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Eyes on the Future for Tire Dealer of the Year Bill Ziegler

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Eyes on the Future for Tire Dealer of the Year Bill Ziegler

The American automobile industry was still in its infancy when Oliver Ziegler opened Ziegler Tire & Supply Co. in 1919. General Motors Corp. was only 11 years old. Henry Ford’s Model T was in the middle of its 19-year production run. Hundreds of automobile manufacturers — many of them now lost in the mists of time — were flooding the market with products, each trying to gain a foothold in this burgeoning new industry.

Oliver, a tavern owner by trade, knew he was on the cusp of something big when he opened his first garage in Canton, Ohio. He was right.

Ninety years later, Ziegler Tire — now based in Massillon, Ohio — is one of the country’s largest independent tire store chains with 24 locations in four states and nearly $95 million in annual sales.

It has survived two World Wars, the Great Depression and numerous recessions by staying true to Oliver’s simple but timeless philosophy: provide good products at fair prices, and back it up with honest service.

However, in the tire industry, exceptional service doesn’t always result in exceptional growth.
To expand to its present dimensions, Ziegler Tire needed a man who had the vision to see what the company could become and the business acumen to make it happen.

That man is Bill Ziegler, Modern Tire Dealer magazine’s 2009 Tire Dealer of the Year.

Right man at the right time

Like many second generation tire dealers, Bill Ziegler grew up in the family business, changing tires, working on cars and performing odd jobs at a store run by his father, Herb Ziegler, one of Oliver’s younger brothers. (Oliver brought Herb, along with another brother, Norm, into the family business during the 1920s. Another brother, Harold Sr., joined the dealership in 1919.)

A self-described “numbers guy” who took an early interest in accounting, Bill, who turns 61 this month, says running Ziegler Tire was probably the furthest thing from his mind when he was young.

After high school, he attended Ohio State University, and graduated with a degree in accounting in 1970. He immediately went to work for Arthur Young & Co. (now Ernst & Young) as a CPA. “I never thought I would go back to the family business,” he says.

Bill’s accounting career began to flourish. After a few years, he was placed on track to become a partner in the firm.

Then one day in 1975, he received a call from Uncle Oliver, then in his mid-80s. “He asked me to come home and talk to him,” Bill recalls. “I went to his house and he took me out to his car. We sat in his car in his driveway and he asked me to come back. He felt there was a definite place for me with my background.” Bill turned him down.

“Then my dad asked me to think about it,” he says.

Bill did some more soul-searching. Despite a promising career ahead of him, crunching numbers for other people was losing its appeal.  

“I felt loyalty to my family. They told me they needed me.”

At the time, a second generation of Zieglers, Bill’s cousins, Jack and Harold Jr., were high-ranking executives at the company. “I felt some responsibility, so I decided to come back.”
Bill says it was the best move he ever made.

He started as Ziegler Tire’s controller. He managed the dealership’s profit and loss statements, as well as banking, accounting and other functions.

Bill’s arrival could not have been better timed. Almost immediately, Ziegler Tire entered into its first major growth spurt.

The firm — which, up until that time, had four locations, all of them in the Canton area — began acquiring other tire dealerships and pushing into new markets.

It was an exhilarating change of pace for a company that had been very conservative for much of its history.

History of innovation

There may never have been a Ziegler Tire if not for the ratification of the 18th Amendment in January 1919. The controversial act marked the establishment of Prohibition in the United States.

Oliver Ziegler could see the writing on the wall. He exited the bar business in order to concentrate on running his new service station in Canton, which at the time was a wild-and-woolly boom town with a roaring economy.

Thanks to a stroke of luck, Oliver met one of Firestone Tire & Rubber Co.’s first sales representatives. The 19-year-old tire manufacturer, which was based up the road in Akron, Ohio, was on the look-out for new dealers.

Oliver began selling tires in February 1919.

His new company sold and fixed car tires, replaced batteries and performed other mechanical services.

