Fourth, and happy about it

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 3, 2008

FRANKLIN—Have you ever met a tire dealer so honest he could make Abe Lincoln blush?

Ask anyone in Franklin about the ultra-modest owner of Bobby’s Muffler and Tire Center, who sells tires and service in the town where he was born and raised. They will tell you about a man who had $125 in his pocket when he opened his doors and a hot-sauce desire to make his business the talk of the town. They’re talking about Bobby Cutchins.

Bobby doesn’t like to talk about Bobby, but he absolutely enjoys discussing the concept of “prompt service.”

“With the price of tires and wheels today along with vehicle alignment, balancing and brake service, customers deserve the very best we have to offer,” he says.

Here’s how he makes it happen. “We have a lot under one roof,” he says. “We offer new tires, alignment, brakes, quick lube and exhaust systems,” he said. “That’s five businesses under one roof.

“Our business plan calls for putting our top tire

and ASE techs in their proper slots. Our best-quick lube tech people are placed in that slot, and the same with each of our remaining three businesses. That means everyone here is a specialist and every one of our specialists is charged with updating the customer on the latest technology.

“Customers want to know what’s happening to their vehicle, so we make communication a top priority. Our job is to talk to them. If the problem turns out to be more severe than first imagined, we want to give them every option to allow us to resolve the difficulty for them.”

Most important, he wants to deliver the best possible service and the best possible customer experience — and do so in an honest, fair manner.

Scheduling is hard

Delivering prompt service takes a lot more than just saying you do. Putting the right people on the job and communicating fully with customers both go a long way toward that goal, but it also takes smart scheduling.

“We’re known for prompt service,” says Cutchins. “We are able to keep appointments within 10-20 minutes of the time promised.”

He also makes it easy for customers to set appointments. “Customers can e-mail us on our Web site, and we e-mail them back with their appointment times,” Cutchins says.

Cutchins also has dedicated one of his C techs to handle walk-in business every day. “We block out an hour every morning between 10 to 11 a.m. and another hour every afternoon from 3 to 4 p.m. for this tech to handle any unexpected walk-in business. He changes oil, tires and can conduct routine service. We call him our reserve tech, something that has worked out very well for us and keeps happy customers coming back,” Cutchins says.

“Keeping track of appointments is a very simple, yet complicated process,” says Cutchins. “I did it for 20 some years; now my son, Robby, handles that part of the business. It’s all about observing the basics and learning how long each job requires. We recently hired my wife’s brother, Scott, to train with Robby, so we will develop another good service writer.

“Writing service work takes skill, something that can take years to really learn, so if you have a good service writer, hang onto him or her. For me, that job was taught to me by my father, something I’m passing along to my son. I’m beginning to think the service-writing skills area resides in the upbringing. If you don’t get this part right, the rest can fall by the wayside.”

Once in the store, customers can relax in the clean waiting area, complete with a flat-screen TV, or Bobby’s will transport them to and from work or wherever they may need to go.

Cutchins attributes his low customer-turnover rate to the dealership’s ability to take care of customers promptly. “We can do a better job for the customer if they leave their vehicle with us for the day,” he says. “That way we can run a total inspection and take care of the customer’s vehicle in a prompt fashion.”

If they can’t leave their vehicle that long, Cutchins’ scheduling and tech specialization still allows the store to deliver top-shelf service. “Most of our jobs require two-and-a-half to three hours tops,” he says.

Prompt service at Bobby’s rests on a rather simple premise. “First is our promise to deliver what we advertise. Second, we depend on the expertise of our professionals. Third, we constantly update the customer regarding the status of their vehicle. We want them to know what’s going on and if there may be added or reduced costs. Fourth, we must maintain a clean, comfortable waiting area with handy, clean restrooms, and we add to the experience with a big flat-screen TV for their enjoyment.

“The truth is, we don’t have any secrets. I hire a person to clean our store every day, including the front doors, twice. I don’t like fingerprints on the door, and I like floors so clean and shiny the children can play on it.”

Playing to win

In business for 25 years now, the single-store dealer knows that in order to be successful against competition, he needs to stay fresh. “We’re in our fourth different location in Franklin,” he says, “and if I see anything that isn’t working properly I change it.”

He also knows it takes help to meet all of his goals - and is quick to point out the employee training and assistance he has received from the Automotive Training Institute, the Virginia Automotive Association, and suppliers like American Tire Distributors, Terry’s Tire Town and NAPA.

“Just about every day I walk through the showroom and the service bays and ask our people if we’re winning today,” he said. “The fact is we are winning and it all rides on our ability to keep our customers coming back. I track our results day by day and do a weekly study, which I share with everyone here. If we see a breakdown anywhere, we fix it immediately.”

Just as he believes in good old-fashioned customer service, Cutchins is a little old school in other areas. “Even though we have state-of-the-art computers and software, my family and employees humor me by accepting the fact that I also keep my personal little black book where I track the business day by day.

“Of course we back up our computer system daily and my wife, Diana, carries that disc home with her every day. Another disc is locked away in a fireproof safe. And me, I have my little black book. Put it all together and we are prepared for any emergency.”

The Bobby’s Muffler and Tire team works very hard to avoid those breakdowns, applying its expertise and honesty every step of the way on each and every job. Cutchins’ customers are also mindful that they can trust him or any one of his team to use only high-quality aftermarket parts.

“They ask us what kind of tire they should run on their vehicle based on our experience. They trust us to make tire and parts decisions for them, and we wouldn’t dare sell them anything they don’t need. We don’t need those kinds of problems, and neither do they.”

If there is one subject Cutchins likes to talk about, it’s his team, which includes six members of his family. Besides Diana and Robby, daughter Tonya helps out. Brother-in-law Scott is training to be a service writer, and brother-in-law Greg has been Bobby’s right-hand man for 19 years.

Family counts, and so do well-trained employees, like Ricky Kigler, an oil change expert; Mike Elsworth, a tire service wiz; and Lewter Cooke, the alignment tech - each of whom has been with Bobby’s for 15 years. Service manager Harry Whitley and his son, Eddie, have been there for 16 years each. And the next generation, one-year vet Mike Brobst, recently earned his master tech status. Ronald Beamon is another one-year vet and Chris Freeman does the grounds.

Cutchins’ story begins every day with the kind of stable dedication to prompt customer service that only comes with experience. But while he is the man at the helm, he insists that he’s not the driving force.

“The most important aspect of my business isn’t about me,” says Cutchins. “It’s about my team of employees, without which none of this would be possible. So don’t write this article about me. It’s about them and I am a grateful man.”

Editor’s note: Bobby’s Muffler and Tire Center of Franklin was featured in the January issue of Tire Review magazine. In it, the shop was recognized as the fourth best shop in the country, according to the magazine. The top three honorees were either chain stores or stores with multiple owners. Bobby’s has but the single owner. The article is republished with permission.