Ziegler Tire: Building business
Oliver Ziegler opened Ziegler Tire & Supply Co. in 1919. Today, the Massillon, Ohio-based company is run by Bill Ziegler, 66, a second-generation Ziegler. It has 24 stores in three states — eight retail, 16 commercial/retail — two wholesale outlets and two retread plants. Annual sales top $120 million.
Ziegler Tire is 47th on the Modern Tire Dealer 100, our list of the top independent tire dealers in the United States. With production of approximately 535 truck retreads per day, it is 29th on our list of the top U.S. retreaders. Ziegler, president of the company, was our Tire Dealer of the Year in 2009.
That’s a lot of numbers. Here’s one more: $15,000. That is the amount a landlord at one of his Ohio locations was trying to get for a month’s rent, representing an increase of $11,800 from the $3,200 per month he was paying!
Ziegler had leased the building from the landlord starting in 1998. Last year, a ways in advance of the lease renewal, the landlord sent him a letter through an attorney informing Ziegler that the rent was going to be raised to $15,000 a month plus taxes.
Why the huge increase? Ziegler figures the landlord took a look at what other companies in the area were paying for rent (the dealership is in an area of North Canton, Ohio, that has experienced a tremendous amount of high-end retail growth). “He came up with a dollar figure, multiplied it by our square footage and came up with the $15,000 amount,” Ziegler guesses.
“We balked at the new rental price. We tried to negotiate a reasonable rent, but were unable to do so. So we looked around and determined that we could spend a lot less in rent in a brand new facility.”
After all, the building was less than ideal. It was a converted bowling alley that Ziegler Tire had remodeled 15 years ago at a cost of $200,000.
Its design was outdated, and its nine-bay service shop had only two doors, one on each end, which created a lot of traffic control problems.
Ziegler wanted to stay in the area because the tire dealership was well-established in the market and had a lot of loyal customers.
What would he look for in a new lot? “The old story — location, location, location,” says Ziegler. “Mainly we were interested in trying to be close to the same area we were vacating. We looked at numerous parcels of vacant ground, trying to stay close to our old store.”
He did not use a commercial realtor. Instead, he and other Ziegler Tire employees “did a lot of driving around in the area we wanted, and either looked up property owners or called real estate companies. We had a lot of time constraints, so we did this in a relatively short time (30 to 45 days).”
Why the rush?
The landlord agreed to extend the lease for one year, and Ziegler began to plan the new building. Then came a bombshell. “The landlord decided to lease the building to another tire dealer and throw us out,” Ziegler says. “I think he sold them on the idea they could have our business if he got rid of us.
“Obviously, we were not happy at all with the situation, but we are not afraid to compete with them.
“However, since the landlord never signed the extension that he had agreed to, he tried to throw us out on Feb. 1, 2014. We refused to leave and told him to evict us!” (Not surprisingly, lawsuits were filed concerning this turn of events.)
The landlord and the other dealership eventually agreed to let Ziegler stay in that location until June 30, 2014.
The hunt was on
So the hunt was on for a new location. “We were mainly looking for a parcel that would accommodate a 10-bay, modern-looking retail store. We then tried to fit the building to the piece of property that was available.” He found a piece of land just three-tenths of a mile away.
As luck would have it, one of Ziegler’s commercial customers, and also a friend of Harold Ziegler, the company’s treasurer, owned some property in the vicinity of Ziegler’s store. “We contacted him to see if he had any interest in selling some of his land. He offered to sell us some property (approximately one and a half acres) and we agreed on a price.
“However, after we started talking, we discovered he was actually more interested in building the building for us and leasing it back under a long-term lease. This is ultimately what we decided to do.”
The property was perfect for a tire dealership. “To the south of our location is a car dealership that has a very nice new building and to the north is a retail lighting store. The property was zoned properly, and between our already-established relationship with the township and the property owners’ relationship, things went smoothly.”
Ziegler reports the company broke ground on Dec. 11, 2013. For the most part, construction went according to plans. However, they were hindered by Ohio winter weather (as far as installing footers, etc.). “We probably lost five to six weeks of construction time due to the extreme cold and snow.”
During construction, Ziegler displayed a large drawing of the new building in his showroom to let his customers know they were moving to a new store that was just a stone’s throw away.
Cutting things extremely close, the new Ziegler Tire opened for business on June 23, 2014.
Everything is by design
The layout of the building is based on a recently built Firestone store Ziegler had researched to which he and others made their own modifications. “It is a new design for us, but is similar in some respects to another of our stores in Canton, Ohio.”
One issue Ziegler had with the land was dealing with a creek on the property. It prevented Ziegler from positioning the store the way he wanted to — perpendicular to the main road. But that turned out to be a blessing, because now the front service bays run parallel to the highway, “and people can see how busy we are. That’s good for business,” Ziegler acknowledges.
