Going all in for customers and employees

Excellence in partnering and people leads to expansion

Paul Best, President of East Coast Towing, says most people have a love-hate relationship with his line of work.

“They hate to have to call us, but they love to see us coming,” he jokes.

With thirty-three local trucks, and fourteen in surrounding areas, it’s likely you’ve seen these rescuing heroes out doing their work which includes not only towing, but roadside assistance with flat tires, jump starts, dead batteries, and locked-in keys. Best grew up around automobiles his whole life, working for a while in his father’s car dealership, and later driving trucks for Reeve’s Automotive where he moved up to a manager role. After a stint with AAA, it was a straight line from there into pursuing his own ventures.

“I went to work for AAA for a short while, and then that’s when I decided to go out on my own, because I was managing everyone’s company for them,” explains Best. “I thought I might as well do it myself.”

Since then, Best has maintained a strong relationship with AAA, which has been important to his company.

“They’re a big business, so they have dynamics they work within. They’ve been a great partner with us. We’ve gotten a chance to work together, learn together, grow together, and they’re giving me another opportunity soon, in another part of the state. So, it’s a good work relationship.”

East Coast Towing opened in 1998, and Best paid his dues from the get-go. He describes working sixteen to eighteen hour days every day for the first year, while the company was getting established. His customers range from car dealerships, repair shops, and motor club members to stranded individuals who call with car trouble.

Whatever the customer type, East Coast Towing is there to help and this can involve some unusual situations.

“It’s never the same,” says Best. “I mean, your everyday business is generally pretty normal, but you never know what you’re going to get into here. People will call, and it’s funny, I always hear, ‘You’re not going to believe this.’ And there’s not much I don’t believe, because we’ve seen some pretty wild stuff.”

Best explains that technology has helped widen his company’s public profile and brought in many new customers.

“The folks that have been to our website, they’ve come to us and said, ‘We’ve never seen anything like this.’ We get 10-15 hits a day, and now we’re on Facebook. That’s a good way to get information quickly about what the company is doing.”

There are many customer testimonials on East Coast Towing’s website which speak to the excellent service that Best strives to provide.

“Really in that customer’s mind, they’re the only ones that have got the problem, and you don’t blame them.  It’s interfered with their day.  And we’re there just to get them back to their day. That’s our goal. To treat everyone like they are the only customer.”

As with all companies, it takes happy employees to make happy customers, and Best does his best to create this kind of environment. East Coast Towing currently has fifty-five employees, some who have been there since the beginning, and Best says they’re what make his company succeed.

“We kind of changed our focus a couple of years ago, where we took East Coast Towing, which is ECT and thought of it as standing for ‘Employee, Customer, Team.’ So, the employees come first, and then the employees take care of the customer, and then that becomes our team.”

It’s important to Best to not only make his employees happy but to find their best fit in the company. It’s advice he takes from his favorite business book, Good to Great by Jim Collins.

“If you set people up for failure, they will fail, and we have guys we know can do certain things.  We have guys we know cannot do certain things. So we just don’t put them in the position where they can’t do something. We try to build everybody up. We want everybody to succeed and that comes from Good to Great. You know, you’ve got to get everyone on the bus and get them in the right seats. That’s pretty much bottom line.”

Best relates that East Coast Towing’s building burned down on New Year’s Day, 2010 and his team pulled together amazingly well to deal with the crisis.

“We moved them to a hotel suite and we dispatched our busiest three days we’ve ever had in business out of a hotel room.  Four trucks burned up and the employees, they never missed a beat. They dug in deeper. They were saying, ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.’ Even at my lowest point, all I had to do was just walk around and look at them, and I thought I can’t give up because nobody else is giving up.”

Interestingly, the types of employee Best says he can’t seem to attract are women. The field maintains a heavily male dominated one.

“I wish we could change it. I’ve had some female drivers and they do fantastic. A lot of customers, some are offended by it, but some are very much welcomed to it. You know, a female working with a female, they’re a little bit more relaxed. I would love for it to be more diverse, but it’s not.  It never has been.”

The troubled economy and rising gas costs haven’t been easy on Best’s company, but he says the recession has hurt him less than it might have in other fields.

“I don’t want to say we’re recession proof, because I don’t think we are by any means, but we don’t have some of the struggles of some folks, because cars are still going to break down. Things are still going to happen. If people stop moving, our business is going to slow down.”

Best explains that his business decisions are aided these days by technology, including traffic pattern cameras which assist in knowing the best locations to place trucks. It’s this kind of willingness to adapt technology to business needs that gives his company a leg up on competitors.

“Even in our line of business, there are people who use two-way communication still. That’s antiquated. That’s dinosaur days. Everything we do is electronic, and that is how you get up to running our kind of call volume. But you can’t knock some of the old ways, because some of the old ways are what built us.”

Best says that East Coast Towing plans to expand its market to the Charlotte area, a plan which has just recently been finalized through their AAA partnership.

“We’re always keeping our eyes open. Wherever it leads us, is where we’ll go. We’ll definitely go find it. This opportunity coming is something we’ve been waiting for.”

Best attributes this exciting growth opportunity to his company’s volume of business.

“Whereas some companies are set to run ten or fifteen calls a day, we’re more toward the two or three hundred calls a day.  If you can’t go in there and do it right, there’s no reason to go do it. That’s one thing AAA understands about me. We’re not going to do anything halfway. We’re going to go all in.”

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