lessons from used tires

It’s pretty easy to confuse flash for substance. To think that we’ll do better once our surroundings, our products, our marketing are better. Once we have the nicer office, we’ll keep it better organized. Once we have a better brochure, we’ll be better salespeople. Once the new software is set up, we’ll provide better service to our customers. Once we redo the lobby, we’ll get more business.

And it’s a lie. We tell it to ourselves because flash is easier than substance.

Appearances do matter, but delivery matters more. Looks can give credibility to a first impression, but results keep people coming back. All else being equal, flash will attract more attention, but things are rarely equal.

I was reminded of this lesson over the weekend. My truck needed new tires so I headed over to my favorite tire shop on Saturday morning. It’s a business that most would say are doing everything wrong. They:

Only sell used tires. Used tires are not sexy.

Only carry popular sizes. Need something special ordered? They don’t do that.

Don’t advertise (as far as I know). If they do it’s in the local trader classifieds.

Don’t have any product displays. No pretty pictures of families traveling in their car, tough four wheel drives adventuring through the back country, or sports cars gripping the road at high speed. The only display they have is a shop with tires stacked to the roof. If you’re buying from them you want tires, not a lifestyle validation.

Don’t have individual bays for each car. They have a shaded concrete slab that’s about three cars wide. It looks like a race car pit crew decided to work in a driveway.

Don’t have a reception area. There is no lobby. The office is where you go to pay and it’s off to the side. There isn’t even a dedicated person to greet you.

Are off the beaten path where you would never pass by in your daily activities. You’d never even find them accidentally. They are in a rough and forgotten part of town. Not dangerous, just poor and long neglected.

Look well worn. The shop is old galvanized metal and looks like it belongs on a weathered farm. The office is the size of a small garden shed and is clearly an afterthought. The business name was painted on the outside once, but has long since faded and been obscured.

Don’t pamper the customer. You could wait in the office but probably don’t want to. Most just sit outside near the cars on plastic chairs.

The appearance doesn’t inspire confidence. There is no flash. Judging by looks you’d assume they can barely afford to be in business. And you’d be wrong simply because of what they get right. They:

Are friendly. They talk to and joke with their customers. They enjoy their work and their customers and it shows. Many repair shops are terrible with customers and these guys really stand out.

Are fast, fast, fast. Saturday morning and I was in and out in less than an hour. Done and on with my day.

Are busy. It is always a beehive of activity. The place would look abandoned EXCEPT for all the people and cars always there.

Greet you quickly. Despite all the noise and chaos of power tools, cars, people, etc. I have never waited more than 30 seconds before someone noticed me and came over to help me.

Know who they are and what they do. They don’t pretend to be anything else or waste the customer’s time trying to do something they can’t.

Thrive on repeat business and word of mouth. I’ve bought at least four sets of tires from them and every time I’m there it seems that most of the other customers are just as enthusiastic and have been coming to them for years.

Are empowered. There is no visible chain of command, no noticeable differentiation between employees. Everyone is helpful and everyone helps.

Have freakishly low prices. Seriously. They clearly aren’t spending money on their location, buildings, or marketing and the customer benefits. They’ve used what most would consider a major disadvantage (location and appearance) and turned it into a huge competitive advantage.

Are not a “me too” business. They have the segment to themselves. While others fight and scramble for their piece of the pie, these guys found a niche where they get the whole pie for themselves.

Want you to come back. Too many businesses stop caring the second they have your money. Not these guys. The manager/owner stopped working on a car as I left to shake my hand and tell me to come by if I needed anything, had trouble with the tires, or wanted them rotated.

What can we learn? Reputation matters. Attitude matters. A focus on long-term service matters. Speed matters. Results matter. What you deliver matters. Caring about the customer matters.

What other lessons can we take from this? How else does this apply to HR, leadership, sales, Realtors, health care, and everyone else?

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6 comments

  1. Know yourself and know your customers. Care for yourself and care for your customers. Value yourself and value your customers. Definitely not flashy, but as your experience so clearly demonstrates, effective! From an accommodation perspective, people don’t return to hotels because of flat screen TV’s; they return to hotels where they felt welcomed and cared for; where everyone, regardless of rank or position, did everything they could to ensure a pleasant, trouble-free stay.

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  2. Broc,

    This is a very interesting company. Thanks for sharing.

    Know what matters

    You and Laurie both basically mentioned it. This is what I take away from this. There is a lot of time spent on things that don’t matter very much.

    I think businesses would benefit by focusing less on how to do more and more on thinking about what really matters.

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    1. Greg, I love companies like this that completely buck the norm, find their niche, and reap the rewards. You just don’t see them often because everyone else is copying everyone else.

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  3. These types of business are like gold. As a customer, once you find one, you hang onto it! I believe that in the web 2.0 world, it’s these guys that will set the benchmark for everyone else.

    The type of business that you’re describing will command superb word-of-mouth, and the internet has the capacity to direct that word-of-mouth straight to the ears of new target customers. In the short term it will create a huge business advantage compared to the flashier businesses still depending more on bling than service.

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    1. I love these “Millionaire Next Door” type of dull-normal businesses that choose to play in a valuable but ignored niche while other businesses fight for the opportunity to cut their own throats with razor thin margins. No glamour, just success. As former motocross champion Tony DiStefano – a man known for results, not flash – once said, “I do my stylin’ at the bank.”

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