For one Tuffy Tire & Auto Service franchisee, the best thing about being a business owner with the company is the value added visits. Ben Thorington owner of the Tuffy location in St. Johns, FL, an area just outside of Jacksonville, says every time his district manager pays a visit to the store he aims to add value to the business.
As an example, Thorington recalled a time during the district manager visit they counted how many steps the technicians were taking and together they devised a new floor plan that cut down on the steps and made his entire operation more efficient. “Their goal is to help you be profitable and add value in what they bring to the table,” Thorington noted.
This effort of the district managers to always make themselves valuable to the franchisees in their jurisdiction is indicative of the Tuffy culture from the CEO on down.
Thorington says he has reviewed his Profit and Loss statement with the CFO of Tuffy personally and has benefited greatly from that interaction, saving lots of money at his business by following the CFO’s suggestions. Thorington notes the corporate culture of the franchise is one of accessibility, as everyone goes out of their way to accommodate franchisees.
“Last week I was in the airport and I remembered I had a legal question so I sent my district manager a text message and before I boarded my next plane, he had the answer for me,” he said, adding that he’s never had to wait more than a few hours for an answer to any question.
From Employee to Entrepreneur
Thorington purchased an existing Tuffy location in July 2013 and spent five years building up the business before returning to his home state of Michigan.
His work experience began as a plastic injection toolmaker and design engineer and although he was happy with the work, the industry began to falter and he knew he needed to pivot his career. That landed him a role as a branch manager at Prairie Farms Dairy cooperative. Although he loved working for that company because it ran like a small business, he wasn’t in love with the industry.
At a crossroads in his life, his wife Tawnya reminded him of all the times he said he wanted to be a business owner. From there, he hired a business broker who helped him find the Tuffy location in St. Johns. After researching the franchise and talking with current franchisees and receiving overwhelmingly positive feedback, he decided it would be advantageous to join a franchise. “You have the power of feeling like a small company, but acting like a big company,” Thorington noted.
Once he joined, the new franchisee underwent several weeks of training at Tuffy’s corporate training center in Toledo, Ohio. “I enjoy the fact that we were learning at an actual working store,” Thorington said. “That allowed me to learn the skills that I needed to run my own store and then go see them in action.” After completing training in Toledo, Tuffy sends new recruits to shadow an established franchisee, which Thorington described as extremely valuable. On day one in their location, the aforementioned district managers work with the franchisees from open to close. They will continue to work with the franchisee beyond the grand opening until the new store owners are comfortable running the location on their own.
The franchise is meticulous about advertising and marketing prior to franchisees opening their store. On an ongoing basis, Tuffy offers marketing support and will help franchisees refine their marketing efforts and create localized marketing for regional events. They’re also receptive to marketing ideas from franchisees. Thorington says he tends to write long, highly detailed emails with ideas and send them to the Tuffy marketing department at the corporate office. Generally, everyone at the head office will look at them and have input in the response.
The Tuffy annual dealer meeting features break out training sessions, a private trade show as well as a business presentation with vendors, and motivational speakers. Tuffy University their online training program covers all aspects of the business for training and knowledge refreshment purposes. Tuffy employs a corporate technical trainer who comes to any store if requested. If a visit is not viable, that trainer will have a video conference meeting with franchisees to assist and train on a as need basis. Often Tuffy vendors will offer additional specialized training for franchisees.
The Tuffy franchisee advisory council allows owners to share ideas that work in their respective businesses. Quarterly meetings with dealer representatives and corporate staff allow a free exchange of ideas and new programs are developed from those meetings.
For his first three years, Thorington says, he worked a lot on building the business. His franchise continues to grow, but he is now hands off from the daily operations. Currently, he is looking to open a store closer to home in Michigan and within five years open another location in Florida. With today’s technology, running a business from several states away is just as easy as running it in-person, he notes.
Now that Tuffy has added so much value to his life, Thorington is ready to add even more value to the franchise with his new planned locations.