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August 9, 2014
by Dustin Speckhals
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Working at Discount Tire

This is the second in a multi-part series about the places I’ve worked. You can read the first in the series about Culligan Water Conditioning here.

“To be the best! Our unique success is based on caring for and cultivating people, delighting our customers, and growing responsibly.”

I first learned the mission statement in July, 2004 on my first day of work at the Delta Township, Michigan Discount Tire. After finishing working at Culligan, I began the search for a new job, and found one amazingly fast. The first place I went to, I asked to speak with the Manager, and he was interested in hiring me right away. After filling out the application, I received a call a few days later offering me the position at Discount Tire Co.

Why did I think of seeking a job at Discount Tire first? About a month before, while still working at Culligan, I got a flat tire and had to get it repaired. The first place I saw was on my way home was Discount Tire, so that’s where I went. Now, my dad had purchased tires from Discount Tire on many occasions, so the place wasn’t completely new to me; but I had never had to get a flat repaired before, so I went to the first place I saw off the highway! I remember one of the associates coming to my car, rolling the flat tire into one of the bays, and walking me inside, being very friendly and accommodating in the whole process. During my short wait, I remember thinking, “If I had to work somewhere else, this would be the place.” The technicians looked like they truly enjoyed their work, service was quick, and the customer service was out-of-this-world. Thus, the first place I tried looking for a new job was at Discount Tire Co; and I was blessed to get it.

The Discount Tire Co. was founded in Ann Arbor, Michigan in the ’60’s by a man named Bruce Halle. Over time, the company grew and expanded, and by the time I left in 2008, they had just over 700 stores nationwide. They are big pretty much everywhere nationwide, except in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states (which is ironically where I live now!). The location I worked at was famous for being the 500th store.

First, I have to admit, I knew very little about cars before starting at Discount Tire. They knew that, and were willing to train me with everything I needed to know. The training program with the company is top-flight. There were strong elements of apprenticeship, material reading, hands-on work, observation, and immersive learning. The first thing that anyone learns when starting at Discount Tire, whether an hourly associate or a manager, is the mission statement previously quoted (I still remember it years later!). After that, associates progress through a “passport”, which is a listing of different company certifications that are learned, tested, and re-tested before being allowed to do those things. Some example certifications are: tire size, speed ratings, de-installation, installation, un-mounting, mounting, balancing, and siping. I wish I still had my passport as a keepsake!

My first responsibility as the “new guy” was being the associate who worked on unloading new tires off of vendor trucks, and putting them away in an organized way. As tough as work could be at Culligan from time to time, it was nothing compared to taking care of tire stock. There was a lot of physical labor, but on top of all of that, there was a lot of thinking involved. A usual day consisted of unloading between 200 and 400 new tires off the back of a semi and stacking them by size and brand. After the entire order was accounted for, the rest of the day was spent putting that stock away in its rightful place on the shelves. At first, all of the numbers and brands were completely gibberish to me; this was definitely immersive learning! I made lots of mistakes (putting the stock away in the wrong place, mixing sizes, etc.), but after a few months, I felt that I had it down to a science. For about 6 months, inventory was my main job function. At times it was not very enjoyable, but I am so thankful for those months; I learned practically every tire, knew what every brand’s tread looked like by sight, and could quickly find what I needed when I needed it in later job functions.

My manager at Discount Tire, Steve, was always flexible with my schedule. As the summer of 2004 was coming to a close, they asked if I could stay on and work after school during the week, as well as a full day Saturday. Of course, I was excited to say, “Yes!” Each day after school, I would rush and throw my uniform on, then drive the six minutes to the store in West Lansing on Marketplace Drive. When I’d arrive, I got to jump right into whatever needed done. As my first year progressed, I worked less on inventory and more on tire installation. I’m also thankful that Discount Tire kept me busy all the time. I don’t remember many “open days” where I had nothing to do but sit at home.

mil28

I would say my last day of being the “stock guy” was Friday, November 26, 2004. The day after Thanksgiving is commonly known as “Black Friday.” We often think of people pushing each other over at Best Buy, and fights breaking out at Wal-Mart. Believe it or not, Black Friday is a huge day in the tire retail business as well. People would leave their cars at the tire place for a few hours while they went shopping. Black Friday, 2004 in Michigan was extra-special, though: it was also the day of the first big snow of the year. The first big snow always brings hoards of customers who all of a sudden realize that they have no traction with their bald tires in the snow. So, November 26th, being Black Friday and the year’s first snowstorm, was a perfect storm. There was no time for anyone to put stock away. There was no time for anyone to do anything other than work on cars and deal with customers. I was thrown into the mix when I first got to the store at 7:30a. I was certified in all of the things I needed, but at the time I usually didn’t do technician work. I quickly got into the rhythm. The day was a blur! We closed the doors at 5:00p, and were finished by about 6:30p. At the end of the day, it was by far the busiest day the store had ever had, and it actually might still be the record day that store has ever had. We all took a picture in the lobby (sopping wet and freezing from all of the snow!) that evening, and I bet it still hangs on the store wall in Lansing. Our corporation even rewarded us for that day by taking us all out to Carrabba’s! After that day, I transitioned from being the “stock guy” to a tire tech.

