The North American independent tire dealer is alive and well, and doing fine, thank you very much. In fact, based on the piles and piles of entries we received for our first Top Shop Awards contest, tire dealers are textbook examples of how small businesses should be run. Successfully, effectively, profitably – and people focused.
In this issue you will read about our Top Shop Award winner and three finalists and how they built their dreams and attitudes into highly successful businesses. This column is not about them; they get their own spotlight beginning on page 32.
Rather, this is about the scores of entrants who didn’t make it to the top, but certainly have the credentials.
Old hand dealers. Women owners. New guys trying to get started. People who had dealerships thrust upon them. Third gen dealers who fell in love with the business. Large multi-store dealers and single shop owners. All of them exemplary independents and model citizens.
Like the dealer who got started with $50 in his pocket and turned 18-hour days into a burgeoning three-location business. Or the husband and wife team who are successfully fending off three super Wal-Marts, two tire company stores, NTB and Merchant’s, Costco, BJs and a handful of other dealers – all in a six mile radius of their store.
Dealers who win “Best Of” honors from local papers year in and year out. Shops that are deeply invested in their home communities, with memberships galore, board seats aplenty and millions in anonymous donations.
Stories of recovery from financial and natural disasters that bring tears to your eyes. Tales of how one of your own made a profound difference in someone’s life.
The businesses that represent an individual’s “life-long dream” of self-determination, of ownership of a car care business. Dealers that on paper literally dominate a market, but have that small shop attitude.
The clean restrooms and inviting waiting areas, fresh ground coffee, WiFi networks – all of the customer amenities. The customer testimonials of service above and beyond the call of duty, of courtesy and respect, of “outstanding experiences.”
Unforgettable TV and radio spots, the creative Web sites and direct mail, and the focus on branding the store, not the products. Tire stores that look nothing like stereotypical tire stores, some that take the performance market to a whole other level or some so pleasant one would be pressed to tell they were in a tire store.
I have judged many, many professional and student contests, applying a critical eye (and, sometimes, ear) to the efforts of others. Their hearts and souls, if you will. Certainly, in this case, their very livelihoods.
But I have never had as difficult a time with any contest. So many were so very good, that reviewing all of the Top Shop Award entries was more like reading a business success textbook. Choose between this shop and that? Almost impossible.
And part of the reason is that we intentionally made the criteria hard. Bloody darn hard. Based on that judging criteria, becoming a Top Shop Award semi-finalist was quite a feat.
We would be sorely remiss if we did not recognize the 17 dealerships that were semi-finalists, and have automatically been entered into next year’s Top Shop Award contest:
Atlantic Tire & Service, Cary, NC; Bobby’s Muffler & Tire Center, Franklin, VA; Cheney Tire Inc., Watertown, NY; Courthouse Tire & Service Center, Fredericksburg, VA; Direct Tire, Watertown, MA; Garrett Tire & Auto Center, Springdale, AR; Grismer Tire, Dayton, OH; Grand Premier Tire, East Greenbush, NY; Hay Tire Co., Charleston, SC; McClea’s Tire Service, Santa Rosa, CA; Mission Tire, Cartersville, GA; Performance Plus Tire & Auto, Long Beach, CA; The Tire Choice, Ft. Lauderdale, FL; Tire Corral, McAllen, TX; Tire Discounters, Cincinnati, OH; Twin City Tire & Auto, Bloomington, MN; and Westgate Tire, Newport, TN.
This issue marks the culmination of a project that began back in May 2006 when the Top Shop Awards went from idea to commitment. As you can imagine, we have already begun working on the 2008 Top Shop Awards program, and promise to make it even more meaningful.
Special thanks go out to Hennessy Industries, which came on board as presenting sponsor and very generously offered to provide equipment as part of the prize packages – a Coats APX90 tire changer for the Top Shop winner and three Coats 1250 tire/wheel balancers for each of our finalists.
I want to personally thank Kevin Keefe, Hennessy’s group marketing director, for his passionate involvement and ready assistance, and the many, many people we worked with to spread the word about this very special contest.
And thank you, our readers, for being a part of this. I look forward to your entries in 2008!