LA CANADA, Calif.-La Canada Tire Center Inc. owner Paul Bobzin hid a smile while explaining how a customer once complained about the time it took to have his brakes fixed. ``He said we were 20 minutes late,'' Mr. Bobzin recalled.
It's not that the incoming National Tire Dealers & Retreaders Association president wants unhappy customers-``one is too many,'' he said-it's more that this particular customer was the only one to complain during a rigorous American Automobile Association certification process, when AAA solicited comments from La Canada Tire's customers.
The AAA certification, he said, is acknowledgement that the dealership's focus on a positive, professional image helps build customer satisfaction and retention.
So important is a professional image to Mr. Bobzin that he intends to spend much of his one-year presidency trying to bring it to the industry as a whole.
``Something's very wrong when a person would rather go to a doctor than a tire dealer,'' he said.
Mr. Bobzin generally refuses togo into detail as to how he plans on mending the industry's image until after officially taking office at the NTDRA's October convention. However, he did reveal some of the areas he intends to address during an interview with TIRE BUSINESS at his La Canada-based dealership.
``We are a huge industry,'' he said. ``And we should be bigger.''
Tire dealers, who hold more than a 50-percent share of the aftermarket's tire sales, should take more advantage of the mammoth automotive service field, Mr. Bobzin said, estimating there is a pool of $60 billion in undone aftermarket auto maintenance.
He believes so strongly in the benefits of quality automotive service to a tire dealership that he sits as chairman of the Automotive Service Council.
Another area of concern is continuing the work current NTDRA President James Faught began this year in attempting to organize a joint NTDRA-American Retreaders Association trade show. Such an event, Mr. Bobzin theorized, would help consolidate dealers, manufacturers and suppliers while giving outsiders a better impression of the size and importance of the tire industry.
Although he acknowledges the difficulty in rectifying the industry's poor public image, Mr. Bobzin, who joined the NTDRA in 1981, said he believes his strong work ethic and diverse industry ties will enable him to set up a cooperative effort that will continue long after he has returned full time to his dealership.
``I'm going to work very diligently with all segments of the industry-the rubber companies, parts companies, the press,'' Mr. Bobzin said while driving the Los Angeles freeways between his La Canada and Newhall outlets.
Working ``diligently'' is nothing new to a man who started his first job at age 12 while living with his parents in their Chicago home.
``I had very humble beginnings. Very humble,'' he stressed.
Mr. Bobzin spent six years studying and working at Western Illinois University in Macomb, Ill., graduating in 1962 with a bachelor of arts degree in business.
``Times were hard. . . . But it didn't bother me that I'd wake up in the morning and not have any money,'' he said.
It didn't bother him because he knew if he worked hard-sometimes simply washing windows-he would be alright. But it also helps to love working.
``Work turns me on. I don't like vacations. I don't have many hobbies,'' he said. ``I never felt working was an intrusion on my life. I had no trouble working hard.''
After graduating from college, he took his first job with Firestone, collecting accounts at an outlet in Peoria, Ill.
``Firestone promised if I worked very, very hard that my future would be unlimited,'' he said.
And they were right.
He moved to other Firestone outlets before the company sent him to California to help computerize its receivables program. A year later he was called to Akron to develop a computerized sales and marketing system for Firestone's 1,500 stores.
About 18 months later, he would open his first Firestone location in La Canada, taking with him his wife, Kathryn, and two sons, David, who works at the Los Angeles location, and Paul.
``I thought the greatest opportunity to run a business was in California,'' he said.
Today he owns five outlets in the Los Angeles area-one each in La Canada, Los Angeles, Newhall, Lancaster and Los Alamitos.
His stores participate in Bridgestone/Firestone Inc.'s Affiliated Dealer program. And all thrive on providing clean, professional and friendly images to their customers.
Mr. Bobzin held up a sales receipt and pointed to a brake job a customer had bought following a routine inspection. ``If you're professional, you'll earn the customer's trust,'' he said. This time he didn't fight the smile.