Tony Montalbano sure knows how to throw a party. The owner and president of Montalbano Tire & Auto Service, Houston, Texas, recently hosted a celebration to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the family business.
About 250 people attended the daylong event that began with coffee and donuts in the morning, live country and western music from late-morning into the afternoon, a live call-in radio broadcast with “Texas Car Doctor” Skeeter Lothringer and car maintenance demos by BG Products.
With so much activity guests were certain to work up an appetite and Montalbano was ready. Guests were served lunch with a spread of food consisting of Po’boy sandwiches, pizza and soft drinks. For dessert there was a huge 70th anniversary cake that looked like a tire.
“We attempted to mix business with pleasure but it was mostly pleasure,” says Montalbano. “It was very nice and the weather cooperated. We had registrations for 250 people. Some were new people in the area and some were old time customers.”
As part of the celebration, prize giveaways took place all day. There were hourly drawings for restaurant gift cards and special pricing on tires and mechanical services. Montalbano also gave away a set of Goodyear Fuel Max tires worth $600 and a set of Michelin Harmony tires valued at $700. But the fun didn’t stop there.
“We also had a 12-foot inflatable Michelin Man and my commercial man took pictures of our guests standing in front of it,” says Montalbano. “We had a printer and we gave them their picture right away. That was a nice little touch.”
Many of Montalbano’s family members were in attendance to help, as well as all of his employees. Including Montalbano, the shop has a total of nine employees. But they are no ordinary employees.
“I’ve got one employee who is the truck tire man and he’s been with us 43 years,” says Montalbano. “Our office manager has been here 31 years, our service manager has been here for 33 years, I have general service guy who has been here 22 years, and I have another truck tire man who has been here 21 years. I have a mechanic who is a short-timer – he’s only been here seven years; he’s still on probation.”
The business, as well as the neighborhood, has gone through many changes over the years. Montalbano’s parents Joe and Angela started the business in 1941 as a Gulf service station. The family element was present from the start. Joe wasn’t 21 yet so his father co-signed the original lease with Gulf Oil. When Joe went off to World War II following Pearl Harbor, 19-year-old Angela ran the gas station.
“Over time we went from just a gas station doing minor repairs to getting into the tire business quite extensively,” says Montalbano. “Then we started doing automotive repairs heavily when we started our first expansion here at the store in 1967. We’ve had two other expansions since that time, the last one being in 1980. Our total land area is about 20,000 square-feet and our other building is about 14,500 square feet.”
Montalbano says that the business did have two locations for 32 years; 25 of them were good, the last seven weren’t. He shut down the second location six years ago.
“The area we were in deteriorated so we decided to quit fighting that battle,” he explains. “It’s really strange because the area we’re in is called First Ward and we’re near downtown. It was one of the better parts of town and then it deteriorated. Now all of a sudden with the price of gasoline, being close to downtown is a good thing and we’re going through a renaissance. It’s really amazing.”
Montalbano, who is a past president of the Texas Tire Dealers Association, says that his commercial accounts from the area were bought out one by one as property values increased. Now the area is filled with apartment buildings, townhouses and condominiums. All those people living there need tires.
“We really have had to change our focus of our major customers,” he explains. “It used to be that commercial was first and retail secondary. Now it has flip-flopped and our retail business is primary and our commercial business is secondary.”
With plenty of primary and secondary business, Montalbano sure does have a lot to celebrate.
“It’s a good time to be in business and it’s a good time to celebrate,” he says. “We look forward to many more years.”