Van's Tire & Service Owner Follows in Founder's Footsteps
This past August, L. Wayne Vanaman, founder of Van’s Tire & Service in Akron, Ohio, passed away, leaving his business for the next two generations of its ownership - his son and grandson.
Michael Vanaman, Wayne’s son, says his father provided wisdom and guidance when the younger Vanaman was ready to take over the dealership years ago. And Michael is mentoring his son, Jesse, in the same way in order to provide an uninterrupted legacy of customer service.
The 'Van' in Van's Tire
Wayne Vanaman first worked as a professional welder in the 1970s. In his spare time, he would find deals on blemished tires and sell them out of the back of his Dodge van to small, independent auto repair shops in the Akron-Canton, Ohio, area.
“He earned a fine reputation of always having good tires at a good price,” says Michael. “He also got the nickname ‘Van’ since he drove around and sold tires out of a van and his last name has the word ‘van’ in it. That’s why he decided to name his first location Van’s Tires.”
Wayne’s first store was in Alliance, Ohio, a suburb of Canton. He opened his second location in Atwater, Ohio, and then added other locations in and around Akron.
At his peak, Van was running nine busy stores.
Michael says that his father always looked for locations that were fairly close together so he could manage them in a hands-on way. “He wanted to run the business and not let the business run him,” says Michael.
When they were ready, Vanaman made sure each of his three children took over a Van’s Tire location and helped them through the process.
Michael’s older brother, Wayne Vanaman Jr., ran the company’s Streetsboro, Ohio, location. (He later sold the store to a family friend.)
Michael got the Van’s Tire & Service store in Manchester, Ohio.
His younger brother, Mark, became the owner of the chain’s Wadsworth, Ohio, location, which he sold years later to another tire dealer who rebranded the store under the Van’s Tire Pros banner.
His sister, Becky (Vanaman) Barnes, took over a Van’s Tire & Service location on the east side of Akron, which also later became a Van’s Tire Pros store.
The only Van’s Tire & Service locations that operate under the company’s original name and share the same website are the Manchester location, still owned by Michael; a location in Redfield, Ohio, which is owned by a family friend; and a store in Streetsboro, Ohio.
“Downscaling just happened naturally on its own, with the shops being sold or rented,” says Michael.
Legacy of service
Michael says it took some time for his father to convince him to take over the Manchester location. “I liked working under my dad — just like my son, Jesse, likes working under me,” says Michael. “One day, (Wayne) basically came up to me and said, ‘You’re taking over. It’s your shop.'
“I knew that he would help me with the adjustments required as an owner. He didn’t let me down and was right by my side the entire time.”
The elder Vanaman had arranged for Michael and his wife to buy the business “over a period of years.”
That was more than three decades ago and Michael says he still runs the store in a similar manner as his father did. “I feel that if it’s not broken, then don’t fix it. My dad never pressured people to buy and rather than look for a quick buck, he always kept looking at the bigger picture.”
Michael says that Van’s Tire & Service has always been particular about what it carries in inventory.
Yearly, Van’s Tire & Service’s Manchester location - which has seven bays and employs 10 people - sells about 5,000 tires and has a ratio of 60% tire sales to 40% auto service.
The busy dealership performs all undercar services at its locations.
“I’ve had opportunities to sell the company over the years and selling out sounded pretty good” at various times, says Michael. “So I sat down with my son and my son-in-law and said, ‘Unless you guys want it, I will probably sell.’ Both of them said, ‘We want to keep it as grandpa’s legacy.’
“Some of these companies might have made attractive deals, but family is the most important thing to me.”
Michael’s son, Jesse, was “trained from the ground up” within the business. When he first started, he changed tires and oil and ran customers home if their cars were needed overnight.
“Jesse wouldn’t just drive them home. He would get to know them and build a relationship with them.”
Work and life
In May 2016, a fire broke out at Van’s Tire & Service’s Manchester store during the workday. Although there were no injuries, the fire caused Michael to “reconsider his life.”
The dealership used to be open six days a week, Monday through Saturday. After the fire, Michael made the decision to permanently close his store on Saturdays.
Before this, Van’s Tire & Service was already in the process of reducing its Saturday hours. It started by closing at 3 p.m., then closing at 2 p.m. and then closing at 1 p.m. until the dealership closed on Saturdays altogether.
“When we worked six days a week, we would have high and low spurts throughout the day,” says Michael. “Now that we are open five days a week, we seem to be steadily busy throughout the day. This is a decision that we have never regretted.
“It allows myself and all of our employees to spend quality time with their families each and every weekend.”
Van’s Tire & Service draws the majority of its customers from the local community, according to Michael. But the company has a handful of customers who make the trek back to Van’s Tire & Service, even though they live far away from the dealership.
“I have a customer who lives far into Pennsylvania,” says Michael. “When he needs tires, he won’t go anywhere else but here.”
Another perk of keeping the business within the family is that the Vanamans get to see the next generations of their longtime customers.
Michael says Van’s Tire & Service is now serving the children and grandchildren of original customers that his dad took care of when he opened his first store. “As the only location owned and operated by our family, we plan to continue to do things as our founder did.”