Family owned and operated CJ’s Tire and Automotive has been a leader in tire retail and automotive services in the mid-Atlantic region for more than 40 years.
The company, founded in 1972 in Birdsboro, Pa., just outside of Reading, operates 12 retail locations and a regional wholesale distributor business with a warehouse in Pottstown that holds 40,000 to 50,000 tires. The business also has a Mighty Auto Parts franchise.
“We distribute from as far west as Harrisburg, east of the Delaware River,” says tire industry veteran Bill Bainbridge, director of marketing for CJ’s Tire and Automotive. “We go down a little bit into northern Del-aware and northern Maryland and then all the way up to the Pennsylvania/New York border.”
On the retail side, the company avoids traditional commercial tires and focuses more on a niche market of passenger and light truck radials. The shop carries a variety of brands, including Continental, General, Michelin, BFGoodrich and Uniroyal.
“Hankook and Falken, I guess, would be the two lines that would be in that really high value segment for us,” says Bainbridge. “We are in a good situation where we are positioned to be able to acquire a lot of other product. We buy Pirelli and Yokohama direct, we sell quite a bit of those tires both retail and wholesale. We’re a Continental Gold dealer, so we do quite a lot of business with the Conti brand.”
On the service side, the 12 retail locations are equipped for all types of tire and underhood work.
“The retail stores are all full automotive service,” says Bainbridge. “Everything from Pennsylvania state inspections and emissions testing, all vehicle maintenance services and diagnostic repairs, front end alignments, suspension virtually any opportunity for maintenance and auto repair. We can handle just about anything.”
The company has approximately 110 full-time employees and another 20-25 part-timers.
“We participate in the TIA training program,” says Bainbridge. “All of our automotive mechanics are ASE certified and we follow guidelines for all retail services.”
‘The CJ’s Way’
Paul Levengood, CJ’s co-owner and vice president, says he believes CJ’s stands out among the competition largely because of the exceptional customer service employees deliver.
“Because our focus is service, it has everything to do with your people; we have some very good people that are super well-intended. That means a lot. It builds a huge element of trust between you and the customer,” says Levengood.
The company’s mission statement and motto used throughout the business is “The CJ’s Way.”
“This is a family owned business and ‘The CJ’s Way’ is being committed to providing exceptional service to the customer and giving back to the local communities where we do business,” says Bainbridge.
And the company does just that, whether it’s recommending tires to a customer or sponsoring a little league team in one of the local communities.
“I think we’re a fairly benevolent company where we’ll do a lot of sponsorship and engagement with different causes that are around all of our stores,” says Bainbridge. “We actually sponsor some little league teams, softball teams and we have a high school scholarship program around all of our stores.”
Each fall, the company hosts a fundraiser for breast cancer research and even has its name on a plaque at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital because of its contributions. During the holidays, CJ’s participates in Toys for Tots and a local secret Santa.
“There’s a gentleman in the community that’s been a long time customer of ours and he’s a professional Santa; he also has his own engagement of helping some people and families with special needs so we’re a silent contributor for that,” explains Bainbridge.
Diverse Marketing Mix
When it comes to marketing and advertising, CJ’s is well represented in various ways.
“From an advertising and marketing standpoint, we are fairly diverse,” says Bainbridge. “One of the things we’re really happy with is that we use local sports marketing; that’s a nice anchor for us because of where we’re located here just outside Reading. The Philadelphia Phillies have an AA franchise in Reading and we have a sponsorship relationship there that’s really been fantastic. We have a good branding effort.”
The company also uses direct mail and radio spots.
“We buy specifically morning and afternoon drive, so we get people while they’re in their cars,” says Bainbridge. “We do some sport and some music stations, so there’s a balance there.”
The company currently is in the process of completely remodeling its website, which is set to launch later this month. It also has a growing social media presence.
“We’re really just taking baby steps there,” Bainbridge says. “We have a Facebook presence with over 1,300 followers, so I think considering our effort, we’re pleased with that.”
While CJ’s has built a solid reputation and continues to grow its marketing strategies, the shop still faces challenges in the business and works hard to stay competitive. “It’s no secret that 2012 was the beginning of a perfect storm that we’re not out of yet,” says Bainbridge.
He says the mix of extended service warranties from car dealers and the past two mild winters have slowed down business, but CJ’s still has plans to continue growth.
“Our five-year plan says let’s get over 20 stores, but we expand opportunistically,” Bainbridge says. “Now is not the time to make high risk advancements.”
For now, the company has been remodeling some of its stores, including the original location in Birdsboro.
“We tried to make sure that it was comfortable and that there were things to do,” says Bainbridge. “We have free wi-fi, we set up Xbox 360 games, and we have TV monitors and a lot of magazines.”
CJ’s replaced the traditional customer service counter with small modular pods so customers have more room to walk around and approach associates with questions. Looking forward, Bainbridge clearly sees the day when CJ’s service advisors and sales staff all use iPads to help customers with work orders and tire selection.
“We wanted to take away barriers,” Bainbridge notes, “and most of the customers want to engage with us verbally and want us to give them good advice and make good recommendations.”
Moving forward, CJ’s plans to remodel two to three stores each year, employing the pod concept in each.