Timeless Advice From Past Tire Dealer of the Year Award Winners

Oct. 11, 2019

One of the most gratifying aspects of working at Modern Tire Dealer has been getting to know past Tire Dealer of the Year Award winners. That includes discovering how these remarkable individuals have grown their businesses.

Some started with next to nothing, like the late Les Schwab, our 2000 Tire Dealer of the Year Award winner, who sold his first tire out of a 1,400-square-foot shack that lacked running water. 

Others, like John McCarthy Jr., this year’s Tire Dealer of the Year, built already-thriving, family-owned dealerships into much bigger enterprises. (I urge you to read MTD Senior Editor Joy Kopcha’s excellent article about John in our September 2019 issue.)

Each of our past Tire Dealer of the Year Award recipients — MTD established the program in 1993 — blazed his or her own trail and can truly say, as the old song goes, “I did it my way.”

But I suspect these pioneers also share a lot in common with you, particularly when it comes to the choices and challenges that everyone who sells tires inevitably faces.

For example, at one point or another, you might have considered adding a new location. (Some of you have successfully done so many times over.) In 2014, MTD Tire Dealer of the Year, the late Bruce Halle, then-chairman of Reinalt-Thomas Corp. — you know the business better as Discount Tire or America’s Tire — revealed what his team looks for when scouting new store locations.

‘If you look at why people follow leaders, the first thing they want is direction,’ said the late Paul Zurcher.

 “We study all demographics: population within three miles, five miles, 10 miles; income levels; number of cars per household — all of that,” he said. “Then, of course, you have to go see the site. And it has to be in an area where people will go to buy merchandise, not just drive by. I like to be close to a Walmart or Target. Home Depot and Kohl’s are OK, but the Walmarts and Targets sell groceries, and people go there every week.”

Bruce knew a thing or two about opening stores. Discount Tire’s empire has grown to include more than 1,000 locations throughout the United States.

With a possible economic slowdown around the corner, it could be tempting to drop prices on some of the automotive services that your dealership offers. Bill Williams, chairman of Jack Williams Tire and MTD’s 2006 Tire Dealer of the Year Award winner, advised against it.

“A lot of my competitors, as soon as their car count goes down, put up signs that advertise $9.95 oil changes,” he said. “I say, ‘This guy must not be doing very well.’ Consumers aren’t stupid. When they see someone selling an oil change for half or a third of what the real value is, they know it’s a gimmick. I’m not saying you have to concentrate 100% on tires. But if you build traffic with tires, service work will come automatically.”

Capturing a fair rate has worked well for Jack Williams Tire. The dealership, now in its 90th year, continues to expand and diversify.

How do you ensure that your employees know what’s expected of them? John Marshall, 2003 Tire Dealer of the Year and vice president of Grismer Tire Co., shared his thoughts on the subject.

“I’ve often wondered how many people get up in the morning and say, ‘You know, it’s a beautiful day. I’m going to go to work and do something dumb?’ Nobody does,” he told us. “Yet you talk to some employers and that’s what they feel like their employees are doing. Whose fault is it? There’s a good chance the employer hasn’t trained them. And there’s probably a very good chance that the employer hasn’t sat down and thought out what he or she really wants their personnel to do. Most people will respond if they feel what you’re asking is fair, if you aren’t arbitrary and if you’re consistent.”

John continues to focus on employee training while searching for new talent in novel places. (Grismer Tire offers reimbursements for students who complete an automotive repair program at a community college located in the dealership’s hometown of Dayton, Ohio.)

And on a more philosophical note, the late Paul Zurcher, founder of Best-One Tire & Service and our 2005 Tire Dealer of the Year, shared his thoughts on leadership, a topic that I’m sure resonates with you.

“If you look at why people follow leaders, the first thing they want is direction,” he said. “They want to work for a company that has a game plan. They’re looking for security, too. The second thing is trust. Trust is the glue that holds any organization together. The third thing is hope — the feeling that this is going to be a good place to work at and the company is going to continue to grow. And the next thing — and this is a word that isn’t used much today — is compassion. People want to be treated with love, honor, dignity and respect.”

The many dealers whose businesses Paul helped launch continue to apply those same principles.

What pearls of wisdom are you willing to share with fellow dealers? Feel free to let me know!    ■

If you have any questions or comments, please email me at [email protected].

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.