I first met my good friends Wendel and Ron Burt at the old Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. headquarters in Akron, Ohio, in 1987. At the time, they worked for Triangle Tire Service in Bountiful, Utah. They were young, bright, and talked about the importance of family and religion.
The elder brother, Wendel, was hoping to take back an overview of the management seminar Goodyear was sponsoring for its dealers. He got his wish.
“The business simulation was an eye-opener for me,” he said at the time. “There is nothing more important than the sale, but controlling expenses and inventory can make or break a business. The simulation made you more aware of the cash flow circle.”
In August 1991, they opened their own Burt Brothers Tire & Service outlet in Bountiful. “Without a doubt, the most pivotal turn in my career was the willingness of my brother, Ron, to join me in a leap of faith to begin Burt Brothers,” says Wendel.
“Our goal at that time was simple: sell at least one tire every day. Fortunately we met that goal with only a few misses, and now, with nine stores, have our sights set on 340 tires a day.”
As they added stores, I kept in touch, visiting their operation in 2001. Along the way, I also have gotten to know their five sons, who now find themselves in management roles.
At the Goodyear Dealer Conference in Washington, D.C., earlier this year, on the eve of the company’s 25th anniversary, I caught up with the sons, Jake (the oldest), Jeremy, Brandon, Jason and Cory, millennials all, as they prepare to take the family business into the future. — Bob Ulrich
MTD: Do the five of you plan to work together running and perhaps growing the company, or do you plan to run off and do your own thing?
Brandon Burt (general manager): I feel like we’ve done a really good job growing up, working hard together, but playing hard together. My vision, at least for the five of us, is to stick together. I know, obviously, we’ll have our differences, but I feel like we’re really strong as a group.
We all have strengths we bring to the party, and I think that will allow Burt Brothers to grow.
Cory Burt (manager of the Farmington, Utah, store): I think our success really will be measured on how we stick together. I love each of us as brothers. I would consider all of us brothers, and we all play a significant role.
Finding our niche and working hard and the mutual respect that we have for each other and grew up having for each other — that’s going to be a key to our success.
Jason Burt (manager of the Riverton, Utah, store): We were all raised with those same core values of hard work. Wendell and Ron trained us all really well. They got us fitted for brooms really early in life, and I think that’s been really the key to our success. Our concerns or growing pains have been finding the people who share those values, to represent our company at the highest level. We ran out of Burts a long time ago, and so we need every Burt we can get!
Jeremy Burt (warehouse and marketing operations manager): We’re able to grow because each of us wears a different hat in the company. If there was only one of us going off to do it, he’d have to wear all the hats.
We’re somewhat stronger as a team, and if you have that negative or bad day, you just have to remember what it would be like to wear all the hats instead of just the one you’re carrying that day, or your role that day.Jake Burt (manager of the Cottonwood, Utah, store): We are only as strong as our weakest link. It changes. It’s a revolving door there, but we know that. That’s what brings us our own strengths. I strive harder every day to make it happen for my whole team, not only my 20 employees, but also our 250 employees as a company. It’s something that we try to do on our own levels in our own individual stores, but when the five of us go out, we’re examples in all of our other stores, too.
We all know that we probably could do it alone, but as much fun as we’re having doing it all together, why would we want to do that? We’re way stronger as five, and it’s fun.
Jason: The rising tide raises the whole ship, or something of that nature.
MTD: What are your individual business strengths, starting with you, Jake?
Jake: I think my strength is a good, positive attitude, and keeping everybody chipper and on track. I’m excited with everything I do. I have an enthusiasm level that is very contagious. I love to teach and train.
Jeremy: My strength would be organization. And inventory, and keeping control of our cash flow, because you can tie up a lot with inventory. And I’ve enjoyed doing the marketing. It’s been a lot of fun.
Brandon: I think my strength is being able to be a good sounding board for everybody’s ideas. I think a lot of these guys like calling me for an idea they’ve had, and then once we bounce it off each other, we’re then able to decide the right way. Not that their way wasn’t the right way, but we come up with a good solution. I think that’s because of my role (as general manager). I think it brings us all together. I like being able to do that.
Jason: I definitely agree. I love bouncing ideas off of Brandon. He’s definitely good at that.
Cory: I really think that from a young age, we’ve been taught to really care about our customers, and I feel like I have a passion for customers and sales. I love selling stuff, whether it’s tires, wheels, accessories, whatever it is. And I have a passion for customer service. I love it and I love taking care of good people. We couldn’t do it without really good customers, and we have to find a way to take care of those customers every day.Jason: I like to get out of that traditional way of thinking. What we’ve been learning in these meetings (at the Goodyear Dealer Conference) is the traditional way is not going to work tomorrow. As the five of us grow up, we are breaking through those barriers Ron and Wendell went through. It wasn’t a bad thing. It’s just the business has changed so drastically since we’ve gotten heavily involved. So I don’t know if I want to take the “work smarter, not harder” approach, but there are processes that we follow.
I’m the operations guy who wants to make the processes streamlined. With my love of computers, I guess I would say I probably fall into the IT support group, if we had one of those. That’s one of my strengths.
Just getting our processes streamlined, bouncing ideas off each other, and making sure we make the correct decision going forward, that’s important to me, that we’ve thought about it from an operational and execution standpoint before implementing it. I want it to be dialed in before it becomes a flop.
Burt Brothers, the next generations
Less than one third of family businesses survive the transition from first to second generation ownership, according to Forbes. Another 50% don’t survive the transition from the second to third generation.
The second generation Burts don’t see that happening at Burt Brothers Tire & Service, a nine-store dealership based in Bountiful, Utah.
“I think we’ve all been instilled that we don’t want to let (founders) Ron and Wendel down,” says Brandon Burt, general manager. “I think we, as the second generation, get a bad rap, especially in this industry. We have an uphill battle the whole time.
“We’re going to kill it. That’s what we’re going to do. We want to prove we’re not the average guys.”
“We’re going to beat the odds,” adds Cory Burt, manager of the Farmington, Utah, store.
All five of the second-generation Burt children have their own kids. Jake Burt, manager of the Cottonwood, Utah, store, has an 11-year-old. They all agree, however, that it’s too early to think about the third generation.
And if any of the kids are interested, Jason Burt, manager of the Riverton, Utah, store, knows how they will break into the business.
“I imagine they’ll be pushing brooms. It worked well for us.”