After 22 years passionately looking after the Taranaki community’s automotive needs, Darren and Michelle Erb are showing no signs of slowing things down. Hannah Mumby talks to the AA Auto Service and Advantage Tyre Solutions owners about the road they’ve travelled, their new venture, and the secrets to a successful husband and wife business partnership.
“We decided early on that Michelle would make all of the little decisions, and I’d make all of the big decisions,” says Darren.
“And so far in 22 years, there’s been no big decisions to make.”
His tongue and cheek approach to “the rules” is perhaps, in fact, one of the secrets that has helped the local couple ride through the challenges that come with building a business from the ground up. “Splitting the tasks”, “staying in your lane”, and a clear sense of unwavering reciprocal support help too, they say.
Darren and Michelle’s recent opening of a brand new workshop and tyre retail shop in Bell Block has brought with it an opportunity to reflect on how far they’ve come since opening AA Auto New Plymouth on Courtenay St 22 years ago. Although they did it on a shoestring budget back then, Michelle says it felt a lot easier starting something in 2001, than it did in 2023.
“I guess everything was more basic back then. You needed one computer, we used our home printer…we even took our kitchen scissors from home to put in the drawer, which are still there.
“I guess those scissors are a nice reminder about how we started and how far we’ve come. You often get caught up in the doing, and don’t look back at what you’ve achieved, which we’re trying to do a lot more of now,” she says.
Both agree that cars and tyres aside, what they’ve actually made a career out of is looking after people. It’s a value that sits at the heart of what they’ve always done, and will continue to do with the opening of Advantage Tyre Solutions in Bell Block.
“We enjoy looking after people,” says Michelle. “If people are paying for something, then it’s absolutely their right to get the best service from you.”
From the comfortable reception area and fresh coffee, to the friendly and knowledgeable staff, the team always looks to provide a valuable package for each and every customer who drives into either of their locations.
“We don’t want to be just a tyre pricer,” says Darren. “We want to look at your car, ask you what you do with it, and find out what you actually need so you can get the most out of the tyres you’re putting on.”
Their goal is to sell you good tyres that will last as long as possible. It’s one that seems somewhat counterproductive to their bottom line, but Darren is happy with the “less tyres to more people” philosophy. And they have systems in place to make sure that happens.
“We remind you every six months to come in so we can look at how your tyres are wearing. With Michelin tyres, the first wheel alignment is free, and we also rotate and inflate them for life, for free. That will give you arguably 20% more life out of your tyres,” says Darren.
Advantage Tyre Solutions have tyres for sale that will spin everyone’s wheels, from entry level products, through to high-end tyres required for SUVs, camper vans and European cars. They’ve also invested in the equipment needed to service motorhomes, camper vans, buses and trucks at their Connett Rd workshop.
It was a growing list of commercial clients, and the acquisition of the former Beaurepaires franchise in New Plymouth, that instigated the decision to create a purpose-built facility in Bell Block.
“About 65% of our business is with our commercial clients, and we had outgrown our New Plymouth site. When we acquired Beaurepaires, it morphed into something really big, really quickly. It became an opportunity and when we really looked at it, we thought it would be a good one,” says Darren.
With three shops now under their helm, believe it or not, Michelle and Darren are starting to take a slight step back from the day-to-day running of things and let their expert team do the doing.
“That’s probably the most exciting thing for me,” says Darren. “We’ve got this new shop up-and-running and the people and systems in place who can run it without our daily input. It allows us to step back and enjoy something else, or focus on another challenge,” he says, sheepishly.
“But it really is a barometer of success when people come in and say to you, “I’m actually just here to see Paul”, or whoever it may be. We’re lucky to have some great people on our team.”
That team has now grown to 17 across both locations, many of whom have contributed to numerous awards won over the years. The New Plymouth shop has been a Taranaki Chamber of Commerce Business Awards winner in the past, while it also took out the AA Auto Centre Franchise of the Year in 2021.
Darren and Michelle say they’re nice moments to reflect on, because there’s certainly been some tough challenges along the way, too – Covid being the main one.
With the new shop now open and set to thrive, the road ahead is an exciting one for the couple who offer Taranaki the best “real life tyre solutions” around. Their journey to date is one of passion and perseverance, and also a nice reminder that in the world of business, success is not only driven by profit margins, but the satisfaction of knowing every customer has been well looked after.
Advantage Tyre Solutions
Cnr Connett Rd and Mustang Dr, Bell Block
AA Auto Centre & Advantage Tyres
147 Courtenay St, New Plymouth
06 759 4242