Ziegler relied on his builder, Norman Eckinger Inc., and the property owners, Dick, Brenda and Weslee Heiser, for ideas for the look of building’s exterior. “Once we decided on the structure, it was pretty much like building a new home, picking out colors, brick, etc.”
Total square footage is 8,520 square feet (60 x 142 feet). The service bays are about 4,350 square feet (60 by 72 feet), storage and equipment is 2,100 square feet (60 by 35 feet), the showroom is about 660 square feet (22 by 30 feet), and the customer waiting area is about 177 square feet (13.5 by 13 feet).
It now employs seven service technicians and five sales associates.
A distinctive feature is a carport at the side of the building that shields customers from rain and snow. “That was Joe Gensor’s idea (he’s the company’s retail supervisor), and Brenda Heiser’s. Their thought was to try and set us apart from some other tire stores and let customers drop off and pick up their vehicles under roof during inclement weather.” He says they borrowed the idea from hotels.
“It looks nice, but I have a bet with Joe that as soon as someone runs into a pole, I win $10,000!” Ziegler laughs.
At your service
The new Ziegler Tire location has 11 service bays, including a couple to accommodate larger trucks.
Its alignment machine is a Hunter RX16FT-IS. The lifts are manufactured by Challenger Lifts. “Hunter has always been a great alignment machine,” says Ziegler, “and their drive-on rack in the pit allows us to service almost any vehicle, especially the lower ones and even the heavier trucks. The Challenger lifts we have provide the technicians the versatility to lift vehicles both symmetrically and asymmetrically within the same bay. They also include rubber door guards.
“Our goal is to constantly have our bays full,” says Ziegler. “Joe tells his staff to say ‘yes’ to all of our customers’ needs. We stage the vehicles, evaluate their condition and then inform the customers of our findings — good conditions or any concerns.
“The vision is to service the customer with an invitation on the telephone, invite them to pull into our carport, and be greeted by one of our customer service advisors who will immediately stage their vehicle and drive it to the service bay. They are being ‘checked in’ so they can feel that their time is valuable and that their appointment is meaningful.
“The back five bays are for our tire and oil change services, and the front bays are for the mechanical services.”
The showroom features a large window looking into the service area. “We want our customers to see the alignment process up close. Customers also can see the technicians in the front bays working on more intense services.”
In addition to the bays, Ziegler added a “power room” in the shop area that houses electrical sources and the waste oil container. “We wanted everything in one place. Everyone knows those buildings where builders put everything everywhere and there is no flow. We wanted to make it feel like one of those shops that you walk into and say, ‘That was smart doing that! Everything tucked in a corner, and the rest of the space is useful.’”
Office and showroom
The office area is what Ziegler calls “basic.” One feature he likes is the laptop computer program which makes it convenient to change the digital signage outside.
In the showroom are “four pedestals, instead of the traditional ‘bunker style’ desks which create a barrier for the customer and sales associate,” says Ziegler.
“We have three displays. Two of them hold six passenger tires each in a triangle style tower and the other holds the light truck tires with a clear waterfall backing and light shining at the tires. We have a menu board television in the showroom and a customer TV in the waiting room, which features coffee, Wi-Fi, music, a popcorn machine, hot dog maker and also a small school desk for children. Also, music plays under the carport and we have a picnic table outside for our customers’ use.”
Choosing the color scheme for the showroom was “quite a process,” says Ziegler. “The outside colors had become a battle, with Joe convincing us to go with the colors we have. For the inside, Joe picked the colors without our input. He said it would take too long and he didn’t want another family feud!”
The showroom is poinsettia red and network grey, “similar to Ohio State colors, but they seem to work very well in our retail stores. The shop area is mostly white.” (The fact that Ziegler is a loyal Ohio State fan might have played into the decision, too.)
For the customer rest rooms, the company went with a warm color with walls half-tiled. “Soap and the paper product devices are a signature series style that provides a nice touch. And hooks on the back of the doors are very appreciated, especially by our female customers. “
The showroom has a vinyl composition tile floor for durability.
All in all, Ziegler is happy with the way the new location turned out. He can’t think of anything he would change if he had to do it over again.
“I really like it. It turned out really well. All our friends and customers remark on how nice it is. It’s the first new retail store we’ve had in a while. We are always looking to expand. We’re doing exceptionally well in the retail business. We’re looking to keep going like this.”
And his advice to other dealers who might be thinking about putting up a new location is, “Plan ahead the best you can and try to be customer friendly. Make customers feel comfortable the minute they walk through the door. And for the service area, consider putting in one bigger bay to work on the bigger trucks. All of that is important.” ■
Better than code
Norm Eckinger, president of Norman Eckinger Inc., the company that built the new Ziegler location, points out the dealership has an “MR-24” roof system, known in the building industry as the “Cadillac of metal building roof systems.” It comes with a 25-year warranty and has excellent flashing details, he says.
Eckinger reports the building was designed to be highly energy efficient. It has an R30 thermal value and the insulation installed in the roof and walls is 12% better than what is required by code.