During this time, commercial trucking was emerging as an industry, prompted in no small part by Firestone’s aggressive “Ship by Truck” campaign. Ziegler Tire began selling truck tires as well.

(Today, commercial tires comprise 70% of the company’s overall sales.)
Business was brisk and Oliver soon brought a younger brother, Harold, who was 10 years his junior, into the business.

The two quickly established Ziegler Tire as a force in the Canton market through service and progressive business practices.

Oliver negotiated a road service contract with the American Automobile Association (AAA), itself a young enterprise. According to Ziegler Tire’s files, Harold performed the first recorded service call for AAA in 1920.

In 1925, a third brother, Herb, Bill’s father, joined the company while still in high school. He became its bookkeeper.  

Ziegler Tire opened its second store in 1927, the tire industry’s first “drive through” service station.

The outlet performed hundreds of oil changes the day it opened!

The new store was a point of great pride for the Ziegler brothers. It boasted overhead doors, a private powder room for female customers, and a compressor-equipped service truck — all cutting-edge innovations at the time.

Oliver brought a fourth brother, Norm, onboard and two more stores were opened. Each brother had his own location. Business continued to prosper.

Then the stock market crashed in October 1929, which set off the Great Depression and the most challenging period in Ziegler Tire’s history.

Path to prosperity

“The Depression had a huge effect on us,” says Bill. “We had a loan with our bank and part of the collateral was our receivables. The bank sold our receivables to another bank without notifying us! In the meantime, our bank went out of business. The new bank wanted their money. The brothers found a way to pay it, but we were very close to going out of business.”

As a result of the experience, Oliver held banks in contempt for the rest of his life. Ziegler Tire didn’t develop a credit line with a bank until the 1970s, at Bill’s prompting.

All of the dealership’s expansions and acquisitions in the intervening years were cash transactions. “Oliver didn’t want to owe the banks any money,” says Bill.

Though cash flow was tight and the brothers were forced to take substantial salary cuts during the Depression, they kept all four stores open.

The country soon transitioned from one crisis to another, entering World War II in late 1941. Rubber was rationed as part of the war effort.

Prior to the war, Ziegler Tire had dabbled in retreading. But with rubber now in short supply, the brothers decided the time was right to open a fully equipped, modern retread shop.

“We used the Firestone retreading method all the way up until 1988, when we became a Bandag retreader,” says Bill. (Ziegler Tire eventually switched to Michelin Retread Technologies Inc.’s system in 1998. It retreads truck tires using Michelin’s Pre-Mold and Custom Mold processes.)
“We were very loyal to Firestone. My father and his brothers lived and died by Firestone.”

To this day, Ziegler Tire remains the oldest Firestone tire dealership in the world.
Bill credits much of the company’s ability to survive difficult times to the brothers’ distinct personalities, temperaments and talents.

“Oliver was the patriarch of the family. He was the leader. Oliver always used the business to help his family, but he was always in charge.”

In later years, Bill recalls, Oliver would spend winters in Florida. He would call each brother from his vacation house to get the company’s latest sales figures. “They would have to update him every other Monday.”

Harold Sr., the second oldest brother and the father of Harold Jr. and Jack, “couldn’t sit still very long. He was always moving around. He enjoyed putting things together, like the retread shop and our service trucks.

“Herb was the financial guy. He was more of a numbers person. He ran a store for years, and at night he would do the books for the company.

“Norm was the youngest brother. He ran a store, but he’s the one who really got us into the oil business. We had a tire company and an oil company back then.” Ziegler Tire eventually exited the oil business in 1997.

Following the war, America enjoyed a time of unprecedented prosperity. During the 1950s, Jack and Harold Jr. joined the company. Jack became a store manager and Harold became Ziegler Tire’s first official commercial salesman.

Business boomed during the ensuing two decades. Automobile ownership spiked. Canton — home to industrial powerhouses Republic Steel, The Timken Co., The Hoover Co. and others — was flourishing. Money was plentiful.

