In today’s episode, Kent Coleman shares how he increased his auto repair shops’ revenue without lowering prices, offering the same products their competitors offer, and without being a car guy himself, having little to no knowledge about cars whatsoever.
Steve Shallenberger: Welcome to all of our Becoming Your Best podcast listeners wherever you may be in the world today. This is your host, Steve Shallenberger. We have an amazing guest with us today. He is a friend. I’ve known him for a long time. I will just tell you a little bit about him. First of all, he did not dream, really, of owning a tire store. He did dream of owning something. And other kids wanted to be baseball players or firefighters, but our guest today wanted to be a businessman. And now he is a speaker, writer, and entrepreneur. And after earning an MBA, he has founded or purchased over a dozen successful companies. Welcome, Kent Coleman!
Kent Coleman: Hey, thanks so much, Steve, for having me. Happy to be here.
Steve Shallenberger: Well, before we get started, I’d like to tell you just a little bit more about Kent. Currently, he owns a chain of auto repair franchises and various commercial properties. Really not a car guy himself, his auto repair shops are consistently some of the highest-producing stores in the nation. Kent’s strength is getting to the root of an issue, and he has a knack for asking the right questions to solve the right problems. He and his wife, Crystal, have four children and they love the outdoors including the mountains, the trees, the beach, and the slick rock. Kent and his family live in Utah. And just for our listeners, Kent and I met 25 years ago in Spain. We were both there on missions for our church’s humanitarian service. We have great memories of serving together in places like Madrid and Segovia, we were just laughing about that. What a place Segovia is, Kent.
Kent Coleman: Yes, Segovia is an amazing, beautiful city. If you’ve never been to Spain or Segovia and northern Spain, it’s magical. It has the old castles and cathedrals, the old Roman ruins, the cobblestone streets. It’s really a wonderful place. I got to live there for six months.
Steve Shallenberger: Wow! Six months, man. That’s some service right there. One of the beautiful parts of Segovia is that it has a two-mile aqueduct built by the Romans that feeds water into the city across a valley. So, the city is down in the valley and then comes back up where they have the cathedral, so it provided water to the city. But it is in impeccable condition today, 2000 years later, and there is no mortar in its construction. It spans up to almost 200 feet high at its peak as it comes across and feeds water. What wonderful memories, right?
Kent Coleman: It was a great time. And you had a big impact on me. I was 19 years old at the time, Steve, and you had a great impact on my desire to learn, speak, write, and to try to work on my leadership skills. So, I appreciate that time we had together.
Steve Shallenberger: You bet. And you’ve done a great job of it, Kent, you’re an inspiration. Well, to get going today, Kent, would you please just tell us about your background including any turning points in your life that have had a significant impact on you and particularly what you’re doing today?
Kent Coleman: I had a wonderful childhood with really amazing parents. It was really great. I have great memories of my life growing up. My parents did not have a lot of money. Even with my wonderful time with my family, money was hard to come by; I had a hand-me-down bike, hand-me-down clothes, and a hand-me-down baseball glove, and we rarely went out to eat for dinner and things like this. So, I was always looking – even as a young child – for ways to make a little bit of money. I can remember a little job as young as seven and eight years old. I had a little red wagon, I asked my neighbors if I could collect their newspapers and their pop cans. And my dad would drive me down to the recycler and downtown Ogden, Utah, and I’d get $10 or $12 on a weekend and I loved that. So, that was my first business. But through my youth, my teenage years, I was always looking for ways to get a little extra money. And I went to college at Brigham Young University. And as you mentioned, I got an MBA after that. And I started small businesses pretty much right after college, about a year after school, I was working for a large corporation, and I learned a lot there in the accounting world. But really, it just wasn’t for me to be in that office all the time, working for a large corporation – it didn’t fit my personality, I really wanted to be doing my own thing. So, I was starting my own businesses. And early on, I’ll tell you, I failed at a variety of businesses. I started some things that did not go well. And the business that I own now that does quite well, we’re at the top of our industry. And I made some big mistakes that I could explain in that one early on that we had to learn from. So, throughout my life, I’ve always had this desire to be an entrepreneur. But along the way, I had to learn some hard lessons, that’s for sure.
