Coach, teacher, farmer and now, a tire dealer?
So, you've taught middle school health, history and phys-ed for 32 years, coached high school track, football and wrestling for nearly as long, raised nine kids and worked a sprawling 100-acre farm. What do you do for an encore? If you're Mel Peters, you buy a tire shop!
Peters, 59, of Uhrichsville, Ohio, began selling tires four years ago at an age when most people start thinking about retirement. He had no previous tire retailing experience. "We're getting an education," he laughs. By "we," Peters is referring to his third (out of eight) son, Brett, 33, who manages the busy single-location shop, Mel Peters' Knight's Complete Tire & Auto Service Inc., and his wife of 38 years, Terri, who keeps the five-bay outlet's books.
The straight-shooting dealer is no stranger to hard work. At the age of 12, he started cleaning garages and greasing rigs for a local trucking company. "By the time I was 18, they started sending me on short runs." The job lasted through high school and Peters' stint at Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio, where he lettered in football and track. He graduated in 1965 with a degree in education.
Peters' burgeoning coaching career soon included his own sons. Oldest son Scott, now 37, started wrestling during middle school under pop's watchful eye -- and his younger brothers followed suit. "My sons hold the state record for families in wrestling," Peters says. "Seven have gone to the state finals, and all but two who placed have won state titles. We've had a boy start varsity since 1978." He estimates they've racked up more than 650 total wins at the high school level, "and more than 1,000 if you include junior high."
Between coaching and teaching, Peters raised hogs, cattle and chickens on his family farm. He also organized horse shows and competitions that drew people from the rest of Ohio and neighboring states. "We did horse shows at my house for 10 years." (Peters still devotes a large chunk of time to the farm, where he's fattening 55 heads of cattle for sale to local butcher shops and area individuals.)
Peters also operated a western goods store in Uhrichsville for more than 20 years prior to entering the tire business. "I was looking for something I could retire to," he says with a chuckle, then a dismissive wave.
During his pre-tire career, he survived a number of work-related mishaps that might have spelled the end for lesser men, like getting his face sliced open by a roaring chainsaw (which required 92 stitches to close) and rolling a tractor that burst into flames. He was once pinned beneath a fallen horse and took the brunt of a car battery explosion right between the eyes!
Peters, in between drags of an ever-present cigarette, is the kind of guy who'll be the first to admit that few things in life are easy -- and that includes learning the tire business, which he calls a "mind-boggling process." However, he's been able to apply things he learned during his past jobs to his new profession. "I had lots of success coaching because I had good people around me, and I approach the tire shop with the same philosophy. You're only as good as your weakest link." Whether buying cowboy boots, cattle, tires or mufflers, Peters says customers want quality products and service. "We try to treat people fairly and, really, that's all we can do."
He's fully aware that true success doesn't come overnight. "You gotta crawl before you can walk. That's where we are now."
While Peters and Brett continue to build their dealership, he has no plans to take it easy in other areas. He broadcasts high school wrestling meets throughout central Ohio on a local AM radio station and travels extensively with Terri. They also spend plenty of time with their 11 (soon to be 13) grandchildren. "I'll slow down when they bury me," Mel says. "As long as I'm healthy and can walk, I'll be doing something."