Retail

Capital Tire Has Relied on Family for Its Century of Success

Bob Ulrich
Posted on October 10, 2019

This is Capital Tire’s facility as it looked in 1960. Why was the business named Capital Tire? “Dad could never answer that question,” said Tom Geiger Jr.
This is Capital Tire’s facility as it looked in 1960. Why was the business named Capital Tire? “Dad could never answer that question,” said Tom Geiger Jr.
“But those who came before us will teach you. They will teach you from the wisdom of former generations.” Book of Job, Old Testament

The greatest loss Thomas Geiger Jr. ever experienced was the loss of his father on June 14, 2018. His love and respect for him notwithstanding, the younger Geiger says his father was a wealth of historical and valuable information about the tire industry.

Geiger Sr. learned about the early years from his father, Benjamin, who founded Capital Tire Inc. in Toledo, Ohio, in 1919. Then he lived it, starting at the retail tire dealership in 1945 at the age of 13. Five later it became his full-time job and career.

When he died at 86 years old, Geiger’s knowledge of the industry extended well beyond his years.

“I will miss the oral history he would tell me about this industry,” said the younger Geiger, president of Capital Tire. “He especially knew of where this industry had gone since the 1950s.

“My father said the greatest revolution in the automotive and tire industry was the Eisenhower Interstate Highway System in 1956 (officially the Federal-Aid Highway Act), which essentially allowed for the urbanization of rural America. Before that, everybody lived in town, where they often walked to work or walked to the grocery store or walked everywhere.”

Building the 46,000-mile coast-to-coast interstate highway system improved transcontinental driving safety and efficiency, which dramatically increased vehicle travel, says Geiger, who was four years old at the time. “That was really a big change.”

100 years old

“Time is the friend of the wonderful business, the enemy of the mediocre.” Warren Buffett

Capital Tire is one of four independent dealers in the U.S. celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2019. Also in 1919, the first issue of Modern Tire Dealer, under the name Tires & Accessories, was published. The others, which will be featured in our October, November and December issues, are Lewis General Tires Inc., Max Finkelstein Inc. and Ziegler Tire & Supply Co.

Benjamin Geiger was 24 when he finished his military obligation and started Capital Tire. “He died in 1970,” says Geiger Jr. “My first job was to work for my grandfather. He was semi-retired. He sold used tires.

“We would clean them up, paint them, pick the stones out of them. That’s what I would do.

“I was trained to repair a tire and hang a tire when I was 12 or 13 years old. The used tire business was a big business. It’s still around, but it was a big business in the 1960s. I’m talking 1967, when I first started here.”

Geiger Sr. and his son were running the business during the radial revolution.

“Everything was bias-ply until the early-to-mid 1970s,” says Geiger Jr. “Goodyear was our main supplier. They were late getting into radialization. It was really Michelin that started the radial revolution.

“To be honest, the first generation of radial tires in America was not very good. Tire manufacturers were feeling their way through that technology. I repaired them, too. They weren’t necessarily harder to repair, but they were very inconsistent. You’d have a lot of run-out problems.”

Capital Tire’s headquarters remains a museum to earlier times. Founder Ben Geiger first occupied the taller section on the left, located 500 feet from the original building, in 1923. The 1919 location was made into a city parking lot in the early 1950s.
Capital Tire’s headquarters remains a museum to earlier times. Founder Ben Geiger first occupied the taller section on the left, located 500 feet from the original building, in 1923. The 1919 location was made into a city parking lot in the early 1950s.
At one time, Capital Tire ran 20 retail locations. Geiger Jr., with the blessing of his father, sold off the retail locations and expanded the wholesale distribution organization. The company has 10 warehouses and delivers Goodyear, Cooper and Continental tires to 5,000 traditional tire retailers and car dealers in Ohio, Michigan and Indiana.

In July of this year, Capital Tire opened a new 68,000-square-foot replacement facility in greater Dayton, Ohio. It replaces a 30,000-square-foot warehouse. In September, the company will expand its Birch Run, Mich., facility from 60,000 to 90,000 square feet.

