This is the second in a multi-part series about the places I’ve worked. You can read the first in the series about Culligan Water Conditioning here.
“To be the best! Our unique success is based on caring for and cultivating people, delighting our customers, and growing responsibly.”
I first learned the mission statement in July, 2004 on my first day of work at the Delta Township, Michigan Discount Tire. After finishing working at Culligan, I began the search for a new job, and found one amazingly fast. The first place I went to, I asked to speak with the Manager, and he was interested in hiring me right away. After filling out the application, I received a call a few days later offering me the position at Discount Tire Co.
Why did I think of seeking a job at Discount Tire first? About a month before, while still working at Culligan, I got a flat tire and had to get it repaired. The first place I saw was on my way home was Discount Tire, so that’s where I went. Now, my dad had purchased tires from Discount Tire on many occasions, so the place wasn’t completely new to me; but I had never had to get a flat repaired before, so I went to the first place I saw off the highway! I remember one of the associates coming to my car, rolling the flat tire into one of the bays, and walking me inside, being very friendly and accommodating in the whole process. During my short wait, I remember thinking, “If I had to work somewhere else, this would be the place.” The technicians looked like they truly enjoyed their work, service was quick, and the customer service was out-of-this-world. Thus, the first place I tried looking for a new job was at Discount Tire Co; and I was blessed to get it.
The Discount Tire Co. was founded in Ann Arbor, Michigan in the ’60’s by a man named Bruce Halle. Over time, the company grew and expanded, and by the time I left in 2008, they had just over 700 stores nationwide. They are big pretty much everywhere nationwide, except in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states (which is ironically where I live now!). The location I worked at was famous for being the 500th store.
First, I have to admit, I knew very little about cars before starting at Discount Tire. They knew that, and were willing to train me with everything I needed to know. The training program with the company is top-flight. There were strong elements of apprenticeship, material reading, hands-on work, observation, and immersive learning. The first thing that anyone learns when starting at Discount Tire, whether an hourly associate or a manager, is the mission statement previously quoted (I still remember it years later!). After that, associates progress through a “passport”, which is a listing of different company certifications that are learned, tested, and re-tested before being allowed to do those things. Some example certifications are: tire size, speed ratings, de-installation, installation, un-mounting, mounting, balancing, and siping. I wish I still had my passport as a keepsake!
My first responsibility as the “new guy” was being the associate who worked on unloading new tires off of vendor trucks, and putting them away in an organized way. As tough as work could be at Culligan from time to time, it was nothing compared to taking care of tire stock. There was a lot of physical labor, but on top of all of that, there was a lot of thinking involved. A usual day consisted of unloading between 200 and 400 new tires off the back of a semi and stacking them by size and brand. After the entire order was accounted for, the rest of the day was spent putting that stock away in its rightful place on the shelves. At first, all of the numbers and brands were completely gibberish to me; this was definitely immersive learning! I made lots of mistakes (putting the stock away in the wrong place, mixing sizes, etc.), but after a few months, I felt that I had it down to a science. For about 6 months, inventory was my main job function. At times it was not very enjoyable, but I am so thankful for those months; I learned practically every tire, knew what every brand’s tread looked like by sight, and could quickly find what I needed when I needed it in later job functions.
My manager at Discount Tire, Steve, was always flexible with my schedule. As the summer of 2004 was coming to a close, they asked if I could stay on and work after school during the week, as well as a full day Saturday. Of course, I was excited to say, “Yes!” Each day after school, I would rush and throw my uniform on, then drive the six minutes to the store in West Lansing on Marketplace Drive. When I’d arrive, I got to jump right into whatever needed done. As my first year progressed, I worked less on inventory and more on tire installation. I’m also thankful that Discount Tire kept me busy all the time. I don’t remember many “open days” where I had nothing to do but sit at home.
I would say my last day of being the “stock guy” was Friday, November 26, 2004. The day after Thanksgiving is commonly known as “Black Friday.” We often think of people pushing each other over at Best Buy, and fights breaking out at Wal-Mart. Believe it or not, Black Friday is a huge day in the tire retail business as well. People would leave their cars at the tire place for a few hours while they went shopping. Black Friday, 2004 in Michigan was extra-special, though: it was also the day of the first big snow of the year. The first big snow always brings hoards of customers who all of a sudden realize that they have no traction with their bald tires in the snow. So, November 26th, being Black Friday and the year’s first snowstorm, was a perfect storm. There was no time for anyone to put stock away. There was no time for anyone to do anything other than work on cars and deal with customers. I was thrown into the mix when I first got to the store at 7:30a. I was certified in all of the things I needed, but at the time I usually didn’t do technician work. I quickly got into the rhythm. The day was a blur! We closed the doors at 5:00p, and were finished by about 6:30p. At the end of the day, it was by far the busiest day the store had ever had, and it actually might still be the record day that store has ever had. We all took a picture in the lobby (sopping wet and freezing from all of the snow!) that evening, and I bet it still hangs on the store wall in Lansing. Our corporation even rewarded us for that day by taking us all out to Carrabba’s! After that day, I transitioned from being the “stock guy” to a tire tech.
