AKRON (June 9, 2008) — President Harry Truman famously had a plaque displayed prominently on his desk in the Oval Office that read: “The Buck Stops Here.”
That catchphrase was good enough for the country's sometimes brash, quick-tongued chief executive, and it still should be for any corporate president, CEO or owner in any industry, including the tire and automotive business.
Unfortunately, the owner of Certified Tire & Services Center Inc. in California learned a tough lesson recently, when “the buck”—in the form of an undercover investigation by that state's Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR)—stopped with a thud on his desk. And a costly thud it was.
On at least 10 occasions, the BAR sent undercover vehicles into some of the 19 locations Certified Tire operates in four counties after receiving more than 400 complaints from consumers alleging that dealership employees either sold unneeded parts or services or failed to perform repairs paid for by customers. It's not the first time the feared BAR has caught service shops not living up to the standards of good business practices.
For Certified, it was an expensive lesson to learn. The dealership and California's Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties reached a settlement ordering the tire and auto repair chain to pay $550,000 in civil penalties to those counties as well as restitution to customers with verified fraud complaints against the company, which admitted no fault or liability in the settlement. It already has paid about $140,000 in costs associated with the probe, which the BAR began in 2003.
There is simply no place in this industry for these types of deceptive practices by businesses whose purpose is to ensure customers' vehicles are safe for the nation's roadways. Obviously, companies are entitled to make a profit. But they get into trouble when their mission becomes clouded by the ol' profit meter.
Is it any wonder many consumers rate a trip to an auto service shop on par with an unpleasant visit to a dentist's office?
To his credit, once he learned of the shady dealings by some of his outlets, Certified Tire owner Jeffrey Darrow stepped in and, according to his attorney, cleaned house. Mr. Darrow was unaware of questionable practices or “customer service problems,” the lawyer said, adding that the owner “really took it to heart” when he learned of those practices and didn't “sweep it under the rug.”
Some employees whom Mr. Darrow found responsible were let go. He also initiated a system of checks and balances, added training and created a system of accountability to ensure issues are resolved before they become complaints.
Yes, it was a painful lesson to learn about the consequences of not knowing what is going on in your business. But that's where good, in-the-trenches personnel, like store managers, should play a major part. If the dealership's too big for one person—such as the owner—to keep tabs on, someone needs to do it.
Dealers, if you haven't done so recently, take time to pinpoint possible problems and, if necessary, clean your house, lest your reputation be harmed and your wallet lightened.