Learning to be a tire tech was challenging at times, but once I started to get the hang of it, I began to enjoy what I did. I had the opportunity to work on some pretty interesting vehicles, including: Bentley, Rolls Royce, Dodge Viper, big country-boy trucks, and even an antique Model-T once! Even with just working on tires and wheels, I learned that every make/model/style has their own intricacies. Many European cars have bolt-through lugs. Most Japanese-made cars torque their wheels at 80 lbs., while German cars are at 90 lbs., and American cars tend to be around 100 lbs. Also, split rims are super-difficult and can kill you if you don’t watch it. There’s nothing like making an older gentleman happy my just putting a tube in his lawn tractor tire. Oh, and some old hot rods’ lugs are reverse-threaded on the left side of the car (can be tricky!). And never use fix-a-flat: you look like an idiot if you do :-) It’s funny that 7 years later, I can still remember all of this!

tires

You can ask my mom about this one: every day getting home from work, I would be covered in black rubber/dirt; especially my arms! Often in the summer months, I would be drenched in sweat by noon. Working with black tires all day outside will do that to you! I would sometimes come home at lunch, jump in the pool, scrub all the dirt off me, throw my uniform back on, then head back in for the second half of the day. The Michigan winters were freezing, of course. The wind could whip into those bays, freeze my snowy-wet hands, and every hour or so, I’d have to put my gloves in front of a kerosene heater for a few minutes.

As I finished my first full year at Discount Tire in July, 2005, it was also the time in my life where I was preparing for college at Fairhaven. I remember Steve asking me if I could work during holidays and summers, and I thought, “Sure…like you’re really going to keep hiring me back year after year.” They did. Ever Christmas, every Spring Break I had, and every summer, I was back at Discount Tire. They didn’t even question it. I realize now how big of a blessing it was to have a job in place before I even came home for the summer. One summer between my sophomore and junior year of college, I was actually transferred to another location about 5 miles away until the next semester started; I didn’t mind it, but I think I liked my original store better.

We Discount Tire associates seemed to always have a sense of camaraderie with each other. I think turnover was pretty low (except for me leaving at the end of every summer!). We had fun working on cars in the garage. We would race (in a safe manner) to see who could rotate tires the fastest — I could win often :-) . Our manager Steve was all about that too. A few Saturdays a year, he would take the team out for breakfast on a Saturday before the shop opened. He would also challenge us a lot to be better. “What’s the mission statement? Did you make sure to greet that customer as he was watching his car being worked on? Are you smiling? Did you shave this morning (oh yes…no scruffy techs in our shop!)? Are you having fun?” I heard those things from Steve often, and I even miss it at times! I have to say, of all the places I’ve worked, and not to down any other place, thinking of Discount Tire, store MIL-28 makes me smile the most. And I’m not going out on a limb to say I wouldn’t be the person I am today without working there.

This past May, a married Software Engineer working for a logistics company drove into the parking lot of the Discount Tire at 650 N. Marketplace with his gorgeous wife and two little boys in a red 2010 Hyundai Santa Fe. He needed four new tires put on the vehicle that he refused to let anyone else work on but this place. As the tires were being installed in bay 2, there was some serious sentimentalism going on…

I hadn’t been back to this place for almost seven years. I only saw one familiar face: an assistant manager I knew from working down the street. Unfortunately Steve was on vacation that week, but he was still the fearless manager of the store! I then started asking about some of the people I had worked with over the years there. It was neat to hear that so many had advanced their careers with the company. At any given time, there were a dozen or so associates working at a store (though not all at the same time). I mentioned at least a dozen different guys, and almost every one of them still worked for Discount Tire Co. Several had their own stores. Even more were assistant managers. That is a good example of company loyalty! But some things never change: the smell of tires in a store-room is still the same; the sound of mounting machines, impact guns, and torque wrenches; greeting every customer; even the hooting and hollering of the techs in the back as they had fun working. This is Discount Tire. This was my life just a few short years ago!

