Blue Collar Baller

Jul 22, 2013

Owner Joe Salafia and his team of 10 employees have found themselves on the receiving end of a number of prestigious awards, including being listed among the 10 Best Custom Shops in North America by DuPont Registry and Top 20 Custom Shops in America by

The shop also has earned a consistent stream of high-profile clients, including hip-hop artists and performers Ice-T (with wife Coco), Queen Latifa and Redman; and professional athletes like New York Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks, teammates Brandon Jacobs and Jason Pierre-Paul, and dozens of other NFL Super Bowl Champions.

To top it off, Action Tire was recently profiled on the MTV program “The DUB Magazine Project.”

With all that great momentum, it’s easy to assume Salafia would immediately identify those A-list projects and recent accomplishments among the things he’s most proud of as a business owner. But it’s actually the blue-collar core of Action Tire that thrills him most.

“What I’m most proud of is that we’ve got a growing base of everyday, middle-class customers who love our shop. That’s the foundation of our business and our bread and butter,” Salafia says.

“We love doing great work for celebrities and athletes, many of them have become close friends and I appreciate them,” he adds. “But at the end of the day, we also want to do great work for those customers who save money for months or years to afford to come in and spend $1,500 or $2,000 on their vehicle. We want those guys to be just as excited to be working with us.”

Deep Shop Roots

Salafia has a keen awareness of Action Tire’s “bread and butter” consumer demographic because he’s helped carve that niche since he was hired 25 years ago. He was straight out of high school in 1986, trying eagerly to make his first car payments when he applied at Action Tire. After an initial rejection, the shop’s management at the time ultimately relented and gave the young Salafia a job changing out wheels and tires.

Salafia showed promise and was promoted to a sales job with the company. He excelled quickly in the new role. Through the years, his commitment to customer service garnered him a loyal customer base and ultimately led to him receiving the opportunity to acquire the company in 2005.

Since taking over as principal of Action Tire, Salafia has witnessed a great deal of change in both his business-the company has significantly branched out from offering only wheels and tires-and in the broader industry, which toiled through several years of challenging economic conditions. What hasn’t changed, however, is Salafia’s steadfast approach to maintaining a smooth day-to-day operation, he says.

“While I am the boss now, I still take deliveries, answer phones and break down boxes,” Salafia says. “That’s the work and that is my work ethic. I started as a shop guy and I’m still a great salesman. Those are the things I truly love to do.”

Holding Steady in Turbulent Times

While Salafia readily admits that business isn’t quite as brisk as it may have been a few years ago, he’s proud of how the Action Tire team relentlessly works to stay ahead of its competitors, many of which have fallen off during the recent downturn.

The company’s staff of 10 includes a couple of part-time office and administrative workers, and Salafia’s sister, Ida, the company’s indispensable office manager.

Located just off of U.S. Route 46 in Lodi, and about 15 miles west of Upper Manhattan in New York City via the George Washington Bridge, Action Tire occupies three separate buildings. One building serves as a dedicated 4,000-square-foot, two-story showroom highlighting the company’s finest work. Another building houses four install bays with access to outdoor install space.

Action Tire’s install bays represent the company’s successful transition from being just a wheel-and-tire operation to becoming a one-stop shop for all appearance and performance accessories.

“Our specialty is tires and wheels and it probably always will be,” Salafia says. “We inventory a very large selection of exotic fitments, from Bentleys and Mercedes to many other exotic vehicles. We carry them in-stock and on-premise, so we have the ability to cater to a larger selection of high-end customers while also being able to do great work with more common vehicles.

“In any given day, we could be doing a Honda Civic with 16s and later that day we’re putting 22s on a Bentley Speed coupe,” he adds. “Then after that, we could be helping a guy with a small sound system and helping another guy who drops off a car to stay with us for the next three months. We’re among only a handful of shops that can accommodate that range of work, and that’s a very exciting part of what we do.”

