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James Faught: A Man of Vision

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Jim Faught is farsighted in more ways than one. His trifocals make up for his imperfect eyesight. But he has no reason to alter his insight into running a tire dealership. As founder and president of Northwest Tire & Service in Flint, Mich., Faught has periodically changed the direction of his business based on trends, forecasts, and just plain instinct.

He now runs a nine-store chain that cracked the $9 million mark in sales for the first time last year.

And he envisions adding more outlets every year for at least the next 10 years.

Not surprisingly, Faught is already a year ahead of schedule as he prepares to take over as president of the National Tire Dealers and Retreaders Association (NTDRA).

He has chaired the NTDRA’s Strategic Planning Committee for a year now, and plans to continue that duty during his presidential term.

“It’s really obvious that the dealer who needs the association the most is the least familiar with us, and I think we have to go out to them rather than wait for them to come to us,” he says.

A STUDY IN MARKET AWARENESS

Faught knows what to expect from his customers because he studies his market closely.

“You have to look at where you’re at, where you want to be and how to get there,” he says. “If you stay on top of your market, it doesn’t cost money, it makes you money.”

For example, the largest employer in any of the three communities in which Northwest Tire competes — Flint, Saginaw and Lansing — is General Motors.

“Seventy-two percent of the vehicles we see are GM. So we address the GM after- market.”

Northwest Tire has been primarily an independent Goodyear dealer since 1983. However, Buick LeSabre’s national headquarters are in Flint, and General Tire is affiliated with LeSabre at the original equipment level.

So Faught recently added selected General sizes to his mix.

Northwest also offers Uniroyal’s Laredo light truck tire line, OE on a number of GM’s light trucks.

“The third most popular vehicle we see in our stores is a General Motors light truck or van.” He adds that light truck tire sales have doubled in the last three years.

CREDIT WHERE CREDIT IS DUE

Faught started out in 1958 as a credit manager trainee with a Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. store in Detroit.

However, he soon was outselling the store’s salespeople by asking his customers what they wanted to purchase next, then showing them how to do it within their means.

His initiative led to a series of promotions. By 1971 he was itching to start his own business. That’s when he opened Northwest Tire in Flint.

His first store, located in the northwest part of town, was an exclusive Firestone dealership the first few years.

The “Firestone 500” controversy in the mid-1970s greatly affected sales (“It was a disaster,” says Faught), and convinced him to take on additional lines.

He chose B.F. Goodrich and private brands manufactured by the former B.F Goodrich Tire Co. and gradually phased out his association with Firestone.

When B.F. Goodrich began selling to his largest competitor, Discount Tire, Faught switched again. This time he chose Goodyear because of its brand awareness and retail distribution philosophy.

“Our competitors were using predominantly private brands, so we elected to go with flag brands.”

His association with the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. remains strong, but not without a little animosity.

Goodyear’s decision to sell through Sears, Wal-Mart and Discount Tire has partially led to his growing multi-brand strategy.

“Goodyear wasn’t doing well in the low-end market anyway. Probably 25% to 30% of the traffic in our stores is low-end.

“We had to add brands and probably should have offered more selection before Goodyear made (its) moves.”

In tune with service

His original plan was to only sell tires and balance wheels. “But at the outset we realized we couldn’t do that.”

As tire sales slumped in January and February, Faught laid off his tire changers out of necessity.

He soon began offering tune-ups, hoping that as spring approached “we would never have to do one again.”Now tune-ups and related services are a 12-month business by themselves. Ignition work represents about 35% of Northwest Tire’s total service business.

Unemployment was a whopping 23% in Flint in 1987, when General Motors began downsizing.

As the population declined, so did the number of independent tire dealers in the area.

Five, by Faught’s count, failed to survive.

Northwest followed a different path — it increased its emphasis on automotive services. Today, the stores do both undercar and underhood work.

Tires are price-sensitive, he says, but “there is a tremendous opportunity on the service side of the business.”

Looking ahead

Another of Faught’s goals as NTDRA president is to improve dealer/supplier relations.

He feels that expanding the NTDRA’s Bill of Rights is worthwhile because it helps keep communication between the parties flowing both ways.

“All relationships have to be mutually beneficial.”

When they aren’t, for whatever reason, Faught says choices have to be made.

He competes against long-time rival Discount Tire by providing services its stores don’t. The same goes for competing against mass merchandisers, warehouse clubs and tire company- owned stores.

“You look at what you can do and they can’t do,” he says. “At four of our stores, a Discount Tire is right across the street. They don’t offer alignment, but we do.”

Northwest Tire isn’t through expanding, either.

“We’ll increase our store base by about one or two stores a year,” says Faught. “We’re looking at specific markets to make sure we’re right (for them).”

Plans call for Faught’s son, A.J., to take over the business some day.

A.J., 35, has worked his way up from tire changer to supervisor of the entire chain.

And what will Jim Faught be doing 10 years from now?

“I’ll be collecting the rent, and A.J. will be running the company and making sure I get my rent check.”

MTD PROFILE

Name: James E. Faught.

Nickname: Jim

Age: 58

Hobbies: Snowmobiling, boating, grandchildren

I’m most proud of: My family

Favorite childhoold memory: Family vacations on the farm

Biggest regret: Not having gone into business earlier.

Favorite books: Iacocca

Favorite movie: “Grumpy Old Men”

Favorite television shows: “Night Court,” “Picket Fences.”

Favorite actor/actress: June Allyson

Favorite athlete: Al Kaline

Favorite politician: Ronald Reagan

Favorite food: Potato chips.

If could change one thing about myself: I would be slender.

My friends like me because I’m …fun, enjoy life.

My goals in life are: Continued business success, living life to the fullest.

Smartest things I’ve ever done: married Jane (37 years ago), went into business.

Best advice your parents gave you: Work hard.

You’re advice to your children: Be your own person, have goals.

My most humbling experience: Being elected president of the NTDRA.

You’re advice to a fire dealer just starting out: Work hard, follow trends, operate business with integrity, build mutual relationship with employees and suppliers.

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