On the Rise: Sam Rhodes
Operations Project Manager | Plaza Tire Service | Age: 26
What was your first job in the industry?
I started rolling tires in the warehouse in between my college classes. Eventually, I worked as a tire technician and a salesperson at the store-level throughout the remainder of my undergrad and masters programs.
What attracted you to the industry?
Growing up, we used industry meetings and conventions as family vacations. You can attribute it to family-ties or long-term indoctrination, but I’ve always wanted to work in the tire business. So far in my life, I’ve found there is nothing quite like the tire industry.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced in your career?
As a young person, it can be challenging to earn the respect of the people around you. It is important to me that I genuinely earn the respect of co-workers, customers, employees, and vendors. Saying the right thing and trying to learn the industry is good, but there can be a stigma surrounding younger generations. Whether or not that stigma is warranted, I do my best to learn all I can and put in the effort to earn my role in our business.
Who has had the biggest influence on your career?
Being part of the family business, it’s probably obvious that my father, Mark Rhodes, has played a huge role in my career at Plaza Tire Service. Additionally, my grandfather, Peewee Rhodes, has been hugely influential. Though my grandfather passed away in 2011, the culture he instilled in this company is alive and well. Most of what I’ve learned from my time in this industry is from my father and, by extension, my grandfather.
What is your biggest accomplishment in the industry?
I’m not sure I can point out a single accomplishment, but I certainly bring a new perspective to Plaza Tire Service. While learning about our business and about the industry in the age of technology and consolidation, I often find myself asking “why?” What can we do to be different and how can we be better? What can we streamline and how can we make the customer experience more enjoyable? I like to think that a fresh perspective is beneficial when seeking answers to questions unique to our business.
Tell us about your current job and responsibilities. How do you spend your work day?
Every day is different! I work in all facets of our business, from our marketing department to our wholesale department. One day I may be on the road looking at real estate for a new store, the next day I may be trying to sell auto parts to a new wholesale customer, and then the day after that could be spent resolving an issue in our warehouse. My main responsibilities currently involve the management of our Mighty Auto Parts division, the organization of our company’s shop equipment, and aiding in the operations of our retail stores. It always makes for an exciting day!
What’s one thing you wish someone would have told you before you took your current job?
I wish someone had told me to slow down. Every time there is a plan in motion, I’m ready to get it done immediately. In reality, things take time. Whether it’s research, coworkers, vendors, or testing out a new initiative, projects at work take time. Everything in high school, undergrad, and graduate school is relatively short term — projects and assignments are week-to-week. Even the longest projects can only last the duration of the semester! In the real world, projects can take months, if not years to fully develop and be implemented.
Tell us about your family.
As a 26-year-old living in fast-paced Cape Girardeau, I haven’t started a family of my own. What I do have is some family I work with. I work directly under my father, Mark Rhodes, at Plaza Tire Service. As the owner, he manages the operations of the company. My uncle, Scott Rhodes, also owns the company. His day to day is more finance- and real estate-focused. Though my Grandma Carole is not directly involved in the business, she and my late grandfather, Peewee, are the whole reason I have the opportunity to work for Plaza Tire Service today. My grandfather founded Plaza Tire Service in 1963 and passed away in 2011. Working with family is always a treat but it also fosters some unique challenges along the way.
What did you learn about yourself in the course of the COVID-19 pandemic?
The main thing I learned is to keep on keeping on. As a company, we were unsure what was going to happen during the pandemic. We knew one thing was for certain, however, we would want to be as successful as possible. We kept our stores open and worked full hours, not only as a service to our customers, but as a service to our employees. We never furloughed anyone and never let anyone go due to the pandemic. This taught me an important lesson, that in the face of adversity and uncertainty, keep doing what you do best and don’t give up. This past year has taught me that I’m a little more resilient and flexible than I had otherwise thought.
Name a talent you wish you had.
I wish I was better with my hands! I have always wanted to work on my own construction projects around my home or build something in the vein of woodwork. There is something satisfying about starting a project with a clear start and finish and having something physical to enjoy after the fact. I’d love to build my own furniture, for example.
How do you recover from a bad or stressful day?
I enjoy cooking and, as a consequence of that, I also enjoy eating. After a long, hard day, nothing is more relaxing to me than cooking a meal from scratch. For example, a big pot of jambalaya with freshly chopped vegetables, recently picked herbs and spices, and some from-scratch cornbread can turn a bad day around. I find joy in every step of the process, from the meal prep, to cooking the food, and, of course, eating the finished product.
What’s the best book you’ve read lately?
I recently read Walt Disney’s biography, Walt Disney: An American Original. As a person in the business world, learning about Disney and his years as a young businessman creates a sense of wonder. What he did in his lifetime goes to show what is possible. With the will to do and the right vision, what game changers can be created in our own industry?
What’s your favorite, can’t-miss podcast?
I have a number of podcasts I tune in to, but the one I’m most excited for every week is Timesuck with Dan Cummins. Think this: stand-up comedian meets various history-based and true crime-based topics. It’s not for the faint of heart and it gets a little weird, but it’s always entertaining and I generally learn a thing or two.
If you won an Olympic gold medal, how would you have earned it? (You can make up a sport.)
I have always considered myself to be particularly creative. At the very least, I have a very active imagination. I could see myself winning a gold medal in writing the most creative story, or writing the most bizarre story.
What’s the biggest issue facing the industry today?
It's hard to narrow it down to one issue. I personally think our industry has a customer service issue. When travelling, it isn’t uncommon to poke my head into a tire shop to see how they operate. I’ll get a quote for “my wife’s car” or to upsize the tires on my truck. So often it feels like I’m inconveniencing the store staff. Counter staff can be short and, in some cases, unfriendly with customers. Within the industry we know customers are guarded at automotive shops because they’re generally unfamiliar with the inner workings of their vehicles. Meanwhile, the guy behind the counter understands how everything works. What is often a chance for staff to quickly teach customers something and earn their trust and earn their business, turns into something negative. I think it’s something all management within the industry fights.
What advice would you give to tire dealers who are desperate to find good employees?
I have two suggestions for dealers in this predicament. Start by making sure you’re treating your good employees right. If they’re rockstars, treat them like rockstars. Second, look for new employees in places you don’t always think to look. Don’t rely on experienced technicians, mechanics or salespeople. Those people already have a job. Try training someone new to the industry. You never know what they might bring to the table. As long as they have a good attitude and work ethic, there’s a good chance they can learn the business.
What do you expect to be doing 20 years from now?
I hope to have a larger role in the operations of Plaza Tire Service. I grew up in this industry and in this business and would like to stick with it. I particularly enjoy the retail side of the tire industry and hope that my role at Plaza Tire Service develops farther down that road.