Insights Into Jim and Tommy Duff, Recipients of MTD's 2021 Tire Dealer of the Year Award
Observations From Members of Southern Tire Mart's Leadership Team
Despite its size and scope, Southern Tire Mart’s corporate structure is lean — and that’s by design. The Duffs work with a small leadership team at their state-of-the-art corporate office in Columbia, Miss. Several members of the group have been with Southern Tire Mart since the 1980s.
Keven Haddox, who oversees the dealership’s business west of the Mississippi River, went to work for the Duffs and their father, company founder Ernest Duff, in 1985.
“Jim and I went to kindergarten together and were friends through high school. I even had a set of retreads on my 1966 pickup truck that had come out of their retread plant!
“I came out of college and had a job with Bristol Meyers as a rep. And Jim said, ‘Come work for us.’ I knew nothing about tires, but Jim is a pretty persistent guy. So I went to work for them. I worked in the retread plant.”
Haddox was soon assigned to Southern Tire Mart’s store in Jackson, Miss. “I worked the front counter, took service calls — things like that.”
He worked his way up to store manager in 1990.
“We were a small company, but it’s the same now as it was then — very customer-focused. As we grew, we wore more hats. And I think today we’re somewhat the same.”
Despite their success in other industries, Haddox says the Duffs remain “tire people” at heart. “This is what they know. This is what they’ve done the longest. And this is what they are probably most comfortable with.”
After Jim and Tommy sold Southern Tire Mart to Bandag/Tire Distribution Systems Inc. (TDS) in 1997, “they said, ‘Oh my gosh, what have we done?’ I think that’s what still keeps them engaged with the company. They know what the other side is like.
“Plus, when you’re in a position where you have something like a Southern Tire Mart, you want to say, ‘Let’s keep growing.’”
David Tolbert is Haddox’s counterpart in the dealership’s eastern region. He met Tommy and Jim at a church function shortly after he had graduated from college. Tolbert was working for a bank at the time.
“Tommy said, ‘I’d like you to come work for me.’ I went to Mr. Ernest’s home and visited for two hours. Tommy offered me an opportunity.”
Tolbert started at Southern Tire Mart “by learning everything” and gained additional experience managing locations in Texas, Tennessee and Alabama.
“Our customers are the biggest driving force in making us better,” he says. “When a customer says, ‘I need this or want this,’ Jim and Tommy will find a way to do it.”
Southern Tire Mart runs more than 800 service trucks, but up until nine years ago, used a third-party phone service for dispatching. The Duffs brought all of that in-house and established a cutting-edge, 24/7 call center that employs nearly 100 people.
“Customers can talk to a real Southern Tire Mart person who has access to inventory and can create a ticket and dispatch trucks,” says Tolbert. “They know tires. It’s not just an answering service.”
The call center processed 175,000 road service calls last year and will exceed that number by the end of 2021.
Janet Price, Southern Tire Mart’s chief financial officer, worked for the Duffs prior to the sale to Bandag/TDS. They asked her to return after they acquired the company from Bandag.
“I didn’t have a second thought,” she says. “There was no hesitation at all.
“I like their management style. They let you do your job and give you the flexibility to do your job. They are always interested in that bottom line number, but they are not micro-managers.”
John Boynton joined Southern Tire Mart three years ago, but had known Jim and Tommy for more than 20 years when he worked for Bandag and later, Bridgestone Americas Inc.
He says the brothers have an unparalleled ability to spot talent and focus on an employee’s positive qualities.
“They have an innate ability to look at somebody and see their strengths, rather than looking for their weaknesses. They look at someone and say, ‘We don’t really care what they’re weak at, but they’re really good at this and we’re going to value that and push it as hard as we can.’”