“Wholesale distribution became our core business in the 1970s,” says Geiger. “Both distribution and retailing have become very focused business models and we needed to pick one. Additionally, owning retail locations while being in the distribution business had the appearance of competing with our customers.”

Geiger says from his viewpoint, surviving for 100 years “is all about relationships at every level. Whether you are a retailer, distributor or the manufacturer, it doesn’t matter.

“The successful ones form strong relationships with their staff and associates, strong relationships with their suppliers and ultimately strong relationships with their customers.”

Geiger says it is a very challenging time for all distribution, whether the tires travel from business to business or business to consumer.

“TireHub and NTW are multigenerational changes that don’t happen every 10 years. They don’t happen even every 40 years. This is a big deal.

“It will take them awhile to figure out how to do it smoothly. Like us, Max Finkelstein has been doing what they’ve been doing for 100 years. It takes a long time to figure out this doggone industry and get it right.

Capital Tire has been a loyal Goodyear distributor for 72 years, says Geiger.

Benjamin J. Geiger, right, founded Capital Tire in 1919. He is pictured with his son, Tom Geiger, at the warehouse in 1955.
Benjamin J. Geiger, right, founded Capital Tire in 1919. He is pictured with his son, Tom Geiger, at the warehouse in 1955.
“I think Goodyear wants better control of their products than what it had. The ATD model is more of a grocery store model. It does not necessarily focus on a brand enough to give it representation from a depth perspective.

“If you’re Michelin, Bridgestone, Goodyear or Conti — I would call them the four majors — and you’ve got niches for this and that and broad lines for this, you have to have a system that can support the efficient delivery to every marketplace on all the SKUs built.

“We’re picking up delivery of Goodyear tires in Ohio, Michigan and Indiana where ATD no longer delivers Goodyear tires. We picked up that business, so the reorganization has helped us.

“What’s going on in our industry is crazy,” says Geiger. “If I give you a dollar, you can buy a cup of coffee with this advice: I think that there’s a very good likelihood the retail consumer in the next year will experience lack of availability on certain brands of tires because of the turmoil.”

Generation Y

”What you teach your children, you also teach their children.” Unknown

Like his father, Geiger Jr. is an historian. It now falls on him to share his wisdom with his three children in the business: Carilyn “Cari” Kuhr, 38; Benjamin, 36; and Andrew, 30. They are millennials age-wise, but don’t conform to millennial stereotypes.

Cari started at Capital Tire when she turned 16. She answered the phones on Saturdays and did office work in the summer. After college, she started back full-time and implemented the company’s first e-Commerce website, which Capital Tire’s wholesale customers still use today. Her husband, Rob, is the warehouse coordinator.

Pictured above is the front end of the main warehouse in Toledo, Ohio.
Pictured above is the front end of the main warehouse in Toledo, Ohio.
“Over the last 16 years I’ve transitioned from sales to marketing to human resources. Presently I work part time in the office as the executive assistant to the president and e-Business coordinator.

“I can’t even quantify the amount I’ve learned from my grandfather and dad,” she says. “Whether it was product codes for tires that they recalled at the drop of a hat or discussing the various ways business had changed over the years and where their experience projected it may go, there was always something to be learned in conversation.

“My grandfather had an unbelievable charisma and respect in everyday interactions. Whether it was in the warehouse loading tires or chatting with the chairman of the board, he always made a lasting impression. My dad was able to soak all that in over the years. He really takes pride in what the generations before him built, and strives to make incredibly well-thought-out decisions to continue the legacy well beyond himself.”

Ben has worked in the business part time for 10 years while in school and full time for the last 14 years. His current title is fleet manager; he not only manages the 110-vehicle fleet that Capital Tire has delivering tires in the tristate area, but also is involved in wholesale tire sales.

“My late grandfather and I were very close,” he says. “I think that he may have forgotten more about the tire business than I will ever learn. As I was located in the same building as him, I was very fortunate to be able to have lunch with him once a week, where we discussed many different aspects of the business. He was certainly a mentor of mine.