Learning to be a tire tech was challenging at times, but once I started to get the hang of it, I began to enjoy what I did. I had the opportunity to work on some pretty interesting vehicles, including: Bentley, Rolls Royce, Dodge Viper, big country-boy trucks, and even an antique Model-T once! Even with just working on tires and wheels, I learned that every make/model/style has their own intricacies. Many European cars have bolt-through lugs. Most Japanese-made cars torque their wheels at 80 lbs., while German cars are at 90 lbs., and American cars tend to be around 100 lbs. Also, split rims are super-difficult and can kill you if you don’t watch it. There’s nothing like making an older gentleman happy my just putting a tube in his lawn tractor tire. Oh, and some old hot rods’ lugs are reverse-threaded on the left side of the car (can be tricky!). And never use fix-a-flat: you look like an idiot if you do 🙂 It’s funny that 7 years later, I can still remember all of this!
You can ask my mom about this one: every day getting home from work, I would be covered in black rubber/dirt; especially my arms! Often in the summer months, I would be drenched in sweat by noon. Working with black tires all day outside will do that to you! I would sometimes come home at lunch, jump in the pool, scrub all the dirt off me, throw my uniform back on, then head back in for the second half of the day. The Michigan winters were freezing, of course. The wind could whip into those bays, freeze my snowy-wet hands, and every hour or so, I’d have to put my gloves in front of a kerosene heater for a few minutes.
As I finished my first full year at Discount Tire in July, 2005, it was also the time in my life where I was preparing for college at Fairhaven. I remember Steve asking me if I could work during holidays and summers, and I thought, “Sure…like you’re really going to keep hiring me back year after year.” They did. Ever Christmas, every Spring Break I had, and every summer, I was back at Discount Tire. They didn’t even question it. I realize now how big of a blessing it was to have a job in place before I even came home for the summer. One summer between my sophomore and junior year of college, I was actually transferred to another location about 5 miles away until the next semester started; I didn’t mind it, but I think I liked my original store better.
We Discount Tire associates seemed to always have a sense of camaraderie with each other. I think turnover was pretty low (except for me leaving at the end of every summer!). We had fun working on cars in the garage. We would race (in a safe manner) to see who could rotate tires the fastest — I could win often 🙂 . Our manager Steve was all about that too. A few Saturdays a year, he would take the team out for breakfast on a Saturday before the shop opened. He would also challenge us a lot to be better. “What’s the mission statement? Did you make sure to greet that customer as he was watching his car being worked on? Are you smiling? Did you shave this morning (oh yes…no scruffy techs in our shop!)? Are you having fun?” I heard those things from Steve often, and I even miss it at times! I have to say, of all the places I’ve worked, and not to down any other place, thinking of Discount Tire, store MIL-28 makes me smile the most. And I’m not going out on a limb to say I wouldn’t be the person I am today without working there.
This past May, a married Software Engineer working for a logistics company drove into the parking lot of the Discount Tire at 650 N. Marketplace with his gorgeous wife and two little boys in a red 2010 Hyundai Santa Fe. He needed four new tires put on the vehicle that he refused to let anyone else work on but this place. As the tires were being installed in bay 2, there was some serious sentimentalism going on…
I hadn’t been back to this place for almost seven years. I only saw one familiar face: an assistant manager I knew from working down the street. Unfortunately Steve was on vacation that week, but he was still the fearless manager of the store! I then started asking about some of the people I had worked with over the years there. It was neat to hear that so many had advanced their careers with the company. At any given time, there were a dozen or so associates working at a store (though not all at the same time). I mentioned at least a dozen different guys, and almost every one of them still worked for Discount Tire Co. Several had their own stores. Even more were assistant managers. That is a good example of company loyalty! But some things never change: the smell of tires in a store-room is still the same; the sound of mounting machines, impact guns, and torque wrenches; greeting every customer; even the hooting and hollering of the techs in the back as they had fun working. This is Discount Tire. This was my life just a few short years ago!
P.S. I did take pride in showing one of the associates how to install the TPMS sensors in my Hyundai tires this past May: I’ve still got it in me!