A pencil, a question mark and a check mark in a black garbage bag.
To Don Olson, they're all that's needed to manage a successful tire shop effectively. Well, except the bag. That's just to carry them around.
Mr. Olson, the retired founder of Florida's Don Olson Tire, presented the tools at his popular annual seminar during the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) Show in Las Vegas. To ultimately be successful, a tire store must have a positive image, good people, high productivity and owner control, Mr. Olson said. His three tools are meant to actually get to those goals.
``Sometimes we make running a store too complicated,'' Mr. Olson said as he dived into the trash bag for the first item.
The first tool was the pencil. Mr. Olson said his wife gave him a pencil one Christmas, and ``she couldn't have given me a better present.''
When he was running a Firestone company store, he explained, he felt overburdened by the amount of work needed at the outlet, which then carried a whole gamut of home merchandise besides tires. In 1951 he started making lists of everything he noticed that needed to be done. When he got home each night, he'd divvy up those tasks among his employees. And in the morning, they all got their respective lists of jobs they were expected to finish in between other assignments.
Whenever he saw an employee standing around, Mr. Olson simply would ask, ``How are you coming on your list?'' And, he said, the employee would get back to those tasks, spurred by a more positive prodding than nagging or barking rapid-fire orders.
Mr. Olson also produced his personal planner-an unassuming school notebook-from the trash bag. He'd arranged his own tasks by ``go, call or do'' designations.
The second tool was the question mark. ``It's absolutely the most important tool in the world,'' Mr. Olson told the group of about 30 dealers at the seminar.
Mr. Olson said he regularly met with employees and asked what they would do to improve sales and gross profit or how they would improve the business overall.
``Questions make people think, and when you get an employee to think, you have really helped him and you,'' Mr. Olson said.
With employees offering their plans for the business, he said, they have a sense of involvement, rather than the owner dictating his or her own self-generated plans. He also held regular meetings with prospective store managers, asked them a spate of questions and soon could tell who was store manager material. Mr. Olson also learned to become a burger-joint haunt, striking up conversations with mechanics on their lunch hour and recruiting good employees.
In 1976 at a meeting with employees, Mr. Olson asked what they would do to sell more road hazard warranties. One employee said customers were aggravated by all the add-ons by the time the warranty came up, so he suggested combining it with other items as a package. The package idea was quickly adopted by Mr. Olson's competitors and most U.S. tire dealers.
``You never know what's going to come from a question,'' Mr. Olson said. ``It's one of the best tools you can have.''
Mr. Olson's final tool was the check mark. The wooden figure symbolized making sure a task was completed.
For example, he recounted a store redesign project at his dealership. One store manager assured Mr. Olson the project was effectively complete, so Mr. Olson announced he was flying in right away to take a look. The manager cut the conversation short.
After picking up Mr. Olson at the airport the night before the inspection, the manager begged off dinner. The next morning Mr. Olson was subject to various uncharacteristic delays. By the time he got to the store, he was greeted with a beautifully redesigned store-and the smell of fresh paint.
As the story of his inspection spread through the company, the redesign project took off.
``I can tell you, those stores really got fixed up,'' he said, laughing. ``There's your productivity.''