Steve Shallenberger: Well, I appreciate that background. It is an inspiration. It’s been fun to watch you over the years. And you’re a good person, too. You really work hard to be a good father and a good human being in addition to a good businessman – so, great to see that. But tell us about your book. Kent recently released a new book, “It’s Not About the Mangos”. So, how did it come about? And why did you write it? What’s in it?
Kent Coleman: I’ve always enjoyed telling stories. I’ve always been into writing my stories. I’ve been pretty good at keeping a journal over the years even since I was young. And I just enjoy stories; I enjoy storytelling, I enjoy listening to stories. So, I have this compilation of these life experiences, including experiences from work, and stories that have inspired me, things that I’ve learned from – mostly learn from my own mistakes, and then I’ve also learned and been inspired from other great people who I’ve worked with, and I’ve written these little stories down. My family has written some books, my dad wrote some books, and I have a sister that wrote a great book. I thought that this is something that I could do, so I started writing these stories and trying to put them into; what principles have I learned from these stories that are applicable that other people might enjoy, and that might be able to help them in their organization or in their life? So, I used a lot of stories from my current business that I’ve had for 16 years. We have a small chain of tire stores in Utah. It’s a franchise situation. The brand is called Big O Tires. There are about 500 locations nationwide, it’s mostly from the Midwest to the West Coast. We have seven locations. But what’s unique about us is that our locations happened to do over three times the average revenue of the average store. That hasn’t always been the case, we’ve figured this out in the past three to five years, to where we can acquire a location and we can double their revenue or triple their revenue within 30 to 60 days. So, it’s kind of a unique thing. In my little world, a lot of people know us and what we do. We have the number one revenue store in the nation that does about six times the national average. We have multiple stores in the top 10 in revenue and all of our stores are in the top about 25 or 30 out of those 500 locations. And I’m not a car guy, I’m horrible at anything mechanical, so people know that about me and they are curious, and they wonder how I got into it, and they’re curious about how we’re able to do what we do. So, the book gets into that. And I used a lot of stories to explain and illustrate how we’re able to accomplish being at the top of our industry. A lot of people wouldn’t necessarily think of a tire store or an auto repair shop as this place where we’re teaching company culture and positive company culture. But that’s what we do and that’s who we are. So, that’s the gist of the book and it’s about how an organization can create an environment where people truly can outpace their peers by three to four times. There’s nothing special about our tires or brakes that we install, these are commodity products. Our competitors have very similar products that we do, and we’re still able to figure this out. So, the book gets into how we do that.
Steve Shallenberger: I so much enjoyed the book. I had some really great take-home values, if you will, of things I got out of the book. And in the spirit of Becoming Your Best, one of the things I’ve noticed is what Kent is doing, I’ve seen over and over that the 12 principles of highly successful leaders are there in what he does. He’s got a vision, he manages with the plan, he cares about his people, so he lives the golden rule. Works on building high levels of trust, and you’ll see this coming out in his discussion. Kids doing the things that other really top executives do around the world. And regardless of whether it’s a small business or a large business. So, tell us the story about “It’s Not About the Mangos.” You were talking about stories, I want to hear a story today.
