Whether it’s due to personal experience, family history or a sense of appreciation for those who have served, many tire dealers throughout the U.S. make a conscious effort to support military service members and veterans, both locally and nationally.
Military Appreciation Month
Earlier this year, Virginia Tire & Auto, based in northern Virginia, organized its first formal Military Appreciation Month. The May event, celebrated at the company’s 13 locations and held in coordination with national Military Appreciation Month, was a way to honor both employees and customers who are service members or veterans.
“On the employee side, we surveyed everyone and found out who had served in the military – it was about 30 employees,” says Julie Holmes, Virginia Tire & Auto president. “We then made a nice poster and hung a couple in each store; one in the customer-facing area and one in the employee-facing area; we ran it on our message board and in one of our monthly emails.”
All employees were offered flag pins to wear on their lapels for the month. Military customers received a month-long military discount of 10% off service and 5% off tires. Staff also gave out flag pinwheels at the registers.
“It was fairly basic, but we live in a very densely populated military area being so close to D.C., so we definitely had a lot of people using the discount,” Holmes says, adding the initiative was communicated via print, social media, and in the coupons section on Virginia Tire’s website.
“There’s two ways to look at it – it’s either a reward to current military customers, or a way to attract new ones,” she explains. “I think it ended up being more of a reward, especially since most of the ways we communicated it, aside from print pieces, the majority of people seeing it were current customers. I think it was well received.”
Holmes says that in the past, the shop had a lot of word-of-mouth discounts, including a military discount, but that isn’t the practice anymore. “Our military discount turned into a police-officer discount, which then became a federal and local government discount, and a teacher discount. At a certain point, we had to eliminate the discount because it was getting abused.
“This was a good way to come back to doing a military discount. Mike (Holmes, the company’s CEO) and I have military service members in our families, and 10% of our employees are military, so it seemed like the right thing to do. We plan to do it again next year, and maybe even enhance it.”
Serving Military Families
For dealers with locations in close proximity to a military base, catering to military families is a natural fit. One example is Courtesy Auto Service & Tire of Tacoma, a one-location shop located in Tacoma, Wash.
In addition to offering a military discount every day, the dealership targets military families through social media, online, and through certain publications and websites that cater to the demographic.
“It is important because military is huge in Pierce County,” says Scott Welsh, owner of Courtesy Auto. “The local military base, Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM), is by far the largest employer in the county. In fact, in 2016, five of the top 10 employers were government entities in Pierce County.
“The military members have chosen to live this lifestyle, to provide security for our country, and they are important to us,” he adds. “The best we can do is treat them right and thank them for their service.”
This focus on military families has “contributed greatly” to the shop’s success, Welsh says, adding that for the most part, his staff treats them like any customer: problem-solve for them, treat them with respect and execute the shop’s mission in helping them well.
“They are fiercely loyal and they are a great referral source to their friends and other family members,” he explains. “I don’t think they come see us because of a discount; that’s like a bonus. They come because our business is well known in the community for quality and we are centrally located. The military customer is looking for the best value, service and experience, just like anyone.”
Military Owned and Operated
When he opened Excel Automotive in St. Charles, Ill., three years ago, owner Minor Mobley, a military veteran who served in the Marines and had been deployed in Iraq, knew he wanted to honor his father-in-law and brother-in-law, who also are veterans. He put three photographs – his own, as well as his family members’ – on one of the walls in the shop, a move that garnered attention as early as the store’s ribbon-cutting event.
“People saw the three pictures on the wall and started talking about how they don’t see this around other local businesses,” Mobley says. “Before we knew it, we were adding customers’ pictures to the wall. So now we have a hero wall honoring all those who have served who come into our shop. There are more we need to get up and we still have people bringing in pictures.”
Also in the early days of the business, Mobley hired military veterans – whose pictures, of course, were added to the wall. The first, an Army veteran who served in Afghanistan, was the son of a couple Mobley and his wife knew from church.
“He was a hands-on type of guy and was working at a desk at a call center; he didn’t feel like he was getting anything out of life, and his parents were scared he was going to re-enlist and go back to Afghanistan,” he recalls. “I needed help at the time, so I said I was interested in talking to him and we’d see how it all pans out. He’s been with us for three years now; he knew nothing about our industry so we educated him and got him trained – he’s going after his third ASE certification now.”
Shortly afterward, two more new hires came with military backgrounds – an Iraq veteran and someone who’d gone to military school but was unable to serve in the military afterward due to an injury.
Mobley recalls that with his first veteran hire, getting a former military employee trained and up to speed on the company’s policies required different tactics than with a typical employee.
“I had to work with him differently because of his military experience and background and some of the not-so-good experiences that left him constantly second guessing himself, that left him with PTSD,” Mobley says. “As an owner and a manager, I had to think of creative ways to get him to do what I needed him to do. The fact that I’ve been through it (military service), made it easier for me to figure out what actions I should take to get them to do what I needed them to do and to get them to grow.”
In addition to a 10% military discount, the Excel staff goes above and beyond to thank its customers who have served in the military.
“My entire staff will stop what they’re doing to come up and thank a vet,” Mobley says. “If we know they’re coming in or we’ve worked on their car that day, I’ll bring up my entire staff to thank firemen, police officers, paramedics – anyone who sacrifices themselves and their families to protect the community and our country. We want to make sure that they feel appreciated and we go the extra mile to do that.”
The dealership has worked with organizations that honor and help military members, including Operation Warrior Wishes, working hand in hand to raise money. The company also has donated vehicles to local veterans who returned home, were struggling to re-adjust, and lacked reliable transportation.
“I don’t often talk about it and we don’t publicize it, but… we have donated six cars to local veterans who needed vehicles. We bought them, did the repairs and then donated them,” Mobley says.
In an industry where actions speak louder than words, customers have responded very favorably by giving the young shop their business.
“We’ve got a very loyal customer base, especially for only having been in business for three years. I never thought we would be at this point already,” Mobley says. “Integrity is everything. You can’t be afraid to lose a dollar or not make a sale; honesty will bring people back to you.
“We often use the tagline, “‘Trust is earned, it’s never given,’” he continues. “That’s a military slogan. There’s a lot to be said for having not only your own morals but to have the military virtues and integrity as well.”