On the Rise: Aaron Telle
CEO and president | Telle Tire & Auto Service Inc. | Age: 33
What was your first job in the industry?
I started in the business at 15 years old working on summer breaks. My job duties throughout my high school years included shuttle driver, general service tech, and janitor. After high school, while attending community college, I became a service writer.
What attracted you to the industry?
Our family has been in the tire business since 1942. My great-grandfather, Arthur Telle Sr., founded a second-hand retreading mold and formed a business recapping tires. The single outlet business continued to grow, and by 1962 it focused exclusively on retail tire and auto service. In 1976, Telle Tire added a 5,000 tire warehouse and the following year we were recognized at Missouri's first "Tire Service Specialist Shop" by the National Tire Dealers and Retreaders Association. I have always enjoyed the tire industry and was extremely proud of our family's longevity in the business. I felt compelled to continue the tradition.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career?
The biggest challenge I faced was taking over a struggling company at a young age. At 22, I returned to the tire business after attending the University of Missouri. Within four years, my uncle retired and my father fell ill and needed a bone marrow transplant. This was very tough on him personally and the business. He fought a long and hard battle for many years and he died in 2009. During those times, the business fell on tough times, and sales were at an all-time low.
Who has had the biggest influence on your career?
In addition to wanting to make the business successful again for my father, Scott, my grandfather, Charles Telle, a second-generation owner, has been my biggest influence. He taught me the finer points of running a business. Customer service was always the top priority. He would drill that into me. "The reason you're successful and the reason you're in business is because of your employees first and foremost, but there are so many places that your customers have a chance to go. Every time they come in, you have to give them a reason to come back." He always related the tire industry to the restaurant industry, "Restaurants don't sell the steak, they sell the sizzle." It's the little extras that make the difference.
What is your biggest accomplishment in the industry?
At 26 years old, I was operating a single store that did $1.2 million in revenue and had multiple years of declining sales. I was very blessed to have a family that worked together and that my Uncle Mark allowed me to learn from him and make changes to the business. Within three years, we were able to double our sales to over $2 million. Since 2011, we've opened a new location in Sunset Hills, Mo., and acquired Drake Tire & Auto Service in Alton, Ill., and Al's Automotive in Fenton, Mo. We have grown to 31 employees and now have revenue of over $6 million.
What do you expect to be doing 20 years from now?
I hope to still be doing what I love and continuing to grow our company.
What’s the biggest issue facing the industry today?
With many older technicians looking to retire in the years to come it does not appear we have sufficient interest or enough talented and trained technicians ready to step into their roles. The industry must remain active in its approach to filling and providing opportunities to future automotive technicians.
How do you encourage others to enter the industry?
I think there is a great opportunity for young people looking to get into a trade to enter the automotive industry. With the shortage of technicians and the technological advancements in these vehicles we need a talented, skilled work force more than ever. There will be some great opportunities and incentives for young people to take on and learn this exciting trade. What a great opportunity for them to be leaders in their field.
Tell us about your family.
My wife Laura is the backbone of our family and has really helped me in the success of our business over the years. We have two beautiful boys, Austin and Samuel.
What’s your favorite weekend activity?
Watching my boys play sports.
What keeps you up at night?
There are many things that keep me up at night. There is not one specific item but I am constantly thinking about our business and operations. Thinking about continuous improvement – systematically, functionally and organizationally. Some items I can control and others are out of my control. The items that I cannot control are always the most frustrating and nerve-racking at night.
Tell us something about yourself others might not know.
I have a passion for global awareness. Although day to day business is predominantly impacted locally and domestically, I enjoy being cognizant of all major occurrences across a full range of industries and governments throughout the world.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.
Name a talent you wish you had.
What’s your favorite food?
A great steak.
If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?
I would love the opportunity to have dinner with Bruce Halle, chairman and founder of Discount Tire. His story and success are so inspirational. His commitment to providing opportunities to his employees and the respect that he has throughout his company is very admirable. As a small family business that is growing I try every day to provide opportunities to my employees and understand they are the cornerstone of why we are successful.
If we took your cell phone away and said it would cost you $1,000 to get it back, how long would you survive until you paid the ransom?