Kent Coleman: So, we were struggling early on in my company. When I acquired the business, I was 28. At the time, I acquired two franchises at once from the same owner. We happen to buy a very high-volume store. And again, I had no automotive experience. I used capital from another small business that was unrelated to buy this company. And the people I worked with were really shocked that a 28-year-old with very limited automotive experience or no automotive knowledge was the new owner. They were hard on me. It was a challenging environment. At that time, what happened was we were really struggling. The people I worked with didn’t really want to work with me. I hadn’t learned a lot of the principles that I now know about the great value that people have in an organization. And I just didn’t understand that yet, I hadn’t learned that yet. This was in 2007 and 2008 and it was also the recession, of course, when we first bought our stores. Our sales went down about 30%. That store was doing $6 million in revenue when I bought it. And within a couple of years, I was ruining it, we were doing $4.1 million. And my solution to this spiral down in sales and in profitability was that I knew that our costs of payroll were very high, so I thought that the way I could solve this was just by cutting our most expensive people. And now I realized that’s a horrible strategy for a variety of reasons, from legal reasons to just plain old operating reasons that that’s a bad idea. But I didn’t know that at the time, and so I went to, for example, one of our good mechanics. His name was Rich. Young guy with a little family, and he was a really good mechanic, and he got paid really, really well. And I let him go for absolutely no reason other than he made a lot of money. He was completely blindsided, completely angry, and he let me have a pretty good that I decided to do that, but it is what it is. For a minute, it worked out. I can tell you what happened with Rich later on, it comes full circle. But at that time, it worked out fine for a minute; our costs went down. And all of a sudden, I had some breathing room, I had a little bit of cash in the bank, I was feeling pretty good. But then our sales started spiraling downward even faster after that. Why? Because I’ve gotten rid of our best people, it was a horrible decision.
Kent Coleman: So, at that time, the people that I’d replaced the expensive people with were attracted to me. Why? Because they were cheap, and I got exactly what I paid for it. And these new people, the sales staff, they’d walk around the store, they wouldn’t talk to customers, they didn’t answer the ringing phones, they were rude, they were grumpy, they didn’t care about meeting a goal, they didn’t care about being great, they had no ambition, it just wasn’t in their personality. So, at that time, I realized that the only way that I was going to dig out of the hole that I had was to find people to help me, that another line of credit was not going to solve my problems, that I had to find great people and I had to try to correct the bad mistakes that I’ve made. So, in my search, I didn’t want to just find good people, I wanted the best people. I wanted the absolute best people that I could possibly find, and I wanted to pay them whatever I had to pay them to get them to join my team. So, I was able to find a guy through a referral that was working at a competing shop a ways away from us. And supposedly, he was the top tire salesperson in our whole county. I reached out to him and he turned out that he wasn’t happy where he was, and we were able to get him to join our team. I was nervous about that. He was 27 years old, but he’d been in our industry for 10 years. He started in high school. He was expensive. He was really good. He had a super dynamic, outgoing, positive personality. He was able to connect with people, and he knew it, and he wanted to get paid. And I had no money, so this was a problem. I went out on a limb, I decided to take the risk, and we worked out a deal. His name was Jose Cordova.
Kent Coleman: So, Jose was telling me about his growing up, as I got to know him, because right out of the gate, he was amazing. He was so good. All of a sudden, sales just started happening when he was there. The other people in our team didn’t like Jose because they preferred a gloomy culture and a dark culture, and he was full of light and energy, they didn’t like that. But he started selling so much that we had to hire more technicians to get all the work done. And I’m like Jose, “How is this possible? How are you able to sell so much?” And he’s telling me his background. When he was a young boy, he moved from the United States to Zacatecas, Mexico to help with his family’s produce business. His dad was helping a family member with a produce business and Jose worked in this. And on the weekends, he had to sell one ton of mangoes – literally, 2000 pounds of mangoes – at the local market, imagine a farmers market type situation. And he would go to sell these mangoes and he told me how people would line up to buy mangoes from him. And how there were other mango sellers at the market, but people would line up to buy from Jose. And I said, “Well, why was that? Were your mangoes bigger or were they fresher?” And he said, “No, nothing like that. We all sold the same mangoes.” And I said, “Well, then, obviously, you must have had a lower price. That’s the only way the people would line up to buy from you.” And he said, “No, I didn’t have a lower price.” And he got frustrated with me and he said, “Kent, it’s not about the mangoes.” And that struck me and I said, “How is that possible? What do you mean?” He said, “Well, here’s how it went.” He said, “I saw, even as a young boy –” He was like eight, nine, ten years old. He said, “I knew that I could if I could make a connection with people, that maybe they’d come back and see me.” So, as they passed by, he’d make a little comment about their t-shirt or their hat; he would ask them about their family, their children, their grandchildren, and where they worked. He was just making connections with people. And little by little these people wouldn’t just line up to buy mangoes, they would line up to buy mangoes from Jose, with all kinds of other fruit vendors around with no one in line, it was a huge part of enlightenment to me, he said, “Kent, it’s not about the product you’re selling; it’s all about connections; it’s all about relationships.” Now, today, in our stores, he’s probably the top tire salesman on planet Earth, for all I know. The guy is amazing. And people know we have a really busy store. He’s at our most busy store, the number one store in the nation, and people don’t just line up to buy tires, they line up to buy tires from Jose.
