When true Yanktonians think of a business that is a pillar in their community, many are bound to say TMA Yankton. For more than 40 years, the single-location tire and auto repair shop in the small town of Yankton, South Dakota, has operated under the credo of, “Where you’re more than just a customer.” You see it in the way they call customers by their first name or a nickname when they walk through the door–a testament to the tight bonds they’ve created over the decades. You see it when customers text co-owners Doug Budig and Bob Vornhagen about vehicle issues, and they drop everything to help. You see it in the countless number of hours its staff gives in volunteering or donations to various organizations in its community.
“We just have a passion to help our customers,” says Budig, a second-generation tire dealer who grew up working for his father, the original owner of the business. “We believe in paying attention to the details, and the rest will come.”
At TMA Yankton, expertise, passion and a whole lot of heart come together to make the business a staple in the community. Thanks to its willingness to adapt to the times, care for its staff and its desire for constant improvement, TMA Yankton has been named this year’s winner of the Mr. Tire/Big 3 Tire Top Shop Contest, presented by Hankook Tire and O’Reilly Auto Parts.
Putting in the Hard Work
A lot of elbow grease went into the making of TMA Yankton, and the business has been able to change with the times. Let’s start from the beginning: After stints working for Goodyear and General Tire, Doug’s father, Dave, took over the business, then called Midwest Tire and Muffler, in 1983. Doug worked for his father as a part-time tire tech growing up but left to take a sales position after graduating with a business management degree from the University of South Dakota.
Fast forward two years, and he returned to the business, teaming up with one of his father’s recent hires, Bob Vornhagen, who earned his automotive technology degree from Mitchell Tech in Mitchell, South Dakota. Over the years, Bob took on more responsibility in the business and eventually purchased shares, becoming part-owner alongside Dave. Then in 2007, Dave retired, leaving Doug and Bob fully in charge of running the dealership.
Yet, Doug is quick to realize that the business’s growth hasn’t come without adversity.
“I laugh because there’s adversity every day,” he reflects, as he lists the technological and business challenges TMA Yankton has confronted over the last several years.
One test, in particular, came in 2016 when Doug and Bob were told, “Don’t plan on resigning your lease,” for a spot they had occupied for 31 years at Yankton’s local mall.
“We looked at each other like, ‘Gulp. Wow, really?’ It took a while to sink in,” Doug recalled. “That’s where our home was. We really had to switch gears. The first thing we did was pray because you don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Thanks to customers and outside counsel as well as the shop’s staff at the time, Budig and Vornhagen were able to purchase a lot a couple blocks down the street.
“I can’t stress enough the relationships that we had with the people that helped us,” Doug says. “We had to seek wise counsel because there were a lot of things we didn’t know. We didn’t know about real estate. We didn’t know about building a new store… We had to really learn a lot in that short amount of time through visiting different shops and talking with our guys about what they liked to figure it all out.”
In 2018, TMA Yankton opened their brand-new, built-from-the-ground-up location. With 12,000 square feet and 13 bays, their current location is double the size of their previous store and has a bright, clean and spacious entrance and waiting room to boot.
Little did Doug and Bob know that a few years after opening their new store, they would be presented with the unprecedented challenge of navigating through the COVID-19 pandemic. As in past years, they rose to the challenge.
“I think it has forced up to be more convenience-driven,” says Doug, noting that the shop has added vehicle drop-off and pick-up services, a key drop-off box and is texting customers more than it had in the past. “People are just more comfortable doing business with us like this now. And they trust us after 40 years in business.”
Shortly after Doug and Bob took over the business, Doug says they started realizing areas in which the business could grow. He noticed it in the jobs they had to turn away at their old location since they didn’t have the space to complete certain repairs. Expanding into more vehicle service was a natural transition.
“More important than our tires-to-service ratio is the diversity in the service itself,” Doug explains. “A vehicle needs more than just tires, alignments and oil changes. We wanted to be able to do all of it. We didn’t want to have to say, ‘Yeah, ABC Company is going to have to do that for you down the street.’ We want to take care of all a customer’s car needs because it’s like a snowball effect. The more service that you can do, the more it will build your business and their [the customer’s] business with you.”
In their current location, they have the space to work on trucks, campers, RVs and tractors with their drive-through service bay. They also have the space to do ADAS calibrations, especially on Chevy, Ford, GMC, Jeep and Chrysler models.
For customers, the shop even has a large digital menu board hanging behind the front sales desk that highlights certain products and services. Doug says customers oftentimes add products and services after seeing the board while checking in.