P.S. I did take pride in showing one of the associates how to install the TPMS sensors in my Hyundai tires this past May: I’ve still got it in me!

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June 6, 2014
by Dustin Speckhals
1 Comment

Working at Culligan

This is the beginning of a short series about the places where I’ve worked. There are plenty of fun memories, and an immense amount I’ve learned since I was 15. This will likely be only up to, but not including my current job. It’s not usually very ethical to talk about your current place of employment, even if it’s all positive. What’s my purpose in this? I guess it’s just “musing.” Maybe it can be an encouragement to others as well.

First, let me make it clear that the most important catalyst to me having any sense of a work ethic came from my father. Against every grain that was in me as a teenager, he pushed and prodded, pressed and punished me into having a strong work habit. I am far from being a super hard-worker, but any bit that I do have came from him. I would probably be a pretty sorry worker if it wasn’t for my dad’s encouragement to make me better. I may not have liked him making me mow the lawn right — and making me fix it when it was wrong — when I was 13, but I am out -of-this-world thankful for it today.

In September, 2001 my family built and moved into a house just south of Grand Ledge, Michigan. The well water there was very hard and always had a strong sulfur scent. We installed a water softener soon after the home was built to help alleviate the problem. Several months later — I guess it would have been about June of the next year — something broke in the system; I can’t remember what. The water was pretty horrible without the softener, so my dad called the place that installed it: Culligan Water Conditioning of DeWitt.

The person who came to repair the system, Art, quickly fixed the problem (a timer needed reset). I happened to be the only one at home when he made the service call, so he explained to me what he did. I basically just nodded my head and acknowledged that I’d let my dad know. As he was getting ready to head back to his truck, he asked if I needed a job for the summer, and told me how much they would pay. I was 15, and wasn’t all that interested, but I said that I’d talk to my dad about it and get back to him.

When my dad got home from work, I told him that Culligan had offered me a job to work for the summer. He was thrilled about it, and said that I should call back and say, “Yes!” Again, I had never really had much of a job other than shoveling some neighbors’ driveways and mowing their lawns, so I was a bit timid about the whole idea. But I was 15, and figured that it was about time for me to start working somewhere, at least for the summer.

It was about this time, right before I started at Culligan, that my dad set a firm precedent in my life that continues to this day: don’t ever let work interfere with God; this included church services and activities. I had summer camp coming up, and my dad basically said I should be honest with them right off the bat about church. I called Art the day after he offered, letting him know that I was interested. I also mentioned that I could not work Sundays (they weren’t open then anyway), Wednesday nights (again, they weren’t open then), and asked if I could wait to start a week later because of camp. He said, “Of course you can wait! Have fun at camp! We’ll see you the Monday after.” I am not overstating that that statement was life-defining for me. I would find out over the years afterward that putting God first and having principal always turned out for the best.

I didn’t have my driver’s license yet, so I had to be taken to Culligan and picked up every day until I got it. My dad would usually drop me off, while my mom would often pick me up. My first day was mainly pulling weeds outside in the landscaping: lots and lots of pulling weeds. Yes, it was outside in the hot sun all day, but it was very fulfilling to put in an 8 hour day of hard work, and get payed for it on top of that! Over the coming weeks and months I was taught a lot. There were about a dozen employees at the shop total: 4 delivery drivers, 1 technician, 2 salesmen, 2 secretaries, and 2 owners who doubled as technicians. Then there was me; I took care of the shop, which included quite a lot: loading salt bags into customers vehicles, cleaning, washing company vehicles, disinfecting water coolers, and regenerating all of the older-style water softeners.

The most time consuming responsibility was the softener regeneration. It was pretty technical for a 15 year old! It started with double-backwashing the 150 lb tanks eight at a time. Sometimes the tubes would explode water everywhere, which was always fun to clean up! Then, the tanks would be hooked together 40 at a time and regenerated using a machine that would run water, salt, and sodium hydrosulfite through the steel softener tanks for about 2 hours. This would regenerate the resin in the tanks and allow them to be delivered to people’s homes again and used for another month.

steel tanks

While I regenerated the softeners, I found that I liked conservative talk radio a lot. During the summer, I would start with listening to Rush Limbaugh for three hours at noon, then Sean Hannity would come on at 3PM and I’d listen to him until I went home at 5. I kind of learned what it meant to be a conservative as a 15-16 year old in that garage! After my first summer was winding down there, Art (who was one of the owners) asked me if I could work afternoons during the school year as well. By this time, I loved my job, and definitely wanted to work during the school year. Being homeschooled made it easier to get there earlier in the afternoon as well.