It was a great time and place to be an independent tire dealer, says Bill.

Growth brings tough decisions

Not long after Bill joined Ziegler Tire in 1975, the company went into expansion mode.
“I could see opportunities,” says Bill. “Harold and Jack could, too. We looked at our finances and if we could grow for a reasonable amount of money, we would grow.”

In 1979, the dealership acquired an old Firestone company store in Massillon. The following year, it purchased another independent in nearby Dover.

Meanwhile, the dealership opened a dedicated commercial tire center in Canton and soon expanded into two new markets, Youngstown, Ohio, and Cleveland.

“We were very successful in Youngstown. Cleveland was tougher. When we bought it, we didn’t have very many people. Between Harold and myself, we would drive to Cleveland every day and take turns running the store. That was tough.”

Adding locations was easier in the 1970s and ’80’s, according to Bill. “We were small. We snuck up on people. I like to keep a low profile, and that was easier when we were unknown.”

Ziegler Tire continued to add outlets, but rapid growth brought about a major change for the company. “We went from a positive cash balance to where we had to borrow money. That was a different thing for us. We had to look at what we were paying on interest vs. our return on investment.

“But if it’s a positive and it makes sense, you do it. That was our attitude.”

Bill’s responsibilities grew as the business expanded. “I continued to do all of the financial stuff, but together with Harold and Jack we hired more people and went after more markets.

“I’ve always found it fascinating that the more tires you bought, the more you got back in rebates and discounts, and the bigger you were, the more competitive you could be.”

Most decision-making duties at Ziegler Tire were now in the hands of the second generation.

“Oliver and Harold Sr. were pretty much retired at that point,” says Bill. Herb and Norm, while still working, were winding down their careers.

While growth meant superior buying power and economies of scale, it also forced Ziegler Tire to make a number of hard decisions about its suppliers.

Retreading had become a large part of the company’s business. With four plants, it switched from Firestone’s system to Bandag’s in 1988. “Bandag had by far the biggest market share at that point in time.”

Bill says joining Bandag was a smart move. But it didn’t take long for the Zieglers to realize that the retread market was becoming extremely saturated.

“Bandag was expanding tremendously,” he explains. “There was a Bandag dealer in almost every city , sometimes two. We were running into Bandag retreaders coming out of Columbus, Ohio,” some 125 miles away from Canton.

“Being outside of their home market, they’d give product away. Retreading is a volume business any way you look at it. Although Bandag had a very good product, the margins were deteriorating.”

At the same time, Michelin North America Inc. was laying the foundation for its Michelin Retread Technologies Inc. (MRTI) network. Ziegler Tire, which was already selling new Michelin brand medium truck tires, became one of Michelin’s first retreaders in the U.S.  

Bandag retaliated, Bill says. “They put some dealers on top of us to try to take our business away.” It was a difficult situation, but Ziegler Tire managed to maintain its market share by offering extraordinary service.

The dealership’s retreading operation remains a work in progress. Three years ago, it opened a new plant in Cincinnati, which Bill calls “a major move. There was a hole in that market for Michelin retreads. MRTI asked us to move into the market, and we agreed to put in a retread shop and a commercial center,” which combined represented an investment of more than $1 million.

Ziegler Tire has whittled its retread operation down to two shops. Its other plant is housed at its corporate headquarters in Massillon. Combined, the Cincinnati and Massillon plants currently produce 650 medium truck tire retreads per day, down from a normal run of 800 units per day because of the recession.

Meanwhile, the company continued to develop its retail business. The firm has six retail stores in the greater Canton area that carry Bridgestone, Firestone, Dayton, Michelin, BFGoodrich, Uniroyal, Delta, GITI, Continental, General and Carlisle tires. The outlets also offer a full range of automotive services.

