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Plaza Tire founder receives Triumph Award

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Vernon "Pee Wee" Rhodes, founder of Plaza Tire Service Inc., recently received the Triumph Award during the Tri-State Advertising and Marketing Professionals' annual Small Business Marketing Expo in Cape Girardeau, Mo.

Rhodes, 71, was recognized for transforming a car wash business into a successful tire service business. He started with one outlet in 1963; today, there are 45 Plaza Tire retail outlets.

What became Plaza Tire was formed when Jack Lewis offered Rhodes a partnership in his Plaza Car Wash, located in Cape Girardeau. Shortly thereafter, Rhodes bought out Lewis, then added retreaded tires to the store's list of services.

Rhodes recalls selling large quantities of tires, but was not making much money on them (he says he made only $7.50 on each tire). He added new tires and changed them on the sidewalk outside the car wash.

When city officials gave him 24 hours to stop changing tires along the street, he decided to close the car wash and focus on tire sales. The car wash was renovated and transformed into Plaza Tire Service over one weekend without losing a single day's work, according to the company.

Rhodes says he remained inspired by the early advice he received from Lewis: "You grow or you go." Plaza Tire's 45 stores are spread across Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky and Arkansas. The operation also includes a wholesale department, quick lube division and a Mighty Auto Parts franchise.

His sons, Mark and Scott, now oversee the company's day-to-day operations, although the elder Rhodes still lends a hand "whenever needed."

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