So has customer retention been a problem over those seven decades?
Let’s hear from Scott Valley resident Carol Lenherr. Her father-in-law Bill Lenherr and his family lived on Elm Ave. at the time Malugani opened his shop in a little Montford Ave. warehouse behind the 2am Club. The Maluganis lived on Hilarita Ave., and their backyards connected. To say that the Lenherrs have been Malugani Tire customers ever since then would be, well, understating it, Carol Lenherr says.
“Customers?” she says, aghast. “They were family then and they remain so now – we never even thought of them as friends. You couldn’t hope to know better people in the world than them – what you see is what you get.”
Muir Beach native Angie Banducci, whose grandfather Amadeo Banducci was one of Malugani’s first customers, agrees.
“We have been going to them forever,” says Banducci, noting that each generation of her family has patronized Malugani. “I can roll in there anytime with a question or anything. There was a time when I had pulled to the side of the road and had my hood up, and one of the Malugani guys pulled over to see if I was OK. That’s above and beyond.”
Like most businesses, providing a good product and/or service at a good price remains the hallmark of success and stability. But as Malugani’s third-generation owner Kendal Savelli sees it, the relationships are the most critical piece.
“When you come in, we typically know who you are, and we’re just as excited to talk about you and your kids and your dogs as we are about your tires,” Savelli says. “That makes a difference, and it’s a connection that in many cases goes back a long time.”
Dan Malugani Sr. opened his tire shop in 1948, moving it six years later to the adjacent space where Happy Feet Dance School is today. Malugani recapped tires in that space until 1982. Over those years, the family also opened a shop in the 493 Miller Ave. space where the business resides today, from 1968 to 1978.
When that lease ended in 1978, Malugani moved the shop to the corner of East Blithedale and Ashford avenues, where the Chevron gas station is now located. It was in those years when Savelli began working there, having studied at the feet of her father, Dan Malugani Jr.
“It was just need based,” Savelli says. “I was going to College of Marin and doing the books for my dad already, and he was working on his own and needed help. When I started working there full-time, I liked the business aspect of it and my dad and I got along really well.”
By 1985, Savelli was signing a commercial lease for a new space on La Goma Street and “the rest is history,” she says.
Savelli moved the business back to the 493 Miller space in 1995 and it’s been there ever since. Savelli’s husband John began working at the business in 1985, and then her cousin Ken Monge hopped on board in 1993. Cousin Michael Monge joined in 1998. All four run the business as partners.
“That’s kind of how a family business works – when you’re not sure what you’re going to do while you’re in school or when you finish school, you work at the family business,” Savelli says. “Some move on and some stay – we’ve stayed.”
The family affair-style works for the quartet. “Everyone in that front office is family,” Savelli says. “We all have the same buy-in and work ethic. We talk about a lot at our meetings and knowing our market and making sure we recognize that our customers are busy people, so it’s our job to make their experience here as seamless as possible.”
Lenherr calls Malugani’s tenure in Mill Valley “the most beautiful history. We’ve always been customers – and we still are. They are real human beings that care about each other and their jobs and their families and their community.”
“They’re just a lovely, lovely family,” adds Banducci, who attended Tam High with Michael Monge. “And it’s no coincidence that they’ve been able to stay around as long as they have.”