“You go after the commercial and retail segments differently,” says Bill. “You go after the commercial customer through word-of-mouth, products and knocking on their door. You go after the retail customer through advertising.”

Commercial customers are tougher to secure, he believes. “Every company is different. Some you walk into and they say, ‘You’re the 10th guy who’s been in here this week! What the heck do you have?’ They really don’t want to see you sometimes.

“You have to be able to take rejection a little more on the commercial side. There’s an old saying that goes, ‘If you sell something on the first call, it’s probably not worthwhile.’ You need to make three, four or five calls to develop a relationship before they start buying. So many commercial salesmen quit after the first or second attempt. Nobody likes rejection, but in this business, you have to get used to it.”

Ziegler Tire’s commercial business is off this year due to the ongoing recession. The company lost a major truck tire customer, Dover, Ohio-based Baker Highway, when the company recently closed its doors.

Baker had been a loyal Ziegler customer for decades. The loss hurt, says Bill, but Ziegler Tire didn’t spend a lot of time grieving.

“Your first thought is, ‘What are we going to do?’ But you have to find something to replace it. You look at other opportunities, you try to go a little farther, maybe you try to land an account you didn’t have before. You find a way to fix it.”

The commercial tire business has always been ultra-competitive, says Bill. However, because of the shake-out in the trucking business due to the poor economy, opportunities are dwindling. This means you sometimes have to take accounts from other truck tire providers, he explains.

“I tell our commercial salespeople, ‘How can you not sell to everybody? You have the best products. There’s always a product to satisfy some customer’s need.’

“And you have to try to sell yourself, too. I’ve always told our employees, ‘Whatever you promise, we do.’ You can never afford to go back on your word. Even if there’s a misunderstanding where we said something and the customer thought we said something else, we try to honor it.”

Relationship-oriented

Bill became president of Ziegler Tire in 1999 when Harold Jr., who now serves as the dealership’s assistant treasurer, stepped down from the position.

“It was my turn!” Bill says with a laugh. “I joke, but there’s some truth to that. Titles don’t mean a lot here. Everybody knows what they have to do.”

Ziegler Tire’s board — which is comprised of Harold Jr., Jack, and several other family members, including Bill’s cousin, John, and Sally Kitson, Norm Ziegler’s daughter — voted unanimously to elevate Bill to chief officer.

Harold says Bill was an ideal fit for the office of president.

“Bill is a true leader. Sometimes people who are certified public accountants, that’s all they do. Bill is excellent not only with accounting but with people, personnel, sales and purchasing.”

Harold credits Bill with being the catalyst behind Ziegler Tire’s expansion. “He had a lot of ideas and when opportunities came along to buy other people out, he had the ability to do that.”

He isn’t afraid to make painful decisions either, says Harold. In its 90 years, Ziegler Tire never laid off an employee until earlier this year, when a downturn in business necessitated the elimination of several positions.

Bill, Harold and other Ziegler family members personally delivered the news to effected employees, but the decision to cut them loose ultimately was made by Bill.

“Bill was the one who had the guts to say, ‘We have to let you go.’ Bill can see what we have to do now” to ensure the dealership’s long-range viability.

“When Bill says something, people know he means it. There’s no question about that. People look up to him. They know he’s responsible for keeping the company together and he’s done a darn good job.”

John, Jack’s son, joined the company in the 1980s. He currently runs Ziegler Tire’s Mighty Tire wholesale division, and is just as effusive in his praise of his cousin.

“Bill is very analytical. He’s very smart and he doesn’t miss anything. He knows what he wants us to be and he knows where we’re at now, so we’ll sit down and say, ‘How do we get there?’”

At the same time, Bill can be demanding, says John. “There’s a presence about him that when you step between the lines for that game every morning at 7 o’clock, you know what you have to do. You’re doing it for him, but he’s doing it for the company.”

John says one of Bill’s talents lies in getting everyone on the same page and then leading them forward as a single entity. He cites the company’s conversion from Bandag to MRTI as an example of Bill’s leadership skills coming into play.

