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Driving value: Steve Grossrieder

JAX Tyres & Auto CEO and Executive Director Steve Grossrieder talks beating COVID-19, strategic partnerships and the power of customer centricity.

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JAX Tyres & Auto crushed the first year of its five-year strategy in 2019 and was ready to take on 2020 with just as much vim and vigour. And things were going really well. That is, until March came, bringing the devastating effects of COVID-19 with it. "I came into the new year full steam ahead with a big agenda on our plate," says JAX Tyres & Auto CEO and Executive Director Steve Grossrieder.

"Then, in the last week of March, COVID-19 and the government’s restrictions just took hold of our business. We went from exceeding our sales budget to a nearly 50% reduction overnight."

This forced Steve to shelf his future-forward strategy and focus on the present – surviving COVID-19. "Between March and April, we changed our focus quite considerably," he remembers.

"We dealt with the immediate issues that the government’s restrictions brought upon us. With a network of almost 90 franchisees, it was vital for JAX to adhere to its ‘one-team’ values in order to endure.

"All of our livelihoods depended on it," Steve stresses. "So I initiated an immediate team meeting and indicated that, even though we couldn’t control the environment, we could control how we would present ourselves during this situation."

I believe our ability to innovate and our agile approach is what got us through COVID-19 to where we are today very quickly.

After some "really hard decisions", they decided to quickly change the focus of the new brand relaunch. At first, the relaunch was supposed to be about the move from JAX Tyres to JAX Tyres & Auto, letting customers know that the company is just as much about automotive repairs as it is about tyres. "We kept on marketing but quickly changed the focus," he says.

"We went out into the community with our brand relaunch, emphasising our complimentary JAX inspection. We knew people were hurting, and we knew they still needed to use their vehicles regardless of the current situation. So we urged them to come to JAX, no obligations, and get their free JAX inspection."

The respected tyre retailer and mechanical servicing provider did this over the course of eight weeks. And it paid off big time. "It basically lifted our brand awareness, making us a digital leader in the industry," Steve shares.

"We’re now ahead of our competitors by a full 5% in the digital space – it’s quite big." Steve credits this success to the company’s unwavering customer-focused ethos. "One of the key elements of our value proposition in JAX and, as part of our DNA, is that we are customer-centric. Customer centricity is the X factor in JAX," he says.

"I’m firmly of the belief that if you are a customer-driven company and invest in your brand, value proposition and your customers when times are tough, then it will pay off in the long-term."

This belief also led JAX to implement safety measures at each of its automotive centres. In fact, it was one of the first to market with a zero-contact servicing strategy where the customer never has to get within 1.5 metres of the staff.

"We devised a way for our customers to leave their keys in a secured box at the front of the store for us to collect," Steve explains. "Then, after the work is finished, we take payment over the phone and return their vehicles fully sanitised."

People say that every crisis comes with a silver lining and that couldn’t be truer for JAX. "Because we were so active in the market, in partnership with Uber, we now offer a concierge service to our customers," Steve says.

"We thought it was a great idea. So, in addition to our zero-contact strategy, customers can also drop off their vehicle and get a free Uber in the local area. Once the work is done, Uber brings them back. This whole approach made a positive impact on our NPS (Net Promoter Score) during the height of the government restrictions in April. There can be a positive outlook in these situations if you continually innovate with your customers in mind," Steve says.

With this approach, JAX has been able to not only survive COVID-19 but also thrive. "We went from the worst month on record to the best month on record. And we’re about to have another record month for June," he says.

"I believe our ability to innovate and our agile approach is what got us through COVID-19 to where we are today very quickly. In that six-week window during the pandemic, I experienced more strategic learning based on our customer insights than I have experienced in my entire time at JAX."

Steve’s gratitude for his team grew even stronger during this challenging time. The way they banded together with their store network to navigate the pandemic and provide outstanding customer service all the while was nothing short of inspirational.

"They definitely make me look good," Steve says. "I wouldn’t be where I am today without the team I have. They’re exceptional." Also exceptional is the way Steve chose to lead during this time. He says, sometimes as a leader, it’s important to be very clear about the journey.