Steve Shallenberger: Great story. I love it. So, one of the quotes from the book is “The people you partner with, the people you hire, the people you train, the people you encourage, and the people you elevate are what make the difference and what will ultimately make your organization successful.” What have you learned in regard to some of the important things you can do to make people the main thing?
Kent Coleman: Great question. So, in any organization, we could all make a list of all the things that we can do to improve our organization. Now, if I were to list every single thing that I could improve or make better my organization, there would be hundreds or probably even thousands of things on that list that we could do better. And maybe that’s not true for you, Steve, with your organization, you’re the pro. Maybe your organization is perfect. Is that the case?
Steve Shallenberger: Haha! We got plenty of improvements. That’s why we call it, Kent, Becoming Your Best.
Kent Coleman: There you go. I like it. When that’s the case; we can all make lists of so many things that we can improve our business on. What we’ve found is that as we try to surround ourselves with amazing people and for the people who are already on our team, we want to bring their skills, their lights, their energy to the surface in a great way that they’re excited about it, that they’re in the right spot, the right position to be the most successful, to feel great about their contribution, and then bring new people to our team like Jose and others that we’ve brought on that have this light, that have this ability to connect, and build relationships, see what needs to be done, have a desire for hard work, for integrity, to reach goals, to be optimistic, and do things the right way. What we’ve found is that these people very naturally work on the things on the list and we don’t have to force it. We don’t have to make them start checking these things off – there are hundreds of things on our list that we know that could be better. It’s amazing, people just very naturally work on these things and make the organization better without us having to force it and force their hand and be right over their shoulder, watching them, making them do it. They do it because they want to do it, and we try to create an environment where it’s very natural for them to do that.
Steve Shallenberger: So, how do you find and keep good people, especially in today’s world? Because it’s ten times harder right now, post COVID.
Kent Coleman: It is hard, and it’s hard for us. It’s not easy. The reality is the majority of these types of people have jobs and they’re high performers. So, they have jobs, they’re making good money, so most of these people that I look for are not randomly walking into my place of business asking for work. The reality of it is we have to actively pursue them. We have to actively recruit them. And we do that. So, we’re pretty much obsessed with people and finding these great people. So, me and my leadership team, we are always on the hunt for people everywhere we go. For example, we met a guy named Victor, a young guy, right out of college, got a marketing degree from the University of Utah. He was selling cell phones at a kiosk in the mall. We met him and he just seemed to have this great ability to connect. We recruited him and he had a good job and he was doing well, we were able to get him to come and join our team and we sold him on our culture. And he knows nothing about automotive, zero whatsoever. And we started training him on how to sell tires and auto repairs. And within 60 days, he was doing double our average salesperson in sales. He’s not a technical expert by any means, it’s just simply this ability to connect and we do pay him well. We pay our people higher than the industry average, so that’s one way we attract them when they don’t know us. As far as keeping them, after they know us, I really think that people stay with us because of our culture. It’s this vibrant environment where we appreciate people, they know we appreciate them. We don’t berate people. That doesn’t mean everything’s kumbaya all the time. But when people make mistakes, we really try to deal with it in a constructive and respectful way. We don’t demean people. We don’t drive them into the ground. I remember a situation in my job that I did have as an accountant right out of college, I was working for a large corporation. And the manager of this site, his name was Al. I remember him bringing the stack of paperwork to this girl who was the office manager. He marches to her desk in a very rude way, he tells her, “I need this work done within an hour.” And then he drops this pile of paperwork onto the floor next to her, intentionally, and then turns and walks away, and this woman had to bend over, pick up the work. And I just saw that and I was like, “Whoa! That should never happen to anyone ever at work or anywhere else. And if I ever own a company, that’s not going to happen in our organization.” So, we treat people in a way that we believe that they’re wonderful, we believe that they want to be great and we treat them accordingly. So, our people are constantly reaching out to people they know and referring them to come work for us. So, that’s a little indicator of how I think we’re doing a decent job at creating a culture where people want to be with us because they refer people to us.
