100 years of service
For the Hervey family of Rochester, N.H., a journey of 100 years began with making and selling running boards of vulcanized rubber for horse-drawn carriages in 1912.
But company founder Charles Hervey identified and filled a new need in the marketplace. As he began vulcanizing and selling tires and tubes to meet the demand spurred by the growing popularity of automobiles, his shop became known as Hervey’s Tire Co. Inc.
What were his first tires like? They may have been made with carbon black, a compounding material introduced in 1912 to make tires more durable. They likely had a tread pattern to improve traction, a safety feature increasingly used in 1912. Charles may have sold his first tires to the owner of a car equipped with an electric starter, an innovation in 1912.
No doubt Charles, who was 50 years old in 1912, had many stories to tell about the early days. But his grandson Charlie never had a chance to ask. Charles died in 1923, 11 years before Charlie was born. The business passed to Charlie’s father, Richard, and his uncle, Albert, who were already working in the shop.
Richard and Albert didn’t share the early days of the shop with Charlie. “They talked more politics than business. I was young in those days and did not ask any questions,” Charlie said.
He missed the stories, but Charlie learned the lessons of a successful independent tire dealership from his father and uncle: work hard. Adapt to change. Most important of all, treat your customers right.
“My philosophy has always been you can sell anything anytime. But you have to be able to sell it a second time, a third time and more,” Charlie said.
A hard worker
Charlie’s first job at Hervey’s Tire was sweeping floors and emptying trash cans. On Saturdays Charlie, who was a schoolboy at the time, washed windows, cleaned the rest rooms and repaired bicycles. “For that I got $2 a week. That was big money.”
The Hervey brothers had added bicycle sales, repair service and tire replacement during World War II. The venture became one of young Charlie’s responsibilities. “A lot of kids who rode bikes become our tire customers when they grew up,” said Charlie. Rubber became scarce during World War II when it was needed for military use. To help boost sales during this time, his father and uncle also offered a tire retreading service.
Business was light in the winter months, but the Hervey men kept working. In the days before homes had refrigerators, a river behind their property provided income. “My father and uncle would cut ice from the Cocheco River and sell it to a man who had an ice business. The ice would be packed in sawdust and sold during the summer months to be used in iceboxes,” remembered Charlie.
The Herveys also sold gasoline. Charlie’s father and uncle approached business transactions differently in the 1940s and 1950s. “We had a big credit business. A person could buy gas and tires and pay us $5 a week,” said Charlie.
As he gained experience, Charlie took on more and more duties. He began to change tires and perform light mechanical work in the single-bay shop.
Learn and adapt
In 1958, Charlie’s father died. Five months later, his uncle passed away. For a few years, Charlie’s mother and aunt owned the shop, and Charlie ran it for them.
Charlie began selling Delta tires in 1959. Up to then, the shop had sold only Goodyear tires. But an economic recession that began in 1957 prompted him to offer his customers a high-quality yet lower-priced alternative.
“I had to do something to be more competitive,” said Charlie. “Delta is a private brand, so customers could buy four tires for less money. It was a good tire for our customers and a good move for us.”
In 1963, he bought the business. After working in the shop for 15 years, minus a short period away for military duty in the 1950s, Charlie became the third-generation owner of Hervey’s Tire.
At the time, the shop had one bay that was always full of tires. “We did all the work outdoors. We brought a tire in to change it and then went back out and put it on the car,” said Charlie. There were two employees, Charlie and his brother, George.
The timing of his purchase coincided with an upturn in the nation’s economy and a significant growth spurt at the shop. “The best way to describe it is lighting a fuse on a firecracker. The business exploded. I immediately hired four people and eventually got up to 14 employees.” Charlie also installed a lift in the service bay.
In 1965, he purchased property adjacent to the shop and added two service bays. Tire sales and service continued to grow, leaving little time for the bicycle business, which Charlie shut down in 1968. He also expanded vehicle repairs. With the additions to the shop, he was able to perform all work indoors.
In 1969, Charlie added a warehouse to the back of his shop to stock more tires and support a wholesale business. He used to send a truck to about a dozen area companies that wanted tires for their vehicles. However, wholesale represents less than 10% of his business today.
