Older, wiser... and, in some cases, better: Tennessee dealership provides second career for area retirees

March 1, 2002

Independent tire dealers know that good help is hard to find. That's why J.R. Tucker, owner of Tucker Tire in Dyersburg, Tenn., hires senior citizens.

Nearly a half dozen of the 20-some employees at Tucker's single location farm tire dealership are well past retirement age. One, 74-year-old ace automotive tech Harold Whittle, has been with the company more than 25 years. Jim Brown, in photo, delivers tires to Tucker's wholesale customers at age 76!

The company's oldest employee, Bud Moore, decided to retire for a second time earlier this year at 81 years old.

Tucker started hiring retirees in 1975. "We knew some older folks who had been trading with us," he says. "They got to retirement age and wanted something to do."

Tucker's first senior hire was Homer Whittle, Harold's older brother and a former gas truck driver who joined the dealership at a youthful 76. Whittle, "who didn't want to sit around in a rocking chair," worked for Tucker well into his 80s.

Tucker and his son, company Vice President Buddy Tucker, have nothing against younger people. But both agree seniors make for exceptional employees.

"They may not be the fastest, and in some cases their eyesight may not be as good, but they're dependable," the senior Tucker says.

"They show up for work, they don't steal from you, they do what they say they will do," explains Buddy. "If they call off, they'll let you know what's going on."

The day before Modern Tire Dealer spoke with the Tuckers, four of their employees -- all younger people -- didn't show up for work. That's never been a problem with older workers, they say.

Buddy also has noticed that senior employees tend to concentrate better than their more inexperienced counterparts. "If you tell them to do something, they listen. If you tell them to do three things, they'll get all three done."

While younger Tucker Tire employees seem to be more time-sensitive, older workers "don't mind putting in longer hours. They'll do whatever it takes to get the job done."

And they're quick-witted, according to J.R. A few years ago, a younger worker had a problem with Moore's driving. "I've driven more miles in reverse than you've driven forward!" was the older man's reply. "Discussion over," J.R. laughs.

Over the years, the Tuckers have discovered senior employees tend to think faster on their feet thanks to their wealth of life and job experiences. "They improvise and overcome," Buddy says. "They have a 'can-do' attitude rather than a 'can't-do' attitude."

Several years ago, an elderly Tucker deliveryman experienced clutch problems while driving his truck home from Miami, Fla., after a successful run. Rather than wait for a repair and lose valuable time, he drove the vehicle back to Tennessee in second gear!

Employing older folks has been beneficial from a customer perspective, according to the Tuckers. Customers frequently request seniors to work on their cars or mount their tires. "It's a trust issue," J.R. says. The practice has internal benefits, too. "Our older guys usually have their own health insurance through Medicare."

The Tuckers, who also have put retirees to work behind the sales counter and on the road as outside salesmen, don't consult temp agencies, civic organizations and other groups when looking for elder workers. "Mostly, customers or other employees refer them to us. It tends to be word-of-mouth."

More than 50 retirees have found "second careers" with Tucker Tire over the past quarter-century. And every one of them has had a positive impact on the company's success, J.R. proudly notes. "I don't know if we could've gotten by without them."