Steve Shallenberger: That’s great. So, you’re always on the lookout for good people?
Kent Coleman: Yeah.
Steve Shallenberger: Well, you talked a little bit about this. How do you take care of your people so they want to stay?
Kent Coleman: So, this culture has taken us a long time to get to the point where we are. Like I said, I had to learn a lot of these hard lessons through not treating people well to realize what a mistake that was. So, now that we have this established, we do things along the way. Like I said, we do pay well, but I don’t know that that’s really the reason they stay. That’s the reason I think we get them. But once they come, the reason they stay– For example, two weeks ago, we had a big dinner for all of our adult employees and their spouses or significant others or partners. We had a nice dinner together at a place, there was probably 300 of us, and we had a casino night where we brought in games where people can play these casino games and have fun. It was just a really great opportunity to spend time together and to build that relationship. Throughout the year we might close our stores for a day and go to the local amusement park with the kids and families and we provide that. At Christmas time, we’ll rent out a big movie theater and we’ll watch a movie together. These are small things. But in our world, it does seem to go a long way that our people feel like we care, we’re interested in their well-being, and that there’s some camaraderie there. Like I said, it’s not perfect, we still mess up plenty. But overall, there’s a general culture that is positive, and people like to stay with us.
Steve Shallenberger: So, in other words, you really develop a relationship. A great word in Spanish is “amistad,” which is just a relationship and almost a family where you feel connected to one another. And when you get to that level, it makes a difference.
Kent Coleman: Yeah, we have a very low turnover relative to others in our industry; very, very low turnover. It does make a difference. Some of these things might sound cheesy. Not everyone’s into it. The employees that aren’t into those social things don’t have to come and there’s no pressure for them to come, and that’s fine. But overall, people do seem to like it.
Steve Shallenberger: That’s super. Kent, how does this apply at home, what we’re talking about? If you happen to be a parent, or an uncle, or an aunt, or even friends with someone, how does that apply in our personal lives?
Kent Coleman: This principle is universal, whether it’s at work, at home, or in our community with our neighbors. It’s truly seeing every single person on this planet is someone who has value. So, I believe that every single person that is born on this earth is born with light and that every single one of us have light and have divinity within us. So, that means that we all have amazing, significant value – every single person. And as we go throughout our life, if people are really hard on us, and we can be really hard on ourselves, and we can make really bad mistakes and make really bad choices, then that light can diminish a little bit. I’ve seen that in my own life; I can sense the light within myself retract, diminish a little bit. But when I’m trying to reach out and lift people up and lift myself up, I can feel my life expanding and growing. So, regardless of where we are on that, I really believe that every single person has at least a spark of light. T spark of divinity within us that never goes away, that we have despite the fact that we were born. And so as we view the world that way, this principle that every single person has immense value just because they’re a person, then we start to treat people in a way that is respectful, and that is kind, and that is uplifting. And that principle really holds true and we can all expand this light that we have, and it can grow brighter and brighter over time as we try to develop it and as we try to bring the light to the surface in people around us at work, and at home, and with our friends, and in our community, and as we go to the grocery store and wherever that is; we can be a source of a high level of goodness to lift people up around us.
