To understand what it takes to reach a centenary in the modern business world, look no further than Ziegler Tire & Supply Co.
The Massillon, Ohio-based dealership celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2019, so it’s safe to say Ziegler Tire knows how to stay in business for the long haul.
Modern Tire Dealer asked three members of the company’s leadership team – Bill Ziegler, John Ziegler Jr. and Nate Clements – how the company stands the test of time. Bill is president, John is vice president, and Nate, who joined the company in 2005, is chief operating officer.
Four traits emerged from their reflections: conservative financial practices, a strong sense of corporate identity, a laser-sharp focus on customers, and long-lived relationships with customers, suppliers, employees and the community.
MTD: What is your financial philosophy? How do you get through the hard times?
John: We’ve always stayed conservative, even from the growth side. It’s made sense for us and for people who we are working with. For example, our last venture in West Virginia, a commercial center and a retail center in Parkersburg, was a win-win. It worked out well for the previous owner and for us.
One of the best things Nate did was take financial information and translate it to what we need to do, whether this is increase our inventory turns or reduce our receivable days because the cash flow side is just so critical. Profits are one thing and cash flow is another, but they go hand in hand.
Bill: We’ve always been conservative. When (company founder) Oliver Ziegler went through the Great Depression, expansion stopped. We didn’t start expanding again until the 1970s. Oliver was just trying to hold on. The Great Depression had a negative effect on him. When he started in 1919, he expanded quickly into four stores, then the Great Depression came, and he really backed off expansion.
Editor’s note: The Great Depression, which lasted from 1929-1939, forever changed Oliver Ziegler. Bill was Modern Tire Dealer’s Tire Dealer of the Year in 2009. He explained Oliver’s experience with banks to MTD: “The Depression had a huge effect on us,” says Bill. “We had a loan with our bank and part of the collateral was our receivables. The bank sold our receivables to another bank without notifying us! In the meantime, our bank went out of business. The new bank wanted their money. The brothers found a way to pay it, but we were very close to going out of business.”
As a result, Oliver held banks in contempt for the rest of his life. Ziegler Tire didn’t develop a credit line with a bank until the 1970s.
MTD: How do you keep a focus on your customers?
Nate: There’s a lot of challenges out there. We have to stay focused on what we’re good at: tires and service. We can’t get too wrapped up in other things, like manufacturers selling direct to customers.
John: I think dealing with people is our competitive advantage in the market right now, on the commercial side. We’ve got commercial guys whose job is to keep fleets’ expenses as low as they can with the products and services we offer. That’s where we earn their trust and that’s where the partnership grows.
Bill: Thanks goodness we’re large enough that we can have competitive pricing. If you start chasing too many prices, it’s a rabbit hole you’re never going to get out of. That’s the biggest issue right now. Even though customers are loyal and we have built up relationships, if we slip on our service or get our prices too far out of whack, we’re going to have difficulties.
MTD: Why is identity important to your longevity?
Bill: Our identity is our brand. We have to do what’s best for Ziegler Tire. As long as we keep that philosophy and not chase every manufacturer’s dream for us, I think we’re in better shape. It comes down to taking care of customers. That’s what creates your identity and that’s why it’s so important.
John: How many other companies have been taking care of people for a hundred years, whether it’s a retail customer or a commercial fleet? You can’t go into business and invent the fact you are a hundred years old. You’ve got to earn that. That’s what makes me work harder every day.
Nate:. When I started in 2005, most people thought Ziegler Tire was four stores (in the Canton, Ohio, area.) They didn’t know 70% to 80% of the business was commercial and spread out at that point in two states, Pennsylvania and Ohio. Since then, we’ve expanded into Kentucky and West Virginia.
MTD: How do you build long-term relationships with employees, customers, vendors and the community?
Nate: The Zieglers – the company and the family – are very loyal. That’s something they should be very proud of. And that’s something that a lot of our long term-employees recognize.
John: That extends to our suppliers. We are loyal to our suppliers, as long as it’s a good partnership, and obviously loyal to our customers.
Nate: It’s loyalty to customers and being up front and honest with them. You can make promises, but you are going to make mistakes. We are always going to stand behind what we do and make it right. And that’s one of the ways you survive 100 years.
Most of the success that Zieglers have had over the years is based off of our employees--the people out there in the field doing emergency road service calls at two in the morning when its minus-five degrees. We hold them to a high standard. Customers hold them to a high standard.
Bill: It’s extremely difficult to find employees. We treat them very well, we pay them very well, and they really want more training. The Ziegler family has a very strong work ethic, which rubs off on people. They see us working hard. I was always told don’t ask someone to do something you can’t do yourself.
John: We’ve done it all at some point. I remember pumping gas, I remember changing tires. I remember mounting snow tire retreads. I remember coming home for winter breaks and changing truck tires. I remember tarring the roof on the warehouse in in the middle of summer.
Bill: No matter what we have or how big we are, it comes down to people. If we have good people, we’ll do very well. That’s our biggest emphasis: developing, maintaining and hiring good people.