Overlooking the majestic mountains of Glacier National Park, Aaron Telle paused. Seven years earlier, he was propelled to the helm of the family business after the sudden passing of his then 54-year-old father. Now, pulled away from the fast pace of running the family business, Telle Tire, he had time to reflect.
“No one cares as much as a Telle,” Aaron could hear his father say as he soaked in the beauty before him.
In 2016, Aaron, his wife and two small children traveled to see 18 national parks in a span of six months. They sold their home and their belongings to take some much-needed time away.
“It was actually really good for the business’ growth,” Aaron said about his six-month stint away. “It allowed me to test the processes that were in place and gave me great perspective on my business and what we needed to do to continue to grow.”
With solid—and tested—processes in place, Aaron has grown the