To distinguish itself from other tire stores in its market, Thomas Tire Co. in Asheboro has chosen not to launch a clever advertising gimmick or beat everyone else's prices but instead to honor its community's unsung heroes.
Owner Paul Thomas, a former math teacher, and operations manager Harold McManus, a former assistant superintendent, give away a free set of Cooper tires to school employees who go beyond their job duties on behalf of children. Dubbed the ``Extra Mile'' award, the dealership accepts nominations from principals and supervisors during the school year, has an independent committee choose the winners, then presents plaques and gift certificates to the winners at the end of the school year.
``We thought this would be a good way not only to be good citizens in the community but as a way of saying we're doing things for the school system, and as a result those people are going to come to us with more business,'' Mr. McManus told Tire Business.
Created in 2003, the Extra Mile award is the brainchild of Mr. McManus, who noticed during his 15-year career with the schools that only teachers and principals received awards for their job performance, yet many employees gave time and effort beyond their job duties because they love children. When he came to Thomas Tire two years ago, Mr. McManus began thinking of how to generate positive public relations for the dealership yet also give back to the community-and Extra Mile was born.
``When I was in the school system, I was in charge of everyone who wasn't a teacher. I was heavily involved with those groups of employees and began to hear some of the stories of all they did,'' he explained. ``And I was thinking, how could they do all these things and make so little money? When I got involved in (the tire) business, I thought it would be great to recognize those people because there is no other avenue for them to be recognized.''
One of last year's winners, Wanda Lucas, administrative assistant to the superintendent for the Randolph County school district, was astonished to hear Mr. Thomas announce her as an Extra Mile winner at a board of education meeting. Mr. Thomas recognized Ms. Lucas for her efforts in buying and distributing gifts for needy students as well as for volunteering with Habitat for Humanity.
``She has been seen at Wal-Mart in the early morning hours with a buggy full of clothes, school supplies and toys for the children.... It got so bad one time this past year that the employees would say, `Oh no, not you again,' and pitch in to help her fill the buggy with requests from the children,'' Mr. Thomas said during his presentation of Ms. Lucas' award.
``I didn't know I'd been nominated for the award,'' Ms. Lucas told Tire Business. ``I was very surprised and very honored.''
Ms. Lucas said that prior to receiving the award, she couldn't recall ever setting foot in a Thomas Tire store. But since receiving the award-and the new Cooper tires for her pickup truck-she has gone back there for inspections and brake work.
``I've been enjoying those tires and very much needed those new tires,'' she said.
Last year, Thomas Tire gave its award to six employees in the three school districts the company's stores are located in-two tied for an award and two runners-up were given $100 gift certificates good for any merchandise in the dealership. One of the winners was presented the award at an employee convocation and was recognized in front of 1,600 colleagues, Mr. McManus said.
He said it was tough for the committee to decide on the winners because of so many deserving candidates. One nominee, for example, was a bus driver who would have holiday parties on the bus and give away gift bags for Christmas and birthdays, all at her own expense.
``She just loved them to death and that was her way to just try and make it one big family on the school bus,'' Mr. McManus said. ``That kindness prevented a lot of misbehavior problems because the kids felt so close to her, it was just like having a mom on the bus.''
The award was so well received in 2003 that the dealership has decided to make Extra Mile an annual tradition, according to Mr. Thomas. The dealership-founded by Mr. Thomas in 1981-operates five locations in North Carolina with a 50-50 mix between retail and commercial tire business.
Mr. McManus-who said he left his education career because of board politics and lack of opportunities for creativity-is responsible for overseeing all the managers at Thomas Tire, personnel matters and implementing the dealership's marketing strategies. He and Mr. Thomas met at church and have been friends for the past 15 years, and Mr. Thomas offered him the job as operations manager a couple years ago.
Thomas Tire, which posts $10 million to $20 million in annual sales, saw sales last year jump 20 percent over 2002, Mr. Thomas said, part of which can be attributed to the exposure created by Extra Mile. Mr. McManus pointed out that the dealership also has done other promotions, including a radio giveaway at Christmas and discounts to all school employees on tires and service. School employees also receive free flat tire repairs.
``People want to go to places they trust,'' Mr. McManus said. ``I think we're building a lot of trust by the things that we're doing.''