“There was nothing wrong with the Bandag process. It was great and we were doing well with it, but we switched to Michelin. It was a huge culture change for us. The whole company had to pull together. We had to march forward.”

Bill, in turn, prefers to train the spotlight on his employees, many of whom have been with the company for decades. “It all comes down to your people,” he says. “We have some great people. I think they enjoy working for a family company. They know if they have an issue, they can see us.”

He admits Ziegler Tire’s family atmosphere is difficult to maintain due to the size and scope of the dealership.

Maintaining a sense of cohesion “requires myself, Harold, John — anyone going out to our stores — to greet our people, thank our people, and help them out with whatever is needed.

“You have to learn how to motivate your people, and your store managers have to learn the same thing,” he continues. “Money may motivate one person, praise may motivate another — you have to find what works and individualize it.

“Managers can’t be (employees’) friends, but employees have to be treated fairly. A manager needs to know his people backwards and forwards and what makes them tick.”

He tells store managers that when personnel issues arise, “you need to sit back, take it in, think it through and then react.”

The same approach works well when dealing with suppliers, he contends.

“Some individuals complain to their suppliers about everything. If it isn’t well-justified, I don’t think it’s taken well. You have to think it through, and if something is wrong and you need it to be fixed, make sure you’re right. Don’t overreact.

“You’re always going to have disagreements, but our suppliers go out of their way to help us sell tires. I don’t think you can get too full of yourself that you think, ‘We’re a big-time dealer. You need to do what we want all the time.’ That isn’t going to work.

“Bridgestone Firestone has been with us for all of our 90 years,” says Bill. “We feel a tremendous amount of loyalty to them. Michelin has helped us through some hard times, especially with retreading, and we feel a lot of loyalty to them.

“We go a little further than some other dealers might (in order to maintain good relationships with suppliers), but on the other hand, we expect them to treat us respectfully, too. They have to understand our business.”

Years ago, a tire supplier that Bill declines to name courted Ziegler Tire very aggressively. The deal fell through, he says, because the supplier pushed too hard.

“They tried to dictate how much we should buy and even when we should buy it. Rather than say, ‘Here’s what we have, here’s what we would like you to buy, and here’s how we’re going to help you sell it,’ they said, ‘You need to buy this.’ That didn’t go over too well.”

Ziegler Tire’s approach to supplier relationships reflects Bill’s personality, especially his sense of fair play, says John Baratta, president, consumer replacement tire sales, Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations LLC.

“Relationships are very important to him,  not only with a tire manufacturer, but with the consumer and even his community. In our dealings with Bill and the entire Ziegler Tire team, it has always been about how we can work together. It’s never been a ‘What can you do for me?’ mentality.”

While personable and relationship-oriented, Bill also is a shrewd businessman, says Baratta.

“He’s careful and he thinks things through. I don’t think he knee-jerk reacts to anything. Ziegler Tire has a tried-and-true way of doing business and it starts with the customer. They have the customer in mind in everything they do.”

Francois Corbin, chief operating officer for Michelin Americas Truck Tires, agrees. “Ziegler Tire is clearly customer-oriented in every decision they make. Their business is managed with a long-term vision.”

Corbin is impressed with how Bill has navigated the current economic crisis. “He’s been able to make short-term decisions in line with his long-term vision for the company, and he has maintained great serenity in the process.”

On a personal level, Corbin says he owes Bill a large debt of gratitude. “When I took this position in 2008, I had never worked in truck tires before. Bill helped me understand the business,” even though he was under no obligation to do so.

“Bill is the type of person who you’re proud to be friends with. He has very strong personal values, ethics and credibility.”

Long-term vision

“Our company is very sales-oriented. If we see an opportunity, we jump at it,” says Bill.
The dealership’s high level of organization and open lines of communication enable it to capitalize on opportunities that other dealerships either miss or ignore.