Tom Geiger, right, and his son-in-law, Rob Kuhr, address an issue at the Toledo warehouse. Kuhr is warehouse coordinator.
Tom Geiger, right, and his son-in-law, Rob Kuhr, address an issue at the Toledo warehouse. Kuhr is warehouse coordinator.
“My father has also taught me a great deal about the business. My grandfather and father were a great compliment to each other, where my grandfather was strong it helped my father, and where my grandfather needed a little help, my father is very strong. It is interesting now after my grandfather’s passing as I learn more from my father about things. My grandfather was very customer-oriented and very strong in sales. My father is very strong on the business side and is giving me a whole new area to learn about.”

Andrew, a chartered financial analyst, worked in the warehouse for four years during his high school years. After college he spent eight years in the financial industry in Chicago before joining the family business in January as business analyst. His primary duties are to analyze sales trends and help improve internal efficiencies.

“I think deep down I always knew I wanted to give it a chance and work for Capital Tire,” he says. “It happened to be the right time for me personally and professionally to make a change.

Three generations of the extended Geiger family include Andrew Geiger, Tom Geiger Jr. and Ben Geiger (pictured left to right in the front row); and Cari Geiger Kuhr, Rob Kuhr, Tom Jr.’s wife, Paulette, Tom Geiger Sr. and his wife, Brenda (back row).
Three generations of the extended Geiger family include Andrew Geiger, Tom Geiger Jr. and Ben Geiger (pictured left to right in the front row); and Cari Geiger Kuhr, Rob Kuhr, Tom Jr.’s wife, Paulette, Tom Geiger Sr. and his wife, Brenda (back row).
“I 100% think it was beneficial to work somewhere else before Capital Tire, especially being in a completely different field of investing and stocks. It opened my eyes to a new set of customer relations characteristics and showed me the potential of systems/software to make day-to-day operations much easier. Starting at the bottom of the rung in the world of finance pushed me to better myself every day.”

Ben says the industry continually offers new challenges to the independent tire dealer.

“Things my grandfather went through 20 years ago are different than my father saw 10 years ago, and now today are still different,” he says. “My family has had the good fortune to keep the business alive for so many years and now today, both my brother and my sister are part of the business. I think that we all contribute to the success of the business as we all have our different strengths, and my father is able to combine the four of us to get the greatest benefit possible.”

“I think the industry has evolved and become so complex that it is hard to put running the business on a single person nowadays,” says Andrew. “As in most industries, surrounding yourself with capable people who are willing to get into the weeds is crucial in today’s age.”

Capital Tire gave back at the recent Ohio Tire & Automotive Association Golf Outing by co-sponsoring the event.
Capital Tire gave back at the recent Ohio Tire & Automotive Association Golf Outing by co-sponsoring the event.
All three siblings believe Capital Tire can become a successful fifth-generation business.

“I have nephews and two children of my own,” says Ben. “I would like to see all of the fifth generation have an opportunity to grow inside of the company. If they choose they want to make a career out of it, I hope that I am able to teach as much to them as I have learned from both my father and my grandfather.”

Andrew says he could definitely see a nephew or a niece step into this business.

“I think the industry is very unique in its characteristics in that as long as you can stay in tune with the market and be the best you can be to a customer, Capital Tire has a bright future. There will always be cars on the road and cars will always need tires.”

“My boys love Capital Tire,” says Cari. “They’ve been wandering around the warehouse and climbing in and out of tire stacks since they could walk, just as my brothers and I did as little kids.

“A fifth generation would be quite an accomplishment! I can only hope for now that Ben, Andrew and I can continue to learn and grow in the business in order to pave the way for future generations to come.” ■

Online disruption

Amazon still gets by despite do-not-sell lists

Tom Geiger Jr. says the Internet has changed distribution dramatically, especially in the last five years. Capital Tire Inc. does not supply online tire dealers like SimpleTire LLC and Amazon Inc. with tires.

“One of the reasons is our suppliers have a do-not-sell list, and they’re on it,” says Geiger, president of Capital Tire. “The Internet is still, in the tire industry, disruptive to what the manufacturers are trying to do.

“We are uncertain who is supplying these guys. Sears and Monro agreed to represent Amazon from an installation point of view only. To a certain extent, you ask yourself, ‘Why would any retailer supply online retailers, because they’re cutting their own throats from the sales side of it?’ It’s odd to me why they would do that politically.

