Not many people go from wielding a meat clever to firing a stud gun into winter tires, but when Bill Watkins finds an opportunity, he takes it.
“I was a butcher, a meat cutter by trade,” said Bill, a graduate from The National School of Meat Cutting in Toldeo, Ohio. “There used to be a meat-cutting shop in almost every town, but then they started to take the trade away from the grocery stores and bring it to the slaughterhouses, so the trade left.”
And Bill did, too, when he answered a newspaper ad for a tire salesman job in 1984 with Byron and Jim Moore, founders of Moore’s Tire Sales. While Bill never intended to become an independent tire dealer, he now owns Moore’s Tire Sales with 12 distribution warehouses and four retail stores dotted along the Great Lakes coast in upstate New York.
At what was then a four-warehouse distribution business, Bill worked his way up from delivery driver to general manager at Moore’s Tire Sales, and eventually bought out the business in 2009. Bill has grown the operation to four retail stores—two in Buffalo, one in Sherburne and one in Owego, New York, where the company is headquartered—and 12 distribution centers across New York and Pennsylvania. He employs 170 people across his distribution business and runs 110 trucks daily through upstate New York and central Pennsylvania.
“It’s a challenge,” Bill explained about why he enjoys being in the tire business. “I love a challenge. I love goals. If you give me a goal, I fight as hard as I can to reach it. I put a goal in front of my salespeople every week.”
Aside from setting and achieving goals, Bill claims two pillars are the secret to his business model and its success: people and service.
“If you looked at a map where all my warehouses are, you’d see that they’re no more than an hour and 15 minutes away from each other. So, one warehouse only has to drive about 45 minutes one way, and the other 45 the other way to service all our customers,” he said. “We service all of them two to three, sometimes four times per day.”
Although it might be more expensive to operate, Bill says the fact that Moore’s can serve dealers more often than the big guys is a differentiator in his market. He also believes in the power of the independent tire dealer: “We have an advantage over the big boxes since we get personally involved. We know our customers personally and my team builds relationships that last.”
The other pillar Bill credits to the success of the business is his people. Some of his employees have even been with the company longer than he has. With entry-level labor in short supply these days, Bill focuses on what’s important to retaining his staff: a stellar work culture and providing benefits such as health insurance and a matching 401K. He also makes sure they’re involved in every aspect of the business.
“They’re part of the decision-making,” he said. “As a leader, I need to listen and react to them and treat them with respect so that they treat me with respect, too. I don’t make a hard decision without some of my employees listening to me or giving me some advice.”
Currently, Bill and his team are in the thick of winter tire selling season with 140,000 winter tires in their warehouses—a crazy time for a dealer/distributor in the Great Lakes region. Looking out toward the future, he has his eye on expanding the business further into Pennsylvania, and getting his son, Kyle, more involved in the business. Despite any changes that might occur, Bill keeps true to what has made his business successful.
“To keep up with these big guys, we focus on our people and our service,” he said. “We do that by design. We hang our hat on the mom-and-pop shops—the independents.”