David Stringer, MTD’s Tire Dealer of the Year, Credits Others for His Rise to the Top
Seven years ago, Dave Stringer set a business plan in motion with a simple yet highly focused mission statement:
“Stringer Tire Co.’s mission is to be a full service, multiple location commercial tire dealership and retreader dedicated to professionally serving all of the tire needs of the transportation, construction and mining industries in the southeast United States, Stringer Tire will be the dominant commercial tire dealer in all the markets it serves.”
With the plan laid out, Stringer went to work, and quickly achieved success. Every year since its inception in 1989, the Jacksonville, Fla.-based company has enjoyed annual revenue growth of at least 25%. In 1995 Stringer Tire grossed more than $14 million.
Stringer says his company’s eight commercial outlets and three Bandag retread shops are on target to gross more than $20 million this year.
He attributes much of his business success to others: his 130-member Stringer Tire “family,” his suppliers, and God. But there’s more to it than that.
“Dave is the best salesman in the company,” says Eric Schellhorn, vice president of sales development and customer services. “He also provides vision for the long haul, and makes sure we march in the same direction.”
His business leadership, combined with an almost equally consuming compassion for his community and fellow man, sets Stringer apart.
For his efforts, Modern Tire Dealer’s three independent judges have named Dave Stringer MTD’s 1996 Tire Dealer of the Year.
The annual competition is sponsored by Michelin North America Inc.
Stringer paid his dues at Jim Martin Tire Co. in Jacksonville.
In 1972, after college and a four-year stint in the Army, he interviewed for a job in Jim Martin Tire’s commercial division. When asked where he wanted to be in five years, the 26-year-old Stringer, who no experience and a degree in physics from Mercer University in Macon, Ga.. said he wanted to be commercial sales manager.
In 10 years, he wanted the division which had only one commercial outlet at the time –to blanket the state of Florida.
He was hired, and reached both goals.
Stringer says the late Jim Martin Sr. was a major influence on him.
“He saw himself as a father figure for every employee. He considered his business a family.”
Stringer re calls that despite tough limes in the early 1970s, including an oil crisis and an industry-wide tire shortage. Martin refused to lay off employees, saying, “If we have to, everyone will take a pay cut, starting with me.”
Martin had three rules of business, which Stringer follows to this day:
1. Surround yourself with good people and take care of those people:
2. Be honest in everything you do-with you customers, suppliers and employees.
3. Plan to work hard, and keep your faith in God.
If you do these things, says Stringer, you can’t fail.
“I’m an eternal optimist. Whatever it takes, we will succeed. I can take ‘no’ for an answer. But I don’t recognize ‘can’t.’”
Minding His Own Business
When Jim Martin Tire was sold to Automotive Industries in 1988, Stringer decided to start his own business in Jacksonville.
Taking a few of his fellow workers with him, he competed by offering more than just new truck tires and 24 hour road service.
He was granted a Bandag franchise. He added truck wheel balancing, wheel and rim refurbishing and truck alignment. Now he even offers mobile truck alignment.
Stringer Tire’s comprehensive Tire Maintenance Program includes everything from fleet inspections to scrap tire analysis and disposal.
The company also directly handles a fleet’s truck tire warranty work with the tire manufacturers.
And Stringer puts all promises to his customers in writing.
“We want them to out-source their whole tire program to us.”
All 23 of his salespeople, including himself, are required to perform periodic tire inspections for their fleet customers.
This crucial, value-added service helps fleet owners reduce tire cost per mile, he says.
Stringer’s salespeople take advantage of training sponsored by Stringer Tire’s suppliers, including Michelin, Continental General Tire Inc. Yokohama Tire Corp, and Bandag Inc. In addition, many have taken Dale Carnegie sales courses.
Stringer pays his salespeople in four ways:
1. A salary based on a sliding scale linked to gross profit.
2. An auto/truck allowance program.
3. A monthly spiff program based on what product they want to move.
4. Quarterly “Quality of Work” bonuses.
There has been very little turnover in salespeople over the years, according to Stringer.
All employees are eligible to participate in Stringer Tire’s matching 401K program. Tuition assistance to employees who take courses for personal and professional development also is available.
“I don’t think you can be in business without supporting local groups in the business community,” says Stringer.
The benefits are twofold; donations, fund raisers and charity work not only help your fellow man, but also strengthen bonds with business leaders.
Through our customers, we support an awful lot of charities, like the United Way. American Cancer Society, Boy Scouts and USO.”
He is a board member on the local Better Business Bureau and does volunteer work at First Christian Church and Lakeshore Methodist.
He is on the Florida Independent Tire Dealers and Retreaders Association Board of Directors.
And Stringer’s work for the Florida Trucking Association earned him its 1992 Man of the Year award.
But kids receive the majority of his charitable contributions. “I have a special place in my heart for children, maybe because Trish and I couldn’t have our own children,” he says.
“I don’t think I’ve ever said ‘no’ to sponsoring a children’s activity of any kind. It’s just hard for me to say ‘no’ to a children’s group, even if a child isn’t calling.”
He and Trish (Patricia), his wife of 25 years, have adopted three infant children over the years: Matt (Matthew), now 16; Marisa, 14 and Simeon, 9.
“Probably the most important path you can take is to be responsible for nurturing your children, and give them the best possible start at adult life.”
Eight Is Not Enough
Seven years after starting his own company, Dave Stringer is still striving for perfection. He feels his mission in Florida and southern Georgia – is incomplete.
“Things were going at such a pace it was outgrowing my ability as an administrator,” he says.
To that end, on Aug. 1, he became chairman and CEO and hired David Cobb as president and COO of the company.
