Television producer Bill Rogers is used to taking stars from his cable TV shows on the circuit to local fairs for autographs and handshakes.
But when Tony Badaloni-``Mr. Mechanic'' to his fans-appears, he is besieged for his John Hancock as well as advice about alignments, rotations and squeaky brakes. ``People line up not only for his autograph, but to ask him questions,'' said Mr. Rogers, who produces the cable show that Mr. Badaloni, 46, has hosted for the past two years.
When he's not starring on the small screen, Mr. Badaloni owns and operates Tony B's Tire & Auto Service Center in Johnson City. A 29-year industry veteran, he worked in other dealerships for Goodyear and Firestone before opening his own outlet.
In January, besides a 21/2-minute local segment aired on Wednesday evenings and Thursday mornings, his cable venture will add a monthly, syndicated 30-minute show on Saturday afternoons aired on six stations in New York, Montana, Pennsylvania and California. Mr. Rogers also is looking for more stations to carry the show in other regions.
Mr. Badaloni said he doesn't get paid for hosting the show, but that doesn't mean it hasn't paid off.
``It increased my business probably 10 percent,'' he told Tire Business.
About 85 percent of his roughly $800,000 annual sales comes from service, with the rest from retail tire sales. His 9-year-old, three-bay shop sells Cooper, Michelin, Nokian and Uniroyal tires. Services performed by his four full-time technicians include brakes, air conditioning, tune-ups, suspension work, vehicle computer repairs and other general vehicle maintenance.
He gets his share of what he calls ``curiosity seekers.'' But Mr. Badaloni also routinely draws to his shop people with car or tire problems they didn't even realize they had until they watched his show. Still, he said the increased business wasn't the only reason he joined the show.
``That wasn't the purpose,'' he said. ``The purpose was to give my community an idea of what to look for.''
Mr. Rogers said he knew what he was looking for when he wanted to cast a Mr. Mechanic for a short segment two years ago.
``I knew what I wanted to call the segment, I just needed a guy that was really knowledgeable and had a great personality, and Tony fit that bill,'' he said.
The show covers a wide variety of car and tire maintenance topics, from how brake systems work to preventive maintenance, Mr. Badaloni said. Additional questions from viewers are used for future topics.
``We try to keep it very basic, very open,'' he said.
His explanations are meant to be easy to understand, with demonstrations of a part and what can go wrong with it. For example, Mr. Badaloni said, a recent segment about tie rods showed the parts and what they do.
But most of his advice tends to gravitate to one theme: check the manual. ``That car manual is your Bible,'' he said. ``Utilize it.''
The easy-to-grasp explanations as well as tips for finding a good repair shop win Mr. Badaloni's shop very loyal customers, he said. One young man, a son of a veteran customer, called Mr. Badaloni with a car problem while stationed in Belgium with the U.S. Marines.
Mr. Rogers said answering all those questions serves a purpose for the show: ``We figure if one person asked that question, it's probably applicable to many of our viewers out there.''
With many recent industry-wide initiatives to get the public more informed about maintaining their cars and being mindful of proper tire inflation-especially in light of the Bridgestone/Firestone tire recall of 2000-Mr. Badaloni said his local efforts seem to make a difference.
``The majority of my customer base is very knowledgeable now,'' he said.
Paul Goodman, 52, of Maine, N.Y., has been a customer of Mr. Badaloni's for about 15 years since his time at a Firestone dealership. He said he takes all of his family's cars-including a 1994 Plymouth Voyager with 150,000 miles-to Mr. Badaloni because he explains what is wrong with the car instead of sending Mr. Goodman to a waiting room to read old magazines and wonder if he's being ripped off.
``He treats people right,'' Mr. Goodman said. ``He's honest. If he tells you something needs fixing, it needs fixing.''
Though Mr. Goodman was a customer before Mr. Badaloni began his stint as ``Mr. Mechanic,'' he meets other customers who see the same traits through the show.
``He projects that integrity on his program because the way you see him on TV is pretty much the way he is behind the counter,'' Mr. Goodman said.
Mr. Badaloni said his customer loyalty comes primarily from keeping a small-town flavor in his business.
``Jiffy Lubes are OK for the quickies, but you can't overall see what's going on in your car in a 10-minute Jiffy Lube,'' he said.
That kind of thinking is what sold Mr. Goodman on ``Tony B.''
``I can't imagine owning a car and not having him as a mechanic,'' he said.