And, other times, it’s more important to step back, be democratic and let the teams lead the discussion. "Leadership is a funny thing," he says. "You’re always learning. Navigating the pandemic was like situational leadership 101. My staff were looking for direction and confidence through this trying period. And, regardless of whether I felt confident or not, I had to be confident."

And that includes being confident in the JAX sales model. The company went from having two-week bookings to having no bookings and, finally, to having customers show up on the spot.

"The whole entire sales model just turned on its head overnight," Steve says. "So we had to remain agile. We innovated through social media, and our digital strategy has gone to the next level. We’re now changing what we’re doing every week, and there’s always something new coming on. Even though we would argue that we’re still not innovative or agile enough, we’re lucky that we’re one of the leaders in this space in our industry."

Going forward, Steve knows that change is inevitable. There’s no such thing as a "new normal" – just the continual ebb and flow of life. "I keep telling my team to get comfortable with being uncomfortable," he says.

‘One Team’ during COVID-19

Steve shares an example of just how critical the ‘one team’ philosophy was during the height of the crisis, and how everyone in the team pitched in to ensure the business came out on the other side of it successfully. "One of our business improvement managers (pictured left) took on accountability of managing a store and, when required, he put on the uniform and worked on customers’ cars to ensure their requirements were met," Steve shares. "This was a true example of our ‘one team’ philosophy and how everyone in the executive team stepped up to manage the COVID-19 situation. Our business improvement managers are all licensed mechanics, which enables them to work across all roles within the service chain of our business."

"Change is with us, and it’s only going to continue to change." Embracing this time of change, the tyre and automotive servicing leader will be rolling out a new training facility, complete with a full JAX store and social media studio.

"We’re calling it the JAX Training Academy," Steve shares. "It’s a 50-person training facility that will help us create highly skilled technicians to better serve our customers. We’re also adding a social media studio to create more content."

The pandemic has taught Steve and the JAX team the importance of being there when its customers need them most. So it’s also launching a mobile service in select areas to meet customers where they are.

"It’s in the development stages now," he says. "But basically, we’ll be operating a mobile service for those who can’t Search make it to the shop. We’re calling it Mobile JAX Tyres & Auto, and it will be provided as a premium retail service in select areas.

Not only will it be able to change and replace tyres, but our mobile unit will also have the ability to service vehicles – right in the comfort of the customer’s home."

However, JAX wouldn’t be the premium retailer it is without some help from its friends. As a multi-brand supplier, it relies on strategic partnerships for its ongoing success. These partnerships allow JAX to offer customers the best choice of brands in the best way possible.

Split into two groups – approved suppliers and preferred suppliers – it’s the preferred suppliers that offer the true, mutually beneficial partnerships. "We work more closely with them because we have shared brand attributes," he says.

"We want to make sure our brand is protected and that our brand stays strong. We also want to make sure we add mutual benefits to each other in this very competitive environment."

Partners like Goodyear, Michelin, Hankook, Club Assist and Repco are all part of the JAX inner circle because of their commitment to each other. Even through the pandemic, they continued to offer their support.

"And we extended our support back to them through our network because they were the partners who were actually trying to assist us during this time with delayed payments and extra specials to offer our customers," Steve says.

"We look for the mutual benefit, which isn’t necessarily the immediate benefit. Our partner relationships help protect us against a changing competitive environment and are instrumental to our success. We’re actually much stronger together as a group than individually."

The same goes for InMoment, JAX’s preferred customer experience partner. "When I need something, the team at InMoment doesn’t hesitate," he says. "And, likewise, when they ask me to speak on their behalf at conferences, I don’t hesitate and ensure I find the time because they’re a preferred partner, and it adds value to them and the greater CX industry."

Adding value is something that’s tremendously important to Steve and the entire JAX brand. It’s the foundation upon which the company exists. "JAX is a premium retailer – it’s our point of differentiation," Steve says.

"But premium retail in its definition has less to do with luxury and more to do with creating additional value for our customers. It’s the kind of value that adds stickiness to the brand.

"We don’t have a price guarantee, instead we have a consumer promise where we assure we’re going to have the best price, the best brands and the best service, and provide the best advice to our customers," he continues.

"And, our service proposition is centred around surety and safety. We want to know and actively seek customer feedback. We’re not trying to be everything to everyone. We’re just providing peace-of-mind driving for our customers."

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