Some fond memories that I had at Culligan were detailing all of the company vehicles for the DeWitt Ox Roast parade, getting to know the regular customers that would pick up salt, getting my clothes stained with chlorine all of the time, shoveling salt into the pit in the basement, shoveling snow off of the flat roof (you have to do that sometimes in Michigan if you don’t want the roof to cave in!), ordering Hungry Howie’s pizza on Tuesdays, helping with deliveries sometimes, and OSHA saying I had to wear a gas mask. The people that I worked with were all great as well.

Just as my 2 year anniversary of working at Culligan was about to pass, one of the two franchise owners passed away after a short battle with cancer. Soon afterwards our franchise merged with a larger franchise, and I lost the job that I loved! It was kind of sad for me because I loved the people that I worked with, but thankfully God had something else for me that I would enjoy even more. I was just finishing up my junior year of high school when Culligan DeWitt merged with Lansing. I knew that I had only about a year and a half before I would be going to college. I had to find another job, though, and God would give it to me much sooner than I would have ever expected…

location today

My few years at Culligan taught me what it meant to work for someone. I learned to be on time, faithful to my employer, and to get tasks done right. I was not always perfect at those things, but over time I would get better.

Eastwood_Brush_Farm_House[1]

July 11, 2013
by Dustin Speckhals
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Why Did You Have to Change Everything?

After several personal experiences I’ve had recently, I’ve come to a general conclusion that there are two types of people when it comes to user interface changes: those who think “awww…neat!” with updates and changes, and those who say “if it wasn’t broke, why did you fix it?” Let me illustrate by telling two short stories about what I was involved with this week. As a side note, and as you’ll notice by the end of this article, I’m in the “awww…neat!” camp.

Google Maps Update

Several weeks ago, Google revealed at the I/O Conference that the desktop and Android versions of their famed and very useful app was redesigned from the ground up. I saw a few early screenshots, read some explanations of the new features, and got an overall sense that the changes would be huge, but would generally make the app better. While Google updated the desktop Maps, they would also update their Android version. Let me say that I really like Google Maps; I wouldn’t say that I’m quite a “power user”, but it has been highly useable for me, especially on my Nexus 4. I wondered what this big update would bring…

Then the actual update was rolled out yesterday. No, I wasn’t one of the first to get it; I must have been pretty far down the list for them to push the update to me. Before I was able to experience it myself, I read a bunch of reviews in the Play Store, as well as Google+, and the overall consensus seemed to be “if it wasn’t broke, why did you fix it, Google!?” Most of the complaints were the removal of features that many users found to be sooooo important (Latitude, Location History, cached maps). I have to be honest that I had mixed feelings about the update before I even had downloaded the update.

When I arrived home from work today, lo and behold, I received a notification on my phone about the Maps update. I downloaded it right before dinner, then decided to play around with it a little. What was my reaction? “Awww…neat!” This is not meant to be a review of Maps, but I have to say that I like the new user interface (I’ll just call it UI from now on) way better than the previous one. Did I ever use Latitude or Location History? No. Maybe if I had used them, I would be a little more disappointed; otherwise, I think I would still love it.

My Work’s Menu System Update

In the middle of May, I was assigned an enormous task of leading the charge to update the UI of my company’s 1000+ user intranet Warehouse Management System (all web-based). Specifically, I was going to update the navigation system. At first, the task seemed very daunting to me, but once I started seeing the rewards, I got pretty excited about it. I went through the whole development process, and eventually ended up with a working version in the QA system by mid-June. We let every-day users examine it, critique it, and try to break it, with a pretty positive end result.

Let me say that the UI is very different. The old version was designed in the early-2000’s (table grid layout, no CSS, frames within frames, etc.) and many users that have been with the company when the system first came out and are completely used to the old UI, though they have a lot of complaints about the functionality and inefficiencies. I knew the most difficult piece would not be the development and testing, but rather user satisfaction.

Again, the users who used the QA system enjoyed the new UI, but there were still hundreds of users that did not try it out. I took every possible effort to have face to face meetings with dozens of users, handed out lots of documentation, and even put out a quick tutorial right in the middle of the new UI. There was one strange thing I noticed after blind-testing some users who did not know an update was happening; I had them read through the documentation, explain the benefits and time they will gain with the new UI, and told them there were instructions right on the screen just in case. Deployment Day was this Tuesday.