Steve Shallenberger: That’s great. Thank you for sharing that perspective. Spot on, really, have that you know it’s really about being the kind of person, the leader, that brings the best out in other people, that brings that light out. I love it. So, what have you found? I love the story about “It’s not about the mangoes, it’s about getting mangoes from Jose.” So, how do you take care of customers so they want to come back again and again? How do you do that? And how do you create loyal customers?
Kent Coleman: So, our top performers have this ability to connect with customers. We do want to provide great service. We want to be accurate in our repairs and our diagnosis of the issues that the customer has. Those things, on the more technical side, are going to be needful across every organization. We want to do a good job in executing the service that we provide or the product that we provide our customers. No question. But like I said earlier, we have competitors all around us that also sell the same brand of tires that we sell. So, the question is how do we get loyalty from people when we’re all selling the same stuff, generally? And the way we do that is through connections and relationships on a personal level. We really try to hire people who have this skill and who have this ability to connect and have a knack for making a quick and meaningful social connection. And what happens when we do that is if we make a mistake, which we do make mistakes sometimes as we repair cars, unintentionally, and we do everything we can to make it right with the customer, then they’re way more likely to be forgiving, and to understand, or to meet us in the middle, or whatever the case may be. We continue to work together and maintain that relationship over and over again even when we make a mistake because they trust us that we’re going to make it because it’s not just a business transaction, it’s a relationship.
Steve Shallenberger: Thanks for sharing that. And I am always amazed, Kent, how fast these podcasts go – our time is up. And it went lickety-split, just like that. So, any final tips that you’d like to share with our listeners today?
Kent Coleman: I guess the last tip would just be that a major focus on people is what has dramatically changed our organization, in both lifting people up who are already in our organization, to help them be happy with their position and what their job is and help them feel great about their contribution, and then adding people to the organization who really care about these principles that we’ve discussed. And then finally, the last point would be: We all fail all the time – I’m number one at this – and that failure does not have to be a final thing. We can fail, we can learn from that, we can grow, and we can become better. That’s really the joy of life. And if everything were perfect all the time, there’d be no fun in that. We’d all be pretty bored really fast. But this concept that we can fail, we can learn, and we can grow is a great concept, and that’s really helped our organization.
Steve Shallenberger: Well, thank you, that’s great advice for every one of us. Kent, how can people find out about what you’re doing? How can they get the book? And how can they find these resources?
Kent Coleman: So, my website is tireguykent.com or kentcoleman.com, Facebook is Tire Guy Kent, or you can find me at “Kent Coleman” on LinkedIn. The book, “It’s Not About the Mangos,” is for sale on Amazon or Barnes and Noble or other online resources. It’s in paperback, hardback, Audible, digital, however you want it. So, feel free to follow me on Tire Guy Kent on Facebook is probably the best place, or on LinkedIn.
Steve Shallenberger: It’s been so fun to have you here, Kent. Thanks for joining us today.
Kent Coleman: My pleasure. Thanks for your time.
Steve Shallenberger: Oh, it’s been a blast. And what a productive visit this has been. Loved the perspective, the application, and the inspiration of it. So, we wish you the best, Kent, in everything that you’re doing. Keep up the good work.
Kent Coleman: Thanks, you too. Take care.
Steve Shallenberger: And to all of our listeners, wherever you might be, we’re so grateful. I always think about how grateful I am that you’re able and willing to take time to join us. It’s a privilege and an honor for us, and it says so much about you and your desire to become your best. And it’s these little things that you just keep working on. And they end up one day you wake up and your DNA is different, you see it differently and you’re better, and it helps bring out this light that Kent was talking about today. So, we wish you the best in everything you’re doing today and always. Thank you for joining us. And until the next time, this is Steve Shallenberger, your host, signing off.
Speaker, Consultant, Author, Developer, Proud Husband and Loving Father of Four