“From import to domestic, tune-ups to tires, we are proud to be a one-stop shop for most undercar needs,” Doug adds.
With an expanded list of services comes a wider range of expertise. According to Bob, the TMA Yankton team enrolls in constant training—both on the job and in classes—that helps techs keep up with any technological hurdles. In addition, their 11-person team maintains their ASE certifications, attends monthly NAPA Autocare classes and participates in the Bridgestone Education Network online.
“We send our techs to school five or six times a year to learn and stay updated,” Bob says. “The main thing is just staying up-to-date with everything. Many times, when a vehicle or repair comes into the shop, our guys have already gone to school for it already and know what to do.”
Maintaining a Quality Team
Respect, communication and care go a long way in retaining employees at TMA Yankton, Doug and Bob say.
“We just treat [our team] with respect,” Doug says. “They bust their butts. Both Bob and I were in their position once, and we know what it’s like. It’s not always easy work. They have to deal with a lot of things, and we understand that.”
Bob, who handles a lot of the undercar and equipment questions, will often be at a technician’s side when a tricky job comes in, Doug says. “It’s just doing the little things to help their job go smoother,” he adds.
Another key change that has boosted employee morale is closing the shop on Saturdays, which was implemented in early December and has led to a half-hour earlier start time on weekdays.
“Bob and I have been talking about it for a long time,” Doug says. “We’ve always been open a half day on Saturday, and there’s only so much you can do in four hours. Scheduling-wise, you’re not taking a lot of big jobs anyway. And a lot of employees don’t want to come in for half a day. They want to spend time with the family, go out of town or what have you. Even though we just made the change, it seems like everyone is happier.”
The team also has its fair share of fun, Doug admits. Throughout the year, the owners will arrange get-togethers and bring in food for breakfast or for holidays.
“When we’re smiling, when we’re laughing, it’s contagious,” Doug says. “Our customers realize that when we’re having fun and joking with them, they want to be a part of it, too. It makes it easier to sell when everyone is happy.”
Not only have Doug and Bob created strong bonds with their employees, but they’re also known for giving back to those that have supported the business. In their small community of about 15,000 people, Doug and Bob are active in their church and have volunteered to coach numerous hockey, wrestling, soccer, baseball and softball teams over the years. The TMA Yankton team also participates in drag racing and car shows.
To usher in the next generation of technicians, they also attend high school career fairs and offer shadowing opportunities to local high school students interested in automotive technology.
“We know a lot of the auto tech teachers in the area,” Doug says, noting that they often reach out to these people when they have an opening at the shop.
Financially, the list of organizations the business supports is numerous: local churches, the local cemetery, police and fire departments, Boys and Girls Club, Boy Scouts, Junior Achievement, 4H…the list goes on.
One that Doug highlighted is Lewis and Clark Behavioral Health Services. When a counselor there sees a patient without means who needs a vehicle repair, the counselor is free to dip into an emergency fund set up by TMA Yankton to help the person with whatever they need.
“When someone calls or stops in, we try to take the time and understand their story because when you’re open to it, that changes you,” Doug says. “We give thousands of dollars because there’s so much need. I don’t remember really ever saying no.”
Finding the Right Partners
With 60% of TMA Yankton’s business made up of tire sales, they know they need a good tire partner. With K&M Tire, “there’s not much they don’t have or can’t get,” says Doug Budig, co-owner. Primarily, TMA Yankton stocks Bridgestone, Firestone, Falken and Thunderer brands. While Doug and Bob are familiar with the vehicles, tire sizes, brands and niche tires in their area, they don’t carry everything on hand. “But we get on their [K&M’s] website and order every day,” Doug says. “We get the tires the next day by 7 in the morning. We don’t have to stock and get old SKUs that aren’t popular. It’s been very convenient, and they’ve worked well with us over the years.”
For shops across North America, finding qualified technicians is one of the hardest aspects of owning a tire shop. However, the owners of TMA Yankton—Doug Budig and Bob Vornhagen—shared a few ways they find the talent to tackle their bays.
With many tenured technicians on staff, their team members often know other technicians in the area, “and they want someone to come in here that they get along with that is productive and has a good attitude,” Bob says.
They also receive a lot of recommendations from community members that have patronized the shop for decades.
“When people say, ‘Oh, I know someone who’s looking,’ I always say give me their phone number. I get a lot of customers saying, ‘Hey, call this person. Call that person.’” Doug says. “What we’ll do is write their name down, and we have a constant, growing list of potential people, so when we have a position to fill, we already have a bunch of names, numbers and information on people, so I’m not starting from nothing.”