Greg Adler wanted to increase the size of his 4 Wheel Parts retail tire and auto parts business to 100 stores from 75, and he needed a way to make sure the current operation was performing as he envisioned.
So Mr. Adler went undercover. President and CEO at that time of 4 Wheel Parts parent Transamerican Auto Parts Co., he shaved his head for a role on an episode of television's Undercover Boss to check out how his business was really performing.
What he found were a number of weaknesses that, if not addressed, could have hampered his goal of expanding and reaching $1 billion in sales.
While Mr. Adler performed this undercover work as part of a reality TV show, his experience underscores an idea that independent tire dealerships, particularly those with multiple locations, should consider: Shopping and visiting your own locations to see how they look from the eyes of customers as well as employees.
As any businessperson knows, once you expand from one location to two, it's a different ballgame in terms of managing the operation. And the difficulty grows exponentially as the number of outlets grow.
The reason is simpleas an owner you can't be in two places at once, so knowing what's really going on in a store when you are not there is next to impossible. Then multiply that by the number of locations owned.
To be successful, dealerships must find, hire and retain managers they can trust. But as former President Ronald Reagan once said when talking about arms control with other nations, you have to trust, but verify.
By going undercover in his own stores in his role on Undercover Boss, Mr. Adler discovered that he needed to spend several million dollars on upgrading the firm's inventory management system.
He also realized he needed to revise the employee training program to provide more one-on-one, face-to-face time.
In addition, he discovered he needed to devise a way to pay service technicians for work they do in fulfilling warranty claims.
This is information he likely would not have discovered as easily and as clearly had he not seen it for himself.
Whether it's hiring secret shoppers to visit your dealership's locations, or simply observing your store from across the street, it's a worthwhile business practice to periodically verify if your operation and its employees are performing as expected.
By not doing this at least occasionally, tire dealership and auto service shop owners are taking a big chance that what they think is taking place actually is.
There should be few, if any, surprises when running a business, lest you run into a situation requiring extrication that takes time and a lot of money.
In today's cut-throat retail and commercial tire markets, that's a risk not worth taking.