GRAND JUNCTION, Colo.-``Satisfaction'' is definitely in their repertoire. Like the rock group of the same name, these Stones also are on a roll-and gathering no moss, from the looks of the booming business at several of their Big O Tires Inc. outlets.
Dean Stone, 65, and his 36-year-old son, Scott, operate five Big O outlets in Colorado and Montana, including two that were among the top 10 in total sales last year for the entire Big O network of almost 400 retail stores.
The Stones' store in Glenwood Springs, Colo., surpassed all other Big O locations with 1994 sales of $2.5 million-and is on track for $3.1 million this year, according to Scott. One of their two Grand Junction, Colo., stores hit the $2.2 million mark in 1994, No. 5 in the Big O chain.
These milestones were almost 20 years in the making for these self-proclaimed ``perfectionists.''
Both Stones got their introduction to the tire business working for other Big O dealers before securing their own franchise in 1977. Scott's brother Rick works with them part-time while attending college.
The family's other outlets include an 18-month-old store in Missoula, Mont., and one that opened four months ago in Billings, Mont. They plan to open a new store Nov. 1 in Carbondale, Colo.
Unlike a magician reluctant to divulge his tricks, Scott gladly dispenses the Stones' twofold secret to success: ``No. 1 is customer service,'' in tandem with ``a very aggressive approach to marketing and advertising.''
``Price-wise, we make sure we're either with or under all the warehouses, price clubs and Discount Tire,'' he continued. ``Our key is training our people to have the same concept that Dean and I have-which is customer service.''
After observing a United Parcel Service supervisor time a driver on a route, Scott decided to begin clocking his employees. Consequently, the Stones guarantee mounting and balancing of four tires in 20 minutes, or the customer gets a free alignment.
``Obviously, we can't stay in business giving out free alignments,'' he said. So, a couple of times a week he logs daily average times for vehicle service to keep everyone on their toes.
The Stones actually enjoy customer complaints, he said, ``because it just makes bigger challenges for us to make sure we keep that person. By taking care of that complaint, you have that guy bragging about you.
``And that's the best and cheapest advertising any of us can do.''
It boils down to taking care of the customer ``at any cost.'' Something Scott admitted can sometimes ``take us to the cleaners.''
The Stones will, for example, replace lost hub caps, no questions asked, or fix a vehicle a customer claims was damaged during servicing-or replace a tire the manufacturer won't warrant.
And talk about your cleaning fetish, the Stones paint each of their stores, top to bottom, twice a year.
``Some people don't do that every five years,'' Scott said. ``. . . We try to make ourselves more like a furniture store, as far as cleanliness and order. It's a combined effort of everyone-that's where our training program is crucial.''
It is mandatory that every new employee take a training course, and all workers must take a refresher course every six months. ``We're constantly trying to train, teach, motivate, from the bottom guy to the top. But actually, everybody does everything,'' he said.
No sir, no white-shirt-and-tie guys that don't get dirty at the Stones' stores.
``Our managers change as many tires as the tire technicians do,'' Scott said, adding that tire techs are therefore allowed to make sales. The company has a ``no-seniority atmosphere'' where everyone ``does whatever it takes to get the job done.''
He thinks that's worked well. ``Dean and I have always enjoyed getting out and getting dirty. We set the tone and example a long time ago, and now people think it's standard in our company.''
Another sales secret is the Stones' ``VIP'' program: Customers are waited on in the parking lot.
``We can get a lot of information from them, like inspect for tire wear and find out how they drive, before they even come into the sales room,'' he said. ``Lots of consumers think we do that just for them, but we actually get more info out of it than they do.''
Occasionally, the dealership will give roses to women customers, not to mention open their car doors for them. Every Wednesday, ``Ladies Day,'' features free alignment and pressure checks and tire rotations. Periodically, car care clinics also are held for women.
The dealership also sends out thousands of thank-you cards a year for each and every purchase.
``If consumers are not bragging about you and your service when they leave your store, then you haven't done your job,'' Scott said.
One hindrance to success, he acknowledged, is changing bad habits employees may have acquired elsewhere. Like many other dealerships, the Stones have had their share of employee turnover.
To help counteract that, they use an outside firm for background checks on potential hires. ``We're looking for family-oriented, married people who have children and want a future,'' he said. ``That starts with tire techs on up.''
His no-nonsense advice to tire dealers searching for the elusive ``brass ring'' is simple: ``The first thing I'd ask them is-`Do you enjoy what you're doing?' And that starts with the top guy.
``They've got to (have) a positive attitude. It's not easy. It's much harder hanging on to what we've done than it was to get here.''
He cringes at owners who brag that once they get a store to a million dollars in sales, they plan to ``go fishing for the rest of the year. I hear that all the time. You might as well sell the store.
``Owners need to be in their store, not in an office somewhere. End of conversation. I'll bet 80 percent of the owners out there don't set foot in their stores-and that's a sad thing.''
Meeting customers and setting an exam-ple for employees is an owner's responsibility, he said-one he doesn't take lightly. ``You have to be a motivator. Employees are only going to give so much. It's not their money at stake.''
Meanwhile, the Stones' long-term goal is as bullish as their customer service attitude.
``We've got 10 different areas we'd like to get into over the next year or so,'' Scott said. ``We'd like to own Montana. Les Schwab (Tire Centers Inc.) has done such a good job up there that it's a state we'd like to open up.''
While Scott said his father ``wants to work until he's 75, my goal is to have 100 stores in 10 years-and hopefully make a little money as we go!''