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Getting down to business

Is there anything that separates a Tire Dealer of the Year from the average dealer? Just what is it that makes him or her so special?

There are five categories on which each candidate is judged: business success, marketing skills, management skills, industry knowledge and community involvement. Each of our 19 Tire Dealers of the Year have scored well in all the categories. However, business success encompasses the other four. If you are a good marketer and manager, if you understand the industry and embrace your community, you have a great chance to succeed.

As editor of  Modern Tire Dealer, I am very proud of producing our annual Tire Dealer of the Year issue. We have used it not only to pay tribute to great people over the years, but also to contribute — substantially, I might add — to a number of charities in their names. It is my favorite issue of the year.

Nick Mitsos, founder and owner of Mountain View Tire & Service Inc. in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., is the latest independent tire dealer to join the MTD Tire Dealer of the Year family. While interviewing him for our story, I particularly was impressed by how he blends his business priorities with his family values.

That got me to wondering what advice our other winners, all CEOs and/or presidents,  have shared with you over the years. Their “tutorials” sounded eerily familiar.

Going back 10 years to 2001, Larry Morgan, then running 558 Tires Plus stores from his home base in Clearwater, Fla., was very specific in his advice to tire dealers just starting out: “Be aligned with a winning marketing group, and have enough capital to hang on through the tough times.” He did as he said.

Snider Tire Inc.’s John Snider, last year’s Tire Dealer of the Year, runs one of the largest commercial dealerships in the country. His advice also was simple and direct: “Find a niche that you have a passion for.”

The biggest challenge in Ken Towery’s career prior to starting his Ken Towery’s AutoCare SuperCenters chain was to turn around three money-losing stores for the former Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. How did our 2008 Tire Dealer of the Year do it? By working hard, putting in long hours and, most importantly, changing the store personnel’s attitude. That included letting an assistant manager go because he would not adapt to the new program. “Training is constant,” he added.

Charlie Creighton of Colony Tire Corp. (2007) addressed a topic with which all dealers struggle: employee hiring and retention. He said there’s no magic formula, but found this four-step strategy to be successful:

1. high selectivity in hiring;

2. competitive wages and incentives;

3. a strong benefits package; and

4. recognition of employee achievements.

“They want to be well-compensated, but they need more than that,” said John Marshall (2003) of Grismer Tire Co. “Opportunity for improvement, opportunity to participate in decision-making, and the feeling that they’re contributing for real” all play a part as well.

How many of us have ever had trouble delegating job responsibilities? Bill Williams (2006) of Jack Williams Tire Co. passed along this telling story. “When I had three stores, I tried to run all three,” he said. “It was hard turning customers over to someone else. We now have stores that do three or four times the volume that we used to do, and I’ve never sold a tire in any of them.”

As you might expect, our Tire Dealers of the Year keyed in on the basics. “Surround yourself with good people,” said Raben Tire Co.’s Tom Raben (2002). “Be honest, fair and have integrity,” said Ziegler Tire & Supply Co.’s Bill Ziegler (2009). “Develop a good work ethic and build trust with your customers,” said Purcell Tire & Rubber Co.’s Bob Purcell (who shared the award with his wife, Juanita, in 2004).

When he was just starting out, Paul Zurcher (2005) of Zurcher Tire Inc. simply strived to exceed customer expectations. “We felt we weren’t in a position to advertise because we weren’t big enough,” he said. “But I wanted every customer to leave with a good feeling and their needs met.”

To learn more about how any of our Tire Dealers of the Year do business, check out all their stories on our Web site, www.moderntiredealer.com. And while you are there, nominate someone you think would be a good candidate for our 20th (can you believe it?) award next year.

As for Nick’s advice, you’ll just have to read the article for yourself. I’m sure you will learn a lot. 

If you have any questions or comments, please e-mail me at bob.ulrich@bobit.com.

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