At Bill’s insistence, the company holds weekly staff meetings among its division managers. Every sector of the business is represented.  

“We bring each other up to date on what’s going on and what each unit needs help with. Cell phones, e-mails and all of those things help to keep everybody informed,” but nothing beats face-to-face communication.

Each store manager is required to develop an annual budget to which they must adhere. “We started doing that eight or nine years ago,” says Bill. “We ask each manager to come in and budget their expenses, sales and gross profit.”

Individual budgets are then “rolled up” into a single corporate business plan.
“The hardest things to project are sales and gross profit because of developments like the recession,” which forced Ziegler Tire to scrap its business plan for 2009.

“We said, ‘Let’s try to hit last year’s numbers. Let’s not worry about a projection we know we can’t make.’”

The bigger the operation, the more important it is to stick to a carefully prepared budget, he believes.

“If you have 24 stores and 24 people who are spending your money any way they want, you can get in trouble fast!”

When it comes to advertising and marketing, flexibility also is critical, according to Bill. “Things are changing. Many people don’t get the newspaper anymore. They get their news from the Internet.”

The company has adjusted by cutting its print advertising and spending more money on electronic marketing.

Ziegler Tire is in the process of enhancing its Web site to make it more user-friendly. The site now includes a customer survey. Bill and his staff read all comments that respondents submit.

“If there’s an issue, we try to resolve it. If we receive a compliment, it’s nice. Everybody likes a pat on the back. It’s good for morale and it’s good for the next customer who walks through the door.

“No matter what you have product-wise, you’re still dealing with people,” he says. “It all comes back to that. If you can relate to somebody and look at things from his or her perspective, you’ll be successful.

“If you go in with the attitude of ‘This is what I’m going to sell you and you’re going to buy it,’ you’re probably going to fail. We have so many different products to sell and so many different lines within those products. You have to figure out what’s important to the customer.”

Several of Ziegler Tire’s commercial tire clients have been with the company for more than 50 years.

 “We don’t take advantage of our customers,” says Bill. “We’ve had customers come in and tell us, ‘I’m not going to be able to pay you for the next six months,’ and if they’re good customers and they’re honest, we try to help them.

“You have to be in it for the long-term. You can’t worry about short-term results.”

‘Our community, our commitment’

While Ziegler Tire has locations in Pennsylvania, Kentucky and New York, the bulk of its operation remains in the greater Canton area.

Like other Rust Belt cities, Canton has been clobbered by de-industrialization. The current recession has had a particularly brutal effect on Canton’s economy.

Major employers have enacted mass layoffs in recent months, leaving the city with an unemployment rate of 11.5%, several points higher than the national average. Conditions are a far cry from the halcyon days of the early-to-mid 20th century.

Ziegler Tire is well aware of the challenges its customer base faces.

In May of this year, it launched a program called “Our community, our commitment,” which provides free oil changes, tire rotations, flat repairs, fluid checks and other services for people who have lost their jobs. Through the program, the dealership also is providing auto repairs at cost.

In addition, it’s providing replacement tires at cost, with no charge for mounting, balancing or used tire disposal.

To qualify, customers must schedule an appointment at one of Ziegler Tire’s retail stores; present proof of unemployment, including a federal or state unemployment determination letter; and supply proof of vehicle ownership, including registration.

The idea was hatched by a Ziegler Tire general manager. “We talked about it and thought it was a good idea,” says Bill.

Ziegler Tire, in turn, pitched the concept to several of its advertising partners, including newspapers, radio stations and sign companies.

“The papers and radio stations gave us free space (to promote the program). The sign company gave us free signs.”

To date, more than 350 people have taken advantage of the program. “Oil changes and inspections are probably 80% of what we’ve done so far,” says Dave Nedved, Ziegler Tire’s director of retail sales and operations.

The dealership has not asked for any help from its tire or parts suppliers. “We don’t want people to think there’s some kind of catch to this,” says Bill.

