Bringing True Value to Customers
Jackie Staron co-owns River City Tire in Davenport, Iowa, with her brother, Chet Jones. What started as a tire-only shop founded by their late father in 1987 has grown into a 12-employee, full-service repair business generating $1.9 million in annual mechanical-related sales.
As national tire retailers have moved in on their turf, Staron has focused on pushing back against the competition, working with a trainer to improve customer service and examining the shop’s systems to speed customers through the repair process.
Staron, who says she’s an aggressive but kind-spoken person, has used this process-driven mindset to diversify the business, shaking its tire-only focus and setting it up for long-term viability in its marketplace.
We try to look at our repair process from the customer’s perspective. They want to just come in, drop off their keys and go. We look to streamline everything we do. What’s best for the customer? What’s preventing others from doing business with us?
A number of years back, we had a ton of competition move into our market—big chains, discount tire shops, all of it. It changed our market, and changed the way we had to approach our business. It was a bidding war, and we had to protect our market in order to survive. Instead of trying to undercut prices, we took the opposite approach and focused on value.
Our business today is built on value for the customer in everything we do. That’s our focus. That’s what we’re about. That’s why we transitioned to full service, and that’s why we’re now determined to create long-term customers.
Everything is about the customers and the customers’ needs. They want to do business with someone they trust, and they want to see the value in what you do. That’s what we focus on.
I get in early, around 6:30 a.m. or so each day. And the first thing I do is look through our invoices from the day before and the work we have coming in that day.
The front counter is where a shop can really create efficiencies. Most customers want to be in and out, and what we do before they arrive allows that to happen. We fill out full check-in sheets over the phone, getting as much information into the work order as possible. That form begins the process. Hopefully, we can have enough information to get parts ordered and get things flowing, so all the customer needs to do is drop it off and it goes right into our workflow.
If we’re able to eliminate the need for paperwork when the customer comes in, then we can focus on the customer’s needs rather than their vehicle issue. Do they need a ride? Do they need a loaner vehicle? We can make a real connection.
We have two loaner cars for them to use. We do financing through CarCareONE. Our basic tire package includes road hazard coverage on all our tires, lifetime rotation and balancing, topping off their nitrogen, free flat repairs, and we inspect their vehicles.
These are value-added services and programs. These are things that separate us and make price not the deciding factor. We want it to be as easy as possible to do business with us; drop off your car and we’ll take care of you.
Parts are always an issue for every shop. After getting our repair orders together and ready for the day, Chet and I run through the parts orders. We want them organized and ready. If we can get orders out, we’ll do that then. Otherwise, we have it all set up for our staff when they get in.
In switching to full service, parts were something we really had to put more of an emphasis on. We had issue originally with some subpar parts—faulty parts that gave out on our customers. It’s a problem. And it’s our reputation.
To prevent these problems, we work with our vendors to isolate manufacturers we’ve had problems with after installation. We only by from certain manufacturers, and for certain components, will only use OE products.
The parts we use can be more expensive for the customer, and you have to expect pushback on that from time to time. But we need to be able to backup what we’re putting on the vehicles and the work we’re doing for the customer. We work to explain that value to customers.
Being able to sell a job is huge—and you can’t be pushy. You have to communicate with the customer, build trust, guide them through the repair and build a relationship.
We have what I feel is the best staff in the area. They are great. We have young, energetic and passionate managers and technicians. And they’re focused on the customer. If someone comes in with a low tire or something small like that, they don’t just look around for someone to do it. They’ll jump right out there, pull the car around and fill it up for them.
When they get in each day, Chet and I meet with them to go over the day and the jobs we have coming through. We try to get their feedback on everything going on in the business, and if there are any issues with repairs or the shop.
We’re always looking to get better and improve. We’re working with a customer-service focused consultant right now to find areas we can improve on. We’re incorporating the entire staff into the training, not just the front counter, because we want everyone to have the same mindset and understand what we’re doing. We want to grow the business and improve customer satisfaction, and to do that, everyone needs to be on the same page.
Our team is efficient, and work flows pretty well these days through the shop. So, after the day is set up, I focus my attention on larger scale items. We’re looking to gain more fleet work, increase our marketing efforts, and incorporate more technology and computer-based systems into our day-to-day. These are all things I have to monitor and research and stay on top of that.
And because we have younger staff, I’ll work with them on things—customer service at the front desk or other process items.
Chet is a little quieter than I an. He does the purchasing of our stock inventories, and monitors all our building and equipment needs so we can project and budget for them.
Together, with everyone on our team, we’re really building something here. This business has grown and it’s changed, as our market is shifted. We’re never going to win a war on price; you can’t run a business that way. We focus on value, day in and day out. The customer comes first, and everything flows from there.