When it comes to business branding, 1921 was a pretty good year.
That’s when dairy farmers in Minnesota formed what would become Land O’ Lakes to improve the marketing and quality of butter, thus making their business more profitable.
It is also when:• The Washburn Crosby Co. created Betty Crocker to answer consumer questions.
• The first White Castle restaurant opened, an effort to change the public’s perception of the meat-packing industry by invoking a feeling of cleanliness with a distinctive white porcelain enamel on steel exteriors, stainless steel interiors and employees in spotless uniforms.
• Wise Potato Chips was started as a way to use excess potatoes. It helped spark the snack industry.
• Hershey rolled its first chocolate Kiss off the assembly line.
And it was the year four former sailors each contributed $200 to start an auto parts store in Philadelphia. They watched the Ford Model T – which accounted for 61 percent of the market that year – as well as Dodges and Chevys fill the streets. The three car companies were the price leaders in the market, with the Model T selling for as low as $355.
Higher priced cars, such as the Anderson Six produced in Rock Hill, sold for $1,650 to $2,550 when the annual average wage was $1,236. The Anderson Automobile Co. acknowledged its higher prices but touted its cars as “made in Dixie.” The Anderson Six was “as roomy for five as it’s chummy for two.”
The four sailors reasoned the cars would need service and parts, and they would fill that need. (By 1923, only three partners remained after one cashed out of the business.)
Ninety-three years later the companies remain true to their initial branding, be it butter, bakery, hamburgers, chips or chocolate.
The Anderson Automobile Co. went out of business in 1925. But Ford, Dodge and Chevrolet remain. The automobiles are more complicated today, and while some owners still want to fix their cars, the do-it-yourself repair market is stagnant.
Pep Boys – with Manny, Moe and Jack, the original partners, on the company logo – is still in business, but it is taking a different road forward. The company has launched a rebranding campaign that remodels its stores while refocusing customer service efforts.
The Rock Hill store on Cherry Road is the latest of more than 800 Pep Boys stores to undergo the transformation.
No longer is there a row of plastic chairs where customers sit uncomfortably, waiting for their cars to be serviced. There is a lounge with free wi-fi, a computer charging station, a 60-inch TV and leather seating.
The store has been completely overhauled, from repainted ceiling tile to buffed concrete floors. Like items are grouped into neighborhoods. The parts section has expanded. The Rock Hill store has more parts than a typical Pep Boys because it serves a larger area.
The physical changes have resulted in more than one “wow” from customers, including Mary Leopard of Rock Hill. She came with her grandchildren, Harper and Mac Young, to have work done on her car. While playing a Manny-Moe-and-Jack word-find game with Harper, she told John Hanley, area director for the Carolinas, that Pep Boys should have done this years ago.
“It’s awesome. It’s kid-friendly, it’s grandmother-friendly,” she said. Leopard said she already had texted her sister to tell her of the changes.
Leopard is part of the new demographic Pep Boys seeks – women. The store had an image as a place for tires, oil and parts, attracting males 30 to 60, Hanley said.
Leopard’s visit also spoke of Pep Boys’ refocused service commitment. When her husband stopped at the store the night before, he was told to bring the car in the next day and mechanics would put the parts on. When Mary called in the morning, there were no service appointments. When she told them about her husband’s visit, the response was, “Come in, we will honor what we promised.”
“It’s about doing what you say you are going to do,” Hanley said. “If we say two hours, it’s two hours.”
Pep Boys is also looking to expand its customer base. Hanley acknowledges that for years Pep Boys had the reputation as the place you came when you needed to keep the car running at the cheapest price. “The tag was, ‘We do everything for less,’” he said.
Pep Boys wants to keep those customers, but it also wants people seeking an alternative to regular, dealer-like service. “We offer bumper-to-bumper service,” Hanley said.
“We are about people taking care of people – and their cars,” Hanley said. “It’s going from service that is transactional to one that is based on relationships.”
That means more one-on-one time with customers, from greeting them at the front door to discussing their car needs at individual stations rather than one long counter where there is little privacy, Hanley said.
The do-it-yourself customer remains important, too. If a customer comes to replace a water pump, he will be asked about buying new belts, hoses, clamps and a thermostat. It’s the kind of up-selling that many dislike, but Hanley said it’s about safety. If the pump went bad, it’s because it’s old, and that means the belts and hoses are old too. The discussion is an effort to have the customer come to the store once and not have to return a second or third time for parts, Hanley said.
Most of all, though, it’s about the employees, not the customers, saying thank you, Hanley said. “We want to tell the customers we appreciate them.”
While there is a new look in and out – as well as a new attitude – one thing hasn’t changed. The iconic image of Manny, Moe and Jack remains. They are all smiles.