One of the major tire retail trends Mr. Ward sees is digitization driven by impatient consumers.
"They are counting more on their electronic devices to manage their own day-to-day (activities)," he said. "So we're looking at ways for improving our operations and streamlining our operations through digital means.
"I think that's a trend everyone is looking at right now. Everyone is trying to figure out how to adapt to the new connected vehicles, the electrification of vehicles and the autonomous vehicles.
"For us, we're focusing on the basic fundamentals of our business and not getting distracted with the potential things happening down the road. We're putting plans in place to accommodate for the upcoming changes, but we're really focusing on what got us here to where we're at and our same stores, our customer experience and our waiting rooms — all the things that I think a lot of retailers get distracted from and don't focus on. So we're spending a lot of capital expense right now on just making our existing stores better," he said.
"We're focusing on training. We're focusing on really improving our employee experience. We're looking at just different ways to make their lives easier. You know, a lot of people say 'happy employee, happy customer,' and that's absolutely how we look at it. We really want to make our culture one that can't be beat."
Tire Discounters recently rolled out a tool-box program for its technicians to help defray the costs of buying their tools.
"We identified the fact that one of the reasons folks don't move into the service repair industry is the capital expense required for individuals, and tools are really, really expensive," Mr. Ward said.
"So one thing that we rolled out this year was a tool-box program where we'll give a set of tools at a really good price point and help the technician along to basically have the skills available and tools available to do the repairs. We structured our comp plans to match that.
"We structured our training program to match that and really grow our own individuals, which is kind of what happened to a lot of folks in our upper management team, including myself. A lot of us started off as tire technicians, and we're trying to create that culture, … trying to make it easier for entry-level tire technicians to get a really great career at Tire Discounters."
While some dealerships put a lot of effort into marketing and advertising open job positions, Tire Discounters has been able to fill many of its openings through referrals from its employees, Mr. Ward said.
"Our No. 1 source of candidates, by a landslide, is internal. It's referrals. It's word-of-mouth advertising, if you will."
Mr. Ward noted that the industrywide service technician shortage has been a problem for years.
"We've always focused on training and developing. For years we've had a training university, if you will, where we put people through, almost every day," he said, as a way to cultivate employee skills.
He said one of the dealership's biggest challenges is hiring good employees.
"We're very choosy and selective on who we hire, obviously, and a lot of companies are. So for us, the interview process, the recruiting process and really making sure we have the best talent for our customer base, I think, is a lot of retailers' focus."
Employee training also is becoming more important.
"Folks need more training. Trade (schools) have not been focused on that from an American-culture standpoint. It's all been about college education and white-collar jobs. I think folks are realizing how much money one can make in the automotive repair business," he said.
"So for us, it's just connecting the dots — hiring the best people we can and training them to our standards. … What our greatest challenge is always going to be when we're growing is just finding the best people and training them to the best of our abilities."
For the past two years Tire Discounters has been partnering with trade schools and supporting them by offering their students jobs, he said.
"It's just connecting the dots that the aftermarket tire dealer is actually a great landing spot. A lot of folks in those schools have been brain-washed by the car dealers as that's where they need to go. They need to go and become a flat-rate technician at a car dealer.
"Well, they have no idea how much money they can make as a service technician at a tire dealer. At Tire Discounters we pay our master technicians a very healthy pay rate, and they're blown away when they hear that.
"I think our mission is we need to continue, and will continue, to be connecting the dots and re-educating the masses as much as we can with our marketing to let people know that there is a landing spot at Tire Discounters."
Tire Discounters pays its techs an hourly rate plus a commission structure based on how much work they perform. They are not paid for the parts they sell as he said he believes that gives the incentive for overselling.