I guess the most annoying thing about being sick is that it is just so damn annoying. Especially when you don’t feel all that sick.
A recent 12-rounder with pneumonia – won on the judge’s card, by the way – had me sequestered in the local hospital for seven days. Felt more like a lifetime, what with the prescribed bed rest (impossible with the regular poking and prodding), dotted with hours of bad TV, bad food and worse company – my omnipresent IV pump. I now understand “stir crazy.”
Those who know me know that I don’t suffer sick all that well, and that there is no good time to be sick. At least to me. Especially in a deadline-oriented business like this. It’s a trait I picked up from my father, who would all but slice his thumb off on a table saw, calmly drive to the ER for a few dozen stitches, and then get right back to cross-cutting lumber as if there was anything wrong with that.
With nothing but time on one’s hands, reflection is inevitable. Not the fatalistic version, mind you – it was just pneumonia – but rather on the state of the tire industry.
I have killed more than a few words on the many issues we face in our little niche of modern commerce. And there are many current internal and external pressures, to be sure, that have bearing on your business.
But for the many challenges the marketplace is staring down, we have so many more positives that clearly demonstrate the strength, resilience, creativity, integrity and pure pride that leave little doubt that independent tire dealers will prevail.
In this issue, we’ll feature four such success stories – the winner and three finalists of our second annual Top Shop Awards, sponsored by Ammco/Coats. These dealers have found a way to stay on top through these difficult times by focusing on good, old-fashioned blocking and tackling, the fundamentals of merchandising, training, community service, customer service, achievement and appearance – the cornerstones of any successful business.
As important as those success stories are, there were nearly 100 others that crossed my desk as Top Shop entrants for this year. Every one, in their own way, was as successful as our four top shops. Their earnestness, the stories they shared and the reasons they deserved consideration were as compelling as any.
The number of entries received represents a small percentage of the known independent tire dealer universe in the U.S. and Canada. And, at the end of the day, there can be but one winner. But that should not diminish the value of the thousands of other tire dealers – large and small – who keep North America rolling.
It was refreshing to see so many entries from Canadian dealers this year, a trend I hope will continue in the future. So, too, from those servicing commercial markets – ag, trucking and OTR. And I don’t want to forget those who entered last year and worked very hard to improve for this year’s contest.
Our winner, in fact, was a semi-finalist last year.
You see, that’s the thing about this contest. It’s not about who you are or how many locations you have or how much revenue you generate or any of those measures. Our top Top Shop this year, for example, has just two locations and has been in business for 10 years. One of the finalists has one store, and is closer to the Arctic Circle than to a major city.
Sure, the traditional measures are important. It’s easy to attribute success to balance sheets and number of locations and years in business. But the real Top Shops – the ones we seek to honor each year – run deeper than that. They may not be the biggest or the most recognizable, but they are – in every sense – the most well-rounded examples of what it means to be a truly successful small business.
It was particularly interesting to see that customer service was the number one driver for our top four this year. They recognized – even long ago – that sustainability is based on finding and keeping satisifed customers. When the bad times come – and we all know that they are here now – those customers, and the dozens of others they drive to your store, will stave off the bitter cold of a downturn.
I could not be prouder than when I have the opportunity to represent this industry. And it is because of you – all of you – in small town Ohio, rural New York, metropolitan Toronto, or even halfway across an ocean.
And I cannot thank you enough. As annoying as my unexpected vacation was, it did give me pause to smell the roses and appreciate just how lucky we all are.