Skateboard entrepreneur rolls into tires
Frisco, Colo.—Jason Smith admits that he knew very little about the tire business when he purchased Meadow Creek Tire two years ago. What he did see, however, was a business opportunity to create a unique retail experience that he now calls Utopia Tire and Service, a Nokian, Michelin and Hercules dealer.
An extreme sports enthusiast, Smith’s interests span motorcycles, snowboarding, and skateboarding, a sport that he came to intimately know through his business venture that produced Grip Gum, a skateboard grip tape cleaner. In addition to that a background in customer experience, mainly working in restaurants and bars, gave him the confidence to embark on a new retail adventure.
The sale of the Grip Gum business allowed him to purchase the tire dealership from Gary Bergman, who approached Smith, a then customer, about buying the shop. It took a year to complete the deal, which he says was worth it since it has since produced greater-than-expected results. “I have nothing but great respect for the business Gary built over the course of 40 years,” he said.
With a fresh perspective, Smith went to work modifying the shop to fit his idea of a near-perfect customer experience. Tire buying doesn’t have to be a dirty experience, Smith says.
The word “utopia” is in the business name because it represents an ideal of perfection that he strives to attain with the customer experience, ability to recycle, and give back to the community, he said. The major changes occurred in the customer reception area, waiting room, and approach to business.
“My goal is to be contemporary,” Smith said, who purchased new Clover merchant payment processing machines that are quick and painless. That includes accepting Apple Pay and American Express. “The last part of transaction is when they pay, so why should that have to be cumbersome?”
All showroom display tires are off the ground and sit atop waist-level shelving made from pine-beetle kill timber harvested from Summit County.
The wood shelving, coupled with a new stone hearth fireplace and leather seating, gives the well-lit customer reception area feel more like a ski resort residence than a tire store.
“It turns out people are receptive to a clean, friendly environment,” Smith said, adding the shop has a lot of female customers who prefer this type of customer waiting area.
“People want to do business locally,” he said. “They don’t want to drive down the hill for tires.”
Tire sales still account for 75 percent of the shop’s overall sales with service and light mechanical work making up the balance, with brakes leading the way. The shop’s four bays are full with mechanical work being booked two weeks out.
To keep up with the shop’s volume, Smith said he recently purchased a Hunter Auto34 leverless tire changer and Coats 1600 direct drive wheel balancer. He also plans to upgrade to a Hunter HawkEye Elite wheel alignment machine soon.
NAPA jobber, Colorado Motor Parts, is the go-to supplier for parts, he said, adding that they share the same parking lot, making availability immediate. “We have a tremendous relationship with them.” For OE parts, the shop relies on several Front Range dealerships, including the Stevinson group, as well as Kuni Lexus.
Given the large volume of tire sales, Smith said he stocks popular tire sizes in the shop, approximately 800-1,100 units. Denver tire suppliers include Tire Distributor Xperts (TDX) for Nokian and American Tire Distributors (ATD) for Michelin and other brands.
“Meadow Creek did a great job selling Nokian winter tires for many years in Frisco,” Smith said. So much so, he said, that customers have come to know and prefer the brand, which now includes several regular all-season, ultra high performance, and all-terrain applications. Utopia is currently the No. 1 volume retailer for Nokian in Colorado, he added.
Nokian tires are made with Canola oil, Smith said, explaining that the worn tread that ends up on the road is biodegradable, which is a “green” selling point for customers. That is also part of an overall recycling effort at Utopia, which also heats the shop with waste-oil burners. “A long-term concept is to develop a way to make shoes from old tires,” he added.
Planning for the next stage of business, Smith hired Craig Davidson to serve as the shop’s general manager. “I hired Craig under the expectation that he’ll continue to grow the business more than I have.
“Staffing remains a challenge in Colorado and especially in the high country,” said Smith, who currently employs 12 people.
That is starting to change, as they continue to receive positive online reviews. In addition to drawing new customers, it prompts good people to apply for jobs.
Having a clean, interactive website is important too, he said, since 90 percent of potential customers visit the business online before they do so in person.
In the future, Smith said he intends to offer a mobile tire installation service that can add to customer convenience at their residence, which often is a second home for skiers and boarders.