Simon Keeps it Simple in Baton Rouge: ‘I Regret That I Only Have One Life to Live in the Tire Business’
Some people are natural born storytellers. They suck you in like a powerful tornado and leave you wanting for more. Bill Simon is one of those people.
It might explain why he’s best known in Baton Rouge, La., as “Mama,” the man in a dress in those funny commercials on television.
He also happens to be the owner of Simple Simon Tire, a two-store tire dealership that is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2016.
“He’s probably one of the most unique tire dealers anywhere close to Baton Rouge,” says Mark Jones, general manager of Simple Simon. “You can go nowhere in town without people recognizing him.”
Simon, who turns 80 in August, says he’s never forgotten a bit of research he learned from Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. years ago. “Nine percent of the motoring public is in the market for what I do every day, and the other 91% — I’m getting them ready.” And that’s why he wears a dress and a wig in commercials on television advertising his two tire stores.
“You remember that old boy who wore that dress. That’s what I’m after. I’ve been Superman. I’ve jumped off the store. I’ve been a pilgrim shooting turkeys. Advertising is an art and a science today. People don’t want to watch you. It’s just got to be entertaining with a sales message — and it always ends with a sales message.”
In 2015 Simon says he spent $250,000 marketing his company.
One day he decided he was going to keep all the junk tires his technicians replaced. He piled them high in front of the store. The environmental regulators were coming after him, but Simon says he quickly booked a crew to shoot another commercial. He made a giant banner with the words “tax sale” on it, showed off the pile and told TV viewers that all their friends and neighbors had already been there. “I sold tires in January and February like I’ve never seen. We set all kinds of records. It was the dangest campaign.”
Simon’s also a believer in community involvement. He’s been a member of the Lions Club and Knights of Columbus for decades, and Jones is a Lions Club member, too. “It takes a whole combination of things in today’s world to be seen, and you always want to associate with good people. That’s the kind of people in the Knights of Columbus and the Lions Club.”
But all of that marketing isn’t worth much if it’s not supporting the business. That’s where Simon’s tracking systems come into play.
“I’m a chart nut,” he says. He doesn’t have a computer on his desk, but he does have charts covering the walls, tracking lines like tire volume and service. “They tell you when the buying season is. That’s why I schedule my convention at the end of February, so I’m ready to go for that buying season.”
And how does a Louisiana tire dealer define the selling season? “When the grass starts growing and the fish start biting,” says Simon.
The Simple Simon convention spans two days, and includes training for technicians on Saturday afternoon, followed by a big Las Vegas-themed party for employees on Saturday night. On Sunday Simon wraps the event and his message around a central theme that he drives home all year long. Last year it was “believe,” and the importance for workers to believe in themselves, believe in the company, believe in the products they’re selling and believe they’re doing the best. This year the message will center on integrity.
Simon also plans to try something new this year. He’s going to host a session for his employees’ spouses, and have someone from outside the company moderate it. “I want to know what the employees are talking about at home. How do we do it better?”
Despite his energy, Simon knows he can’t last forever.
“I regret that I only have one life to live in the tire business.”
He doesn’t know what will happen to the business when he does retire. The plan had been to pass it on to his oldest son, William Simon Jr., who had studied marketing and business administration at Louisiana State University. But the younger Simon was killed in a car crash in 2013. Selling or leasing the business are two options if or when he does retire.
“God’s been good to this old country boy,” Simon says. ■