Beyond wheels and tires, Action Tire can accommodate nearly any customer request, from interior and exterior accessories, mobile audio and satellite TV, to a wide range of performance upgrades. With the exception of custom painting, which Action Tire subcontracts to a nearby specialist with longtime ties to Salafia and his team, all of the shop’s work is done in-house, providing customers with a streamlined experience.

“Going way back, we’ve been known as a company that pushes new things,” he says. “As the wheel industry grew, we recognized the need to do the plus-one, plus-two concept (of adding larger wheel and tire packages to stock vehicles), and that’s really how we made our mark. When I bought the place in 2005, I wanted to be recognized as one of the industry’s best, so we quickly incorporated a whole new set of audio and interior products.

“We knew that when we had a customer in the door, we had to offer everything they asked for if we were really going to be among the best in the industry.”

To that end, Salafia notes the importance of delivering only products from proven, reputable manufacturers to his customers.

“I don’t do business with everybody. You want to stick with major, high-quality manufacturers-those that stand behind the product if something should go wrong. And beyond that, I have to like you,” he says. “I stick with brands like Asanti, Lexani, TSW, Forgiato, MHT, TIS and many more because in good and bad times, we know we support each other.”

Getting the Word Out

When a shop is winning awards and securing high-profile clients, marketing tends to become more of an afterthought. That’s certainly not the case at Action Tire.

Just as the shop innovates when it comes to product trends, it also dedicates one staff member, Janelle Morales, to using social media to communicate the positive stories and the great work done at the shop.

“Using sites like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, that’s the way things get done now,” he says. “It does a few things for a shop. You can look up your competitors and see what they’re doing and not doing. And you can communicate about great things that are happening at your business, like awardsand special projects. And you can post photos of your work, which helps to give people a sense of the quality of your work.”

Social media has become the tool Action Tire uses to get its customized message out. The message itself, Salafia says, will always encompass the shop’s quality work and dedication to service. That resonates with customers and creates word-of-mouth advertising, the most valuable sort of promotion, he adds.

“The best thing you can do as a shop is provide great customer service,” Salafia says. “We’re going on 26 years, and I can say with confidence that word of mouth is your most powerful tool. If you do great work and provide great service, they’ll tell three, four, five other friends. If you do something very wrong, they might tell 100.”

In fact, a number of Action Tire’s highest profile awards of late have come directly from this word-of-mouth momentum.

“We actually had very little or nothing at all to do with the nominations,” says Salafia. “The publications called my peers or my customers or my manufacturers. The work speaks for itself, but if you do get the respect of your peers and the manufacturers that provide you product, it opens other doors.”

And while the awards and big projects are rolling in, Salafia and the team at Action Tire are mindful to stay humble.

“Now, 100 percent, we’ll promote those awards because we’re proud of them. We’ll list it on our social channels and website or whatever,” he says. “But I’m a pretty low-key person and the shop is the same way. We don’t brag. That’s not our style.”

Not All Roses, but Close

All in all, Salafia is proud of how far Action Tire has come over the years, but he knows things could be better and works to make them so.

“Economic times are tough right now and we’re in a disposable-income based luxury business,” he says. “Customizing a vehicle isn’t at the top of the list for many people right now. Because of that, we are not doing the volume that we did at one time, but we’re still keeping ahead of our competitors.

“It’s a total team effort. We’re nothing without our staff,” he adds. “Brett Levy, our sales manager, and the guys in the shop–the whole office team-everybody’s on board with being the best we can be.”

And that makes for a lot of happy customers and employees, he says, noting that he has employees that have worked with Action Tire for more than 20 years. On the customer side, providing work that results in high fives and big smiles is what this work is all about.

“Honestly, the best part of my job is just seeing the smiles on the customers’ faces when you present them with the keys to a vehicle,” he says. “Those smiles are the best fruits of your labor. They will tell you how much they saved to get the work done, ask to take a picture with you, things like that.

“We work really hard at our craft and we enjoy what we’re doing,” he says. “And if business isn’t what it used to be or what it could be, that makes us work harder to remain at the top of the business. And we always try to put our best foot forward.”

With that mentality, there are sure to be many other happy new Action Tire customers on the road very soon.