With great power comes great responsibility. -- Spiderman's Uncle Ben; Tire-Rama's Dave Wehr
I first met Dave Wehr, CEO and president of Tire Guys Inc., while attending the inaugural Cooper Advanced Management Program, or CAMP, hosted by Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. in 2002. When he quoted Spiderman's Uncle Ben, I knew I was in the presence of someone who took his job seriously. Or someone who liked to wear tights.
What I didn't know was how family-oriented Tire Guys, which does business as Tire-Rama Inc., is. Wehr is one of the company's six major shareholders, but there are hundreds more if you count Tire-Rama's Employee Stock Ownership Plan. Some 350 employees help run the 30-store chain based in Billings, Mont. Tire-Rama is the 30th largest dealership on our Top 100 Domestic Independent Tire Store Chains list. (See the list in our Research area under 2007 Charts and Statistics.)
"What made Cooper Cooper made Tire-Rama." -- Dave Wehr
The majority of Tire-Rama outlets are in Montana. With a statewide population of close to one million people, there are only 6.2 people per square mile. A high concentration of stores is located in Billings, the largest city in Montana.
"There's no where else for us to go in Montana, which, consequently, is why we're expanding in Wyoming," says Wehr, who has opened three stores there. "We have fully saturated Montana."
"At any given time, you can go 100 miles without hitting a town," says John Tompkins, vice president of retail store operations.
In Wehr's neck of the woods, Cooper is a tier-one product. "Quite honestly, we have a huge market share in the state of Montana and Wyoming, and we've done it with Cooper products."
Being tied so closely to a brand is something that has served Tire-Rama well, although it contrasts with the way one of its competitors, Les Schwab Tire Centers, is perceived.
"That has been a subject we discuss quite frequently because we have Les Schwabs in the western part of the state," says Wehr. "They are the best at promoting (the Les Schwab name), and you can't argue with their success."
In addition to Cooper, Tire-Rama sells Bridgestone, Yokohama, Firestone, Michelin and Kenda (through Cooper) consumer tires. Carlisle (trailer and specialty), Solideal and GPX (industrial), Yokohama, Michelin and Bridgestone (OTR) and Firestone (farm) complete the tire offerings.
Tire-Rama also sells custom wheels, and is expanding its automotive services. "That's our big push right now," says Wehr. "We've always done brakes and alignments, but need to get more into vehicle maintenance."
"If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you... You'll be a Man, my son!" -- Rudyard Kipling
Chuck Patrick and Jack Hasty co-founded Tire-Rama in Rudyard, Mont., a small farming community supposedly named after author Rudyard Kipling. Hasty retired in 1992, Patrick remains chairman of the seven-man board of directors, although he does not hold stock in the company.
Wehr also is from Rudyard, where he worked in, and eventually owned, his family's auto parts business. He joined Tire-Rama 17 years ago.
The company's annual sales are between $50 million and $100 million, according to Wehr.
His goals are simple yet direct: "more stores, more states, more volume." At least that's what it says in his daily planner.
People who need people
There's always a diamond in the rough somewhere." -- Dave Wehr
As the company grows, finding good help becomes more critical. Consumers are more demanding, and cars are more complex, says Wehr.
"The old adage that you have to work your way up through the ranks from the bottom to become a manager is a thing of the past, especially since our industry is facing employment issues."
So if you find a person "who has good sales and management abilities, you can teach him."
"It helps to know the business some, but it's not the driving force behind the job itself," adds Greg Passon, store operations manager. Working together is, however.
"We'll open a new store, and we'll get calls from our managers who say, 'Hey, can we help out with the grand opening?' says Wehr. "We don't pay them extra to do that. It's like we're a big family. They have fun."