Cobb, former president of Jim Martin Tire when Stringer worked there, was brought to the company in part for his personal management and finance skills. Earlier this year, Stringer created the position of vice president of sales development and customer services.
“We want to get to the point where if a trucker has a flat tire in Florida, we can get there within one hour,” he says. “We’re three or four locations short.
“There are pockets of the state where we’re not dominant, like the Fort Meyers and Sarasota market areas and Miami proper. We have no presence there.”
The company is building a modern retread facility in Orlando to replace one in Sanford. Stringer may add retread shops down the road.
“I want us to be respected by customers, competition, suppliers and the financial industry for doing everything right.
“I not only want to be the premier commercial the dealer in Florida and south Georgia, but also be so financially sound and self-sustaining with our management team that they don’t need me anymore.
“Right now, they need me.”
Selling 101, As Taught By Dave Stringer
Dave Stringer admits the company that bears his name needs him to sell. Not just Michelin, Yokohama, General, BF Goodrich and Cooper truck tires, but Stringer Tire as well.
President Dave Cobb says Stringer is very sales-and people-oriented.
“His major strength is dealing with suppliers. There are some major customers that will only talk to Dave because of the relationships he has developed with them.”
Stringer says he has no secrets. He just follows the basics.
1. Target prospects.
2. Figure out what they need and give them what they need.
3. Continue to service them and keep your promises.
Once you get your foot in the door, he says, learn everything you can about the customer.
“From the knowledge you have do the best job of determining what they need, not only from what they say, but also from fleet inspecting and scrap tire analysis. They’re getting some products and some services, but by looking at fleet maintenance, tire wear and scrap tires, maybe they are missing a service that they need.”
Stringer then presents his findings, and lists in detail all the services his company will provide. “People are always willing no took at alternatives,” he says. “They may tell you they are totally happy with what they are doing. But they’ll say. ‘If you want to spand your time evaluating our program, and you think you can offer us something better than what we’re doing, we’ll be happy to listen to you.’
“Most will let you if you do enough work and they think you’ve put enough thought process into it.”
There is no timetable for convincing a new customer to come on board, he says. “How long it takes doesn’t matter.”
And once Stringer Tire gets the business? “To keep it, we’ll go back, depending on the size of the fleet, quarterly or semi-annually to measure our performance.”
The Right Stuff: Dave Stringer Adds To MTD’s Solid Choices
Tire Dealer of the Year Dave Stringer of Stringer Tire in Jacksonville, Fla., is the fourth dealer so honored by Modern Tire Dealer and Michelin North America Inc.
He takes the reins from last year’s winner, Tony Troilo of Rosson & Troilo Motor Co. Inc. in Brandy Station, Va.
Stringer is the second commercial dealer chosen-Jerry Bauer of Bauer Built Inc. in Durand, Wis., was the first in 1994.
Our first Tire Dealer of the Year was maverick retailer Barry Steinberg of Direct Tire Sales in Watertown, Mass., back in 1993.
Stinger’s selection was based on five categories: business success, marketing skills, management skills, Industry knowledge and community involvement.
More than 20 dealers were nominated from around the United States.
MTD donated $1,000 to Northeast Florida’s chapter of the Boy Scouts of America in Stringer’s name.
Final selection of MTD’s The Dealer of the Year is made by a vote of three independent judges, based on a point-system ranking.
Anne Evans of Hebron, Conn., a former tire dealer who now heads Performance Services Corp., an international consulting firm.
Saul Ludwig, a managing director of McDonald & Co. Securities in Cleveland, and the tire industry’s leading analyst.
Richard Morgan, president to Morgan Marketing Solutions, a Dallas-based consulting firm. Morgan is a former tire industry executive.
Up close and personal with our Tire Dealer of the Year
Dave Stringer, from Thomasville, Ga., and his wife, Trish, from Herman, Neb., met in the Officers’ Club dining room at an Army base in Nuremberg, Germany, in August 1970. He was stationed there as a second lieutenant and she was teaching school for the U.S. Department of Defense. They were married April 1, 1972.
MTD Dealer Profile
Full name: David Arthur Stringer
Hobbies: Fishing, hunting, industry involvement
I’m most proud of: The accomplishments of the dedicated professionals with whom I am surrounded at Stringer Tire Co.
Favorite childhood memory: The 12 summers spent in Thomasville with my grandparents
Biggest regret: That I ever smoked tobacco
Favorite book: “Glory Yards”
Favorite movie: Johnny Carson
Favorite actor, actress: Steven Seagal, Demi Moore
Favorite athlete: Jerry Rice
Favorite sport: Football
Favorite politician: Ed Austin (former Jacksonville mayor)
Favorite food: Pork loin roast
Are you a morning or a night person? Night person
If I could change one thing about myself I: Would have batter prepared myself in administration and data processing
My friends like me because: I am an eternal optimist
My goals in life are: To continue nurturing my children to give them the best possible start in adult life, and to be the very best in the industry that I serve.
A perfect evening for me is: To be with family and good friends.
Nobody knows that I: Love farming, to see things grow
Smartest thing I’ve ever done: Surround myself with the greatest possible people, both in marriage and in business
Best advice your parents gave you: Never quit
You’re advice to children: Be all you can be, learn from everything around you, work hard at work and play, honor your parents, and love the Lord…and you won’t ever fail
You’re most humbling experience: There are many examples, but generally it was learning to see through others; eyes
The great thing about tire dealers today is: That they are mostly hands-on and dedicated to this industry
Your advice to a tire dealer just starting out: Surround yourself with and take care of the best people possible, work hard, be honest in everything you do, and operate with Christian principles (also helps to be well-capitalized)