Feedback from the community has been overwhelmingly positive.

“People have written to us and said, ‘I’m not unemployed, but I think what you’re doing is great. I’m going to bring my car to you from now on.’”

One lady liked the idea so much she delivered home-baked cookies to her local store in appreciation.

Bill says he’s proud of how his employees have responded to the program.

“You’d think a store manager would say, ‘Boy, I don’t want to give away stuff. I’m wasting my time doing these things.’ But everyone has volunteered to do extra work and spend extra time. They’ve really embraced the program.”

Ziegler Tire has a long history of giving back — not only to the community at large, but also to its employees.

In 1994, Bill and his father, Herb, established The Herbert Ziegler Foundation shortly before Herb died.

“My dad read a lot and he would read about foundations and how they were a good way to protect your money from the government, and he was always in favor of that!” Bill says with a chuckle.

“But he also liked education. He liked the idea of people going to college or somehow advancing their education.”

Each year, the foundation gives out scholarships to children of Ziegler Tire employees who plan to attend college, vocational schools or other institutes of higher learning.

Scholarships are renewable each year. Last year, the foundation gave out 20 $1,500 awards. No one who applies for a scholarship is turned away.

Bill, who serves as the foundation’s administrator, says the program has given out more than $450,000 since its inception.

Bill’s generosity extends to other organizations and causes. For the last 25 years, he has been involved with Pathway Caring for Children, a Canton-area charity that places troubled children in foster homes.

“Originally, it started as a group home,” he says. “It has evolved into a program that helps locate foster parents” for abandoned or unwanted kids.

Bill got involved with the organization through a friend who asked him to help with accounting and other financial functions. Over the years, Bill’s involvement has increased. He even helped craft a business plan for the organization, which has generated many success stories.

“I remember there was one boy who was really struggling, but he graduated from high school, then college, and has his own business now. He’s doing very well.”

Declaration of independence

As the top man at Ziegler Tire, Bill is one of the first people in at the dealership’s offices each morning and often the last person to leave at night.

Even at home, he makes himself accessible to employees and customers.

“It’s hard to put work away sometimes, especially if there’s an issue,” he admits. “I leave my cell phone on all the time.

“Sometimes you have to force yourself to go and have some fun. You just have to clear your head once in a while.”

A devoted family man, Bill has two daughters, Courtney, 18, and Taylor, 14, and three sons, Pat, 42, Brian, 37, and Kyle, 13. Pat is a commercial tire salesman at Ziegler Tire’s office in Dover. Courtney, who’s starting college this fall, works as a receptionist at the dealership’s corporate headquarters. (Another third generation Ziegler, John Ziegler III, Jack’s grandson, manages a company store in Cincinnati.)

Bill enjoys spending time with his children, two grandchildren and his wife, Barbara. (His children are from previous marriages.)

“She used to work for us years ago. Her sister, Theresa, still works for us.”

Long after she left Ziegler Tire, Barbara bumped into Bill at a fund raiser for a local politician. He asked her out at the event. The two were married in 2007.

“We enjoy traveling a lot,” he says. Mexico and Las Vegas are favorite destinations. Bill estimates he’s been to Vegas at least 30 times. “And I win every time, too!” he jokes.

When asked if he would like to see his younger kids join the family business, he says yes.

“It’s important that the company continues to stay in the family, but I would like to see them get some experience on the outside before they come here. I know it helped me tremendously.

“If I had come here straight from college, I would not have had the ability or the opportunities to do certain things. It’s a nice security blanket to have your dad’s business, where you can work in the summertime and make a few extra dollars, but you also want them to provide a benefit to the company, too.”

Bill has no plans to step down. After all, cousins Jack and Harold Jr. are still working well into their 70s. And Uncle Oliver was still involved in the business until he died in 1981 at the age of 91!

While Bill enjoys charting Ziegler Tire’s strategic course, he also wishes he had more time to personally call on customers. He still gets a charge out of making a sale, comparing it to “scoring a touchdown.