We updated our system at 6:30 in the morning, just in between user shifts. It was amazing to see the variety of reactions from people. The first reaction from nearly everyone was absolute shock. Then the new UI seemed to divide the two groups of users: “awww…neat!” and “if it wasn’t broke, why did you fix it?”.

I would say that the “awww…neat!” group comprised about 70% of users. The “if it wasn’t broke, why did you fix it?” group comprised the rest. Talking to people, I didn’t find any correlation between age, techno-knowledge, or experience in relation to their reaction. Honestly, it just seems like there are two different types of people.

What Does All of This Mean?

Designers and developers change things for a reason. It is impossible to satisfy everyone. Look at Apple with the new “flat” design of their icons. Look at Google with their Gmail rework a few months ago, and Microsoft with Windows 8. You can throw my company into that as well with the UI update. Do you really think that they all change things just to make people mad, or that they don’t ask users what they want? Of course not. It’s all about adapting to new technologies, making workflows more efficient, and giving the vast majority of users a much more enjoyable experience.

I believe that Apple is probably the best at this. Steve Jobs would push his engineers to not just give people what they want now, but give them what they don’t even know they want yet. That attitude breeds innovation. Google did this with their new Maps upgrade as well. If they had simply given users what they wanted for this release, it would just be another addition to the ‘ol farmhouse. What did they do instead? They remodeled that farmhouse. They gutted out the asbestos, put in new drywall, tacked on brand new siding, and made the place better. Yes, dad might not know where his overalls went to, but he’ll find them hanging in a much better place than on the upstairs shower bar where they were before. That’s how user interface changes should be perceived.

With that said, designers and developers will always have dissatisfied users. I think it’s the person making the change’s job to not tell them they are just old legacy users and get over it, but try to bring them along with the new interface. For us users, before saying, “if it ain’t broke, why fix it?”, say “awww…neat!” instead with application changes.

June 20, 2013
by Dustin Speckhals
0 comments

Review of “The Last Days”

tldThe Last Days is actually the first book by Joel C. Rosenberg that I’d read. As mentioned previously, though this is the second book in the actual series, it is the one I first got my hands on. Out of all the books in this series, the plot in this work is probably the most linear and simple to follow. Several main antagonists are introduced and detailed out, the main protagonists are built upon from The Last Jihad, and the more minor characters are also laid out before the reader in a very thoughtful manner.

Book two in Rosenberg’s political action thriller series that highlights the lives of Jon Bennett and Erin McCoy takes a swing to the war-ridden territory of the Gaza Strip. With Saddam Hussein’s regime overthrown in Iraq, the world turns to the Presidents of the United States and the European Union to bring a final, lasting peace to the Middle-East. This is seeming more and more likely to be accomplished until a series of events take place in Gaza that rivet the world; but in fact are just the beginning of a massive conspiratorial plot to destroy the free people of the world.

Bennett and McCoy are right in the middle of the peace process: appointed by President MacPherson of the United States to oversee a hopefully lasting peace and cooperation between the Israelis and Palestinians. Also appointed to join the peace process are two very influential figures respectively for the Israeli and Palestinian people: Dmitri Galishnikov and Ibrahim Sa’id. The negotiators unfortunately find themselves in the midst of a violent plot against peace; yet going through these events together bring the two sides closer together, allowing them to discuss differences and lay out a road map for peace.

I feel that Mr. Rosenberg presents a very accurate picture for main setting of The Last Days: the Gaza Strip, and specifically Gaza City. Though I have never visited there, it seems to be painted in a very real-to-life way to make the reader sympathize for the citizens that live there, as well as see the difficulty of introducing democracy and peace to a war-torn people.

As the narrative drew to its climax, I noticed just how much I enjoy Joel Rosenberg’s style of writing. He writes intriguing plots that, while complex, also seem realistic and honest. The spiritual plot also begins to first develop in the lives of the main characters in The Last Days. I feel that this is the book that “gets the ball rolling” in the lives of Jon and Erin. The remainder of the works in this series can be very emotionally driving at times, and this book lays the groundwork for Mr. Rosenberg to be able to weave in the complex spiritual and emotional plots that cap the series.

Of course, I am glad that I was able to read this via my Kindle, as well as listen to it with my wife via our Audible subscription. The reader was solid, easy-to-understand, and surprisingly precise with his pronunciation of some words in the Semitic languages and Russian. It is a joy to read an exciting, intelligently written, and well plotted book. Though it is best to read The Last Days second in the series, it ended up being fine with me coming back and reading The Last Jihad last, after reading this. Again, you won’t regret picking this up, taking a week or two, and reading The Last Days.