Up until the early 1980s he would buy a truckload of tires in the spring and fall of every year. “A trailer had about 1,200 tires in four or five sizes that fit about 85% of cars. We cannot do that today because there are so many sizes,” Charlie said. Distributors now deliver tires to the shop each day. Hervey’s sells all major brands of tires. The largest sales are with Bridgestone, Firestone, Nokian and Cooper lines.
Business took a sharp turn in the 1970s, when back-to-back recessions and soaring gasoline prices forced his customers to tighten their wallets. Charlie adapted to the difficult economy. The conversion from bias tires to longer-lasting but more expensive radial tires forced him to change his strategy.
“You knew then you weren’t going to sell tires the way you did so you had to do other things,” Charlie said. For him, those “other things” were more vehicle repairs.
Although Charlie stopped selling gasoline in 1978, expanding repair and maintenance services gave customers new reasons to bring their cars and trucks to him. From alignments and engine diagnostics to oil changes and brakes, about any type of vehicle repair (except transmission work) can be done at Hervey’s Tire today.
Although customers come in asking for the lowest price on tires, reliability and performance usually drive their purchasing decision. “We have customers who have been coming here for years and years. They don’t ask what tires we put on their cars. When you offer service and quality, customers stick with you,” said Charlie.
In fact, there is no showroom at Hervey’s Tire. There are so many brands and prices of tires available that even customers who do some comparison shopping on the Internet appreciate the professional guidance they receive at Hervey’s Tire. The personal attention ensures the right tire is sold at the right price and that brings customers back.
An example to follow
What sets successful owners apart is not just starting a company. It’s how they keep their company growing. Charlie did it by building customer loyalty. His sons, Steve and Alan, have been following their father’s example since they bought the company in 2002.
Hervey’s Tire, which now has 11 bays, operates out of the same building as it did a century ago. The type of work has changed since then. About 30% of revenue now comes from tire sales with the remaining from auto and truck service and repair.
Today there are 10 employees, eight full-time and two part-time, including four family members. Charlie is there, too, chatting with customers, running errands, giving customers rides home, and sometimes changing tires. Steve and Alan are full-time manager/service writers. There are four certified technicians and one full-time tire tech. Tanya Hervey (Steve’s wife) is the bookkeeper, plus there’s a part-time receptionist and a part-time maintenance person.
“It’s not easy to be a small business anymore. But the boys are successful,” Charlie said, referring to sons Steve and Alan.
“They are busy all the time. Hopefully, we’ll be here many more years.”
The company continues to make investments for the future. “Being a one-location shop makes it challenging to compete with tire chain stores. The key is not to try to be like them, but to do the things they don’t,” said Steve.
“Purchases of OEM-level scan tools and diagnostic equipment have allowed us to offer dealer-level service at a time when the local Chevrolet garage was eliminated in the latest round of GM cutbacks. We now have all the domestic OE diagnostic tools and can handle programming on many imports,” Steve explained.
As vehicles, tires and parts have become more durable, the shop stays busy through diagnostic, emissions and scheduled maintenance work. The goal is to serve the customer who wishes to bring their vehicle to one service facility that can handle all of their needs.
“When customers come to us for tires or repair, they speak to an owner, which is not something they get to do at bigger multi-location places. This builds a level of trust that we have had since day one when we started in 1912. We get to know our customers and they get to know us. They know when we recommend a repair, it’s a recommendation they can trust,” added Steve.
Any one of Steve and Alan’s children may become the fifth generation to own Hervey’s Tire. Steve’s oldest daughter Lea has two years of experience in the shop and is now majoring in business at a college in Florida. Alice, 17, his youngest daughter, will graduate high school this coming year and has expressed an interest in business. Alan’s son, Ryan, age nine, and Steve’s son, Evan, age three, have a ways to go, but perhaps they may be working there some day.
If, in the future, any of the children choose to work at the shop in Rochester, one of the largest cities in New Hampshire with about 30,000 residents and just 75 miles north of Boston, their grandfather is ready to share with them the most important lesson he’s learned over six decades working as an independent tire dealer: “Remember when you sell a person a tire you want to sell him or her another. It’s the repeat business that counts.” ■
Ann Neal is a freelance writer with more than two decades of experience managing employee, financial and marketing communications and Web content in the commercial trucking industry.