“This business isn’t a game, but when you win, you get a tremendous feeling.

“Even if you don’t make the sale yourself, if the company or one of our salesmen makes it happen, that’s a great feeling.

“If you can get a commitment from a good customer and you put a program in place to sell them tires for what hopefully will be a long time, it’s an adrenaline rush.”

A lot of companies, particularly big corporations, live and die by their quarterly results, says Bill, which he believes is a mistake.

“That’s all done for the stock market. One nice thing about being a private, family-owned business is that you only answer to your family.

“It’s important for us to stay independent,” he continues. “The moment you sell out or become part of a bigger organization, you’re answering to somebody else.

“It’s a lot easier to answer to yourself. You also get that sense of accomplishment that you wouldn’t get if you weren’t independent.

“This isn’t a difficult business when you think about it. You buy, you sell and you provide really good service. It’s a relatively simple business model.

“You can have some niches and do some different things, but it comes down to the fundamentals. Maybe you look at your credits one day and see you’ve done a road call for someone you’ve never helped before, and you say, ‘Let’s call him up and see if we can get more business.’ That’s still a lot of fun.”

As might be expected, Ziegler Tire has received a number of  “substantial” offers over the years to sell out. Some of these offers would have made Bill an incredibly wealthy man. That isn’t why he’s in business.

“There’s something about this industry that gets in your blood. Sure, I could do other things, but there’s something about this business that keeps you going and going. It’s your people, your customers —  lots of different things.

“I don’t see myself getting rich from running this company. I see myself being part of Ziegler Tire for a certain period of time and then the company evolving further without me.

“In the meantime, I’m really looking forward to our 100th anniversary!”   

Bill Ziegler joins an elite club of tire dealer greats

Modern Tire Dealer’s first Tire Dealer of the Year award was presented in 1993. This year, Bill Ziegler, president of Ziegler Tire & Supply Co., is the latest independent tire dealer to join the list of elites who have won this prestigious honor.

In recognition of his achievement, MTD will donate $1,000 and a percentage of congratulatory ad revenue in Ziegler’s name to Pathway Caring for Children, a Canton, Ohio-area charity that places troubled children in foster homes.

Ziegler was selected by a panel of independent judges that included Saul Ludwig, author of MTD’s monthly “Ludwig Report” and a managing director with KeyBank Capital Markets Inc. in Cleveland, Ohio; Barry Steinberg, MTD’s first Tire Dealer of the Year and president of Watertown, Mass.-based Direct Tire & Auto Service; Bill Williams, Tire Dealer of the Year in 2006 and CEO of Moosic, Pa.-based Jack Williams Tire Co.; Tom Gegax, founder of Minneapolis, Minn.-based Gegax Management Systems, MTD’s Tire Dealer of the Year in 1998 and frequent MTD contributor; and Dick Morgan, president of Morgan Marketing Solutions in Dallas, Texas.

Past Tire Dealer of the Year award winners include Ken Towery, Ken Towery’s AutoCare SuperCenter (2008); Charlie Creighton, Colony Tire Corp. (2007); Paul Zurcher, Zurcher Tire Inc. (2005); Bob and Juanita Purcell, Purcell Tire & Rubber Co. (2004); John Marshall, Grismer Tire Co. Inc. (2003); Tom Raben, Raben Tire Co. (2002); and Larry Morgan, Morgan Tire & Auto Inc. (2001).
The late Les Schwab, founder of Les Schwab Tire Centers, was our Tire Dealer of the Year in 2000. Raynal Pearson, Pearson Tire Co. (1999); the late Walt Dealtrey Sr., Service Tire Truck Centers (1997); David Stringer, Stringer Tire Co. (1996); Tony Troilo, Rosson & Troilo Motor Co. (1995); and Jerry Bauer, Bauer Built Inc. (1994) round out our list.

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