Black’s Tire Stays True to Core Values

Jan. 22, 2024

As it starts its 95th year in business, Black’s Tire Service Inc. is sticking with what has made it successful: treating employees and customers like family. 

That was a key theme of the Whiteville, N.C.-based dealership’s annual Sales and Leadership Conference, which took place this past weekend in Myrtle Beach, S.C. 

More than 600 people – including 300-plus Black’s Tire’s Service employees – attended the multi-day event, which, according to Rick Benton, who directs BTS Tire & Wheel Distributors, the dealership’s wholesale business, was “really about driving our culture – focusing on what got us here and what’s going to keep us going. It’s kind of like a family reunion.” 

“We didn’t talk a whole lot of numbers” at the event, Rick told MTD. “We focused on our core values of family, team, trust and service,” which he said Black’s Tire Service employees will take back to their respective stores and functions.

“When a customer walks into a store, we want them to feel like family,” he said. “Our wholesale customers – we want them to feel like family.” 

“We talk about how much stronger we are together,” said Ryan Benton, who manages Black’s Tire Service’s retail business. “We try to live by the golden rule and you feel that way when you walk into one of our stores. It’s not a stale atmosphere.  

“Our managers – the face of our company – care about the customer,” which is a theme that Rick and Ryan - along with their brother, Jeremy Benton, who runs Black’s Tire Service’s commercial tire business – emphasize when working with all of their dealership’s associates. 

“We talk about doing the right thing and empowering our managers and their people to make decisions, while doing it with the right values,” said Ryan. 

Always growing 

Black’s Tire Service, which was founded by W. Crowell Black, continues to add locations, including three in January 2024.  

Jeremy, Ryan and Rick’s father, Ricky Benton Sr., joined Black’s Tire Service in 1981 after running his own service station. He later bought Black’s Tire Service from its founder. Since then, under his direction, the dealership has expanded to nearly 60 locations, making it the 19th largest independent tire dealership in the United States, according to the 2023 MTD 100. 

Much of that growth has been driven via strategic acquisitions, though the Benton family hates to use what Ryan half-jokingly calls “the ‘A word.’ We’ve never done an acquisition. We’ve merged other families into our business,” with many former owners continuing to work with the Bentons. 

“Some of the companies we’ve merged with were better at certain things than we were,” he told MTD. “We’ve learned as much from them as they’ve learned from us.” 

“We’re big relationship people and opportunities come up through these relationships,” including the connections Black’s Tire Service cultivates with its wholesale customers, many of whom are smaller independent tire dealers, said Rick.

“They’re no different from us, except that they might not have as much family in the business. But they care about their customers. They care about their team members. They care about their name. And they want to see it carry on. 

“It goes back to what you build your foundation on,” he continued. “It can’t just be on the almighty dollar. That’s where relationships and being close to people come in.” 

Jeremy noted that Black’s Tire Service was founded at the beginning of The Great Depression and has survived countless up-and-down cycles by staying true to its core values. “I’d say we’ve done as good of a job as any” when it comes to weathering economic storms. 

There are a number of market dynamics – including the high average age of customers’ vehicles – that currently benefit the dealership, according to the Benton brothers. 

“Auto service has been very successful for us,” said Rick, and the company’s Carolina Retread business, which Jeremy directs, remains a consistent bright spot for the company. 

Emerging technologies like advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) will provide incremental revenue opportunities, said Ryan. “We’re dipping our toes in the water on ADAS. We’re trying to learn that. We’re investing in our automotive training and trying to find and develop talent to increase and expand their skill set.  

“It’s a conscious, daily effort” to invest in people and technology, he said. 

The dealership also has managed to maintain its margins, despite ever-increasing pressure. “When times get tough, it (can be) a race to the bottom,” said Rick. “You have to keep your margins.” 

Ryan told MTD that some of the company’s competitors offer price match guarantees, which he questions as a long-term strategy.  “How did our industry become widely accepted as negotiable? We try to not participate in that. We have to hold our ground.” 

He believes that the tire industry, in general, can do a better job of placing a higher premium on the products and services it offers. “If you look across all aspects of commerce, there aren’t many products that are more important than your car. Everything revolves around it. (Vehicles) are such a key element of society, yet they’re so undervalued. 

“We absolutely try our best” to hold margins across the board, said Ryan. 

“We’re swimming with” some big competitors, said Jeremy. “We want to not only survive - we want to set the pace.” 

Declaration of independence 

As an independent, Black’s Tire Service can react quickly to the market, according to Rick. “We don't answer to stockholders. We don't answer to a panel. We care about people and can put customers first.” 

“What we are beholden to is feeding a lot of families who depend on us,” said Ryan “We don’t have the backing of a private equity firm. We don’t have endless resources that major corporations have. We have our sweat equity. And we have to stay profitable.” 

Looking ahead, “we’re going to keep finding ways to provide better service to the public and ways to make Black’s Tire a better place to work,” he added. 

And that will be pushed through by “getting people even more excited and more engaged with our vision,” said Rick. 

About the Author

Mike Manges | Editor

Mike Manges is Modern Tire Dealer’s editor. A 25-year tire industry veteran, he is a three-time International Automotive Media Association award winner and holds a Gold Award from the Association of Automotive Publication Editors. Mike has traveled the world in pursuit of stories that will help independent tire dealers move their businesses forward. Before rejoining MTD in September 2019, he held corporate communications positions at two Fortune 500 companies and served as MTD’s senior editor from 2000 to 2010.