SEMA News—February 2014
By Mike Imlay
RETAIL SPOTLIGHT: Kings Tire & Wheels Crowned by Service and Referrals
“I was about 26 years old at that time and didn’t know very much about the area,” laughed Batanian. “I soon found out that within a block there were at least a hundred mechanics. There are really no customers in El Monte. They’re all mechanics and workers here. You can’t even do an oil change on a car because everyone is doing his own.”
So how has Kings Tire & Wheel come so far? The recipe, according to Batanian, is traditional customer service and referrals, referrals, referrals.
“I think the success in my business came because I worked with everybody,” he said. “I helped them, and they helped me in the process.”
Batanian made personal contacts with the surrounding mechanics and shops, asking them to send wheel and tire business his way. He advertised in local throw papers throughout the region. And he never said no to a customer, always finding ways to accommodate even the most demanding of them. And when the deals were done and the customers were satisfied, he shook their hands, looked them in the eye and politely asked for more referrals.
“We had to attract customers from other cities,” he explained. “I always believed in the old fashioned way of business, which always meant personal service. It’s all about service.
“In the early years when customers would come in, I’d suggest what set of wheels would look great on their cars. They would tell me to go ahead and put them on. They liked my taste. Every year we did well. The business grew and grew.”
However, Batanian conceded that by age 40, his sense of what was “in” began to lag. He decided it was time to start turning over business management to his son.
“Now that’s Junior’s department,” he smiled.
Word of Mouth
“Within a year and a half to two years of starting, none of our advertising mattered,” he said. “It was word of mouth about the service that we offered. Today we have a 90% return client base. We service the clientele that we’ve had for years, their children, their grandchildren. They come visit me in my office. They’ve known Junior since he was 4 years old. Whatever they need, we want them to get the best for their money.”
There’s no hiding the fact that Batanian likes what he does and really cares about each person who comes into his retail space. It permeates all of his interactions. When you’re talking with him, he makes you his number-one priority. Plus his philosophy of exceptional service extends to everyone in the supply chain.
“I’ve never believed in a one-sided business,” he said.
“Everybody in the process has to benefit. It’s all about having five sections of the business succeeding and happy, from the manufacturer to the distributor to the retailer to the sales person behind the counter to the customer. You make these five people happy and everything is good.”
Among the people Batanian likes to keep happy are his 50 employees, many of whom have been with the company for a decade or more. Batanian said he likes to promote a family work environment that encourages employees to develop to their fullest potential while respecting the skill sets and limitations of each individual.
Kings Tire & Wheel’s main El Monte store encompasses an approximately 11,000-sq.-ft. building on a one-acre lot. The retailer utilizes 6,000 sq. ft. of that building while renting out the remaining space to other automotive-related tenants, and there is also a small showroom and several mechanics’ bays. On any given day, the facility’s ample parking lot overflows with customer vehicles ready to
The Camarillo store is approximately 5,000 sq. ft, while the Palmdale location is 8,000 sq. ft. and includes the company’s 2,000-sq.-ft. warehouse. Product lines include most major American, European and Asian tire brands and Styluz wheels.
Emphasizing the Basics
In the early days, Batanian’s “typical” customer was within the 30s to 40s demographic, with some clients reaching up to 70 years of age.
“We weren’t selling anything flashy,” he observed. “We’ve never been a flashy store where you come in for the ‘latest thing’ on the market.”
Instead, Batanian focused on quality, mainline products at reasonable prices, as well as suspension and alignment work. In doing so, Kings Tire & Wheel’s customer base has broadened in recent years to include younger buyers as well as high-end vehicle owners. In keeping with the digital age, the retailer now markets to its expanding demographics through a clean, no-nonsense website.
“We push our service a lot,” Batanian said. “Our guys can do anything from a Lamborghini to a Maybach.”
Kings Tire & Wheel
Sam Batanian: Owner
Batanian’s approach has helped him weather dramatic changes in the tire business over the last decade or so. He observed that it was common practice years ago for many dealers to stock about 2,000 tires representing 60%–70% coverage for vehicles.
“Now, there are so many SKUs, so many numbers and so many sizes that dealers can’t afford to stock a few thousand tires. Even if they did, that’s only 10% of the market,” he noted.
Moreover, an influx of less-expensive overseas product—mainly from China—has undercut big brand names. During the recent sagging economy, consumers went for the cheaper tires, meaning many dealers had to do more volume to cover their losses. To counter those trends, Batanian emphasized customer education on the benefits of brand names, including their warranty protection, their greater stopping power and safety, and their longer life.
His methods paid off. Now, after having drawn customers from all over the Greater Los Angeles area to his main shop, he is ready to set up new stores in the far-flung communities they’ve traveled from.
“Strategically, we’re placing the stores quite a bit of distance from each other,” he said. “Usually I think it would be a good idea to be close by and then grow out. Instead we’re starting from the furthest point and growing in. Again, we’re doing it backwards.”
But it’s that willingness to go the extra mile that has earned his customers’ trust.
“They basically come in, hand me their keys, ask for a ride home and let me take care of their vehicles,” Batanian concluded with pride.
If the first three rules of business are “location, location, location,” then Kings Tire & Wheel owner Sam Batanian readily admits to doing everything wrong when he opened his first retail outlet 27 years ago in El Monte, California.