“I can tell you that if you look at the major tire brands, all four of them have do-no-sell lists,” he says. “And the big Internet purveyors are all on it. I would be canceled if I was caught selling Goodyear tires to Amazon or SimpleTire.

“There are leaks, obviously, that are out there. Manufacturers have their suspicions as to who some of these people are, but they haven’t closed down on them yet.”

This Goodyear ad with Tom Geiger ran in Modern Tire Dealer in November 1969

The print may be hard to read. Here is the information.
The print may be hard to read. Here is the information.

“Polyglas tires havebeen terrific profit-makers…an unbelievable success story,”says Tom Geiger.

Tom Geiger is President of Capital Tire, Inc.,located for 50 successful years in Toledo, Ohio.Here’s what he had to say in a recent interview concerning Goodyear Polyglas tires.

Q. What is your general opinion about Polyglas tires?

1. For us, it’s just been great. We’ve been in business here for 50 years and we’ve never seen anything like it.

2. Are customers aware of the name “Polyglas?”

3. Oh, it’s on everybody’s mind. People know about Polyglas tires… they come in asking for them. And, of course, they’ve been terrific profit-makers for us.

4. How are your sales on the Custom Wide Tread Polyglas tire?

5. Well, we do a real big business with the Custom Wide Tread Polyglas tire. And we do a lot of business in the high-performance area. Both the Custom Wide Tread Polyglas and the Wide Tread GT tires have been very good with us – particularly with the younger set.

6. Do your customers ever mention the kind of mileage they are getting on Polyglas tires?

7. The Custom Wide Tread Polyglas especially has done the job extremely well from a mileage standpoint. Matter of fact, we had a young boy here the other day who has been checking his tires every 30 to 60 days. And he finally took them off at 63,000 miles!

8. Do you feel Goodyear promotions and advertising have been helpful to you?

9. I’m sure they’ve helped an awful lot. We know that when advertising runs on TV or in the newspapers, we always get good response, whether it be the Christmas Album or anything else special. But we’ve had particularly good response with the Polyglas tire. This has been an unbelievable success story. Q. Do you have anything else you might want to add?

10. Only this. We set our goals pretty high for each upcoming year and we’ve been able to reach them every year. We feel that all the promotional help we get from Goodyear must be a big part of it. We don’t see where the other companies can compare with it.

Compare for yourself. Set your goals high and reach them by changing over to a Goodyear independent dealership. For information, phone or write W. R. “Jim” Ward, Sales Manager, The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, Akron, Ohio 44316.

Tom Geiger will tell you why you should go Goodyear. Money!

Goodyear

Polyglas Custom Wide Tread – T.M.’s The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, Akron, Ohio

If it doesn’t say Goodyear, you can’t sell Polyglas tires.

To survive and thrive

Geiger clan weighs in on a second 100 years

“To infinity and beyond!” Buzz Lightyear, Toy Story

Q. Could Capital Tire survive another 100 years?

Tom Geiger Jr.: “Most would consider the fact that the tire industry has remained stable and prosperous for over 100 years somewhat remarkable. I think it is unlikely that the tire industry in its structure will survive another 100 years. The main driver of that change will be how automobiles and trucks are actually used and owned. Things like Uber, Lyft and autonomous driving vehicles of all types will also change the distribution pattern of tires for both retailers and wholesalers. One hundred more years, that’s unlikely, but Capital Tire is not changing anytime in the near future.”

Cari (Geiger) Kuhr: “The first 100 years has been a wonderful accomplishment. I’m thankful we’ve been able to make appropriate changes and adapt to the always changing industry successfully so far. Another 100 years would be wild, but I think we’re up for the challenge!”

Ben Geiger: “I would like to think that the business my family has built could certainly stand the test of time. The question is always how quickly we can change and evolve to the ever-changing market. As long as we can continue to adapt, I think that we all the right tools to be successful for another 100 years.”

Andrew Geiger: “As long as Elon Musk sticks to electric cars and not flying cars, I think Capital Tire can celebrate its 200 year anniversary one day.”

Related Topics: Benjamin Geiger, Capital Tire, Past/Present/Future, retail

Bob Ulrich Editor
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