will finish strong.”
One hurdle along the way, though, has been tire supply and demand. With the rise of COVID-19 and tariffs, tire supply has been “the worst it has been in a long time,” Rob admits. But he’s also worked to overcome this hurdle, pivoting to carry different brands in Tire Outlet stores and partnering with several companies with manufacturing plants stateside.
For Tire Outlet, the pandemic actually opened up new revenue streams in the form of mobile tire install vans.
“Because of the coronavirus pandemic, we have switched our focus lately to advertising our mobile tire installation vans,” Rob says. “Convenience is a key factor in today’s society, especially with everything available at your fingertips with Amazon and Uber, so the next logical step for us was tires installed in your driveway.”
Tire Outlet is also burdened with the struggle many shops face of finding good-quality technicians. But, as in the past, Rob looked for solutions. For the past several years, the company has invested more in training new hires and supporting current staff through continuing education. By 2021, he hopes to have an in-house tech school to help fill this void in his business.
Despite obstacles along the way, Rob and his team have maintained the superior level of customer service Tire Outlet is known for in its five-star Google and Yelp reviews.
“It starts at the counter with a friendly face greeting every customer and ends with a thank you card on your dash,” he says. “The great pricing and fast service are just extras. We are interested in having generations of families visit our stores—not just one and done. Word of mouth is still the best advertising you can get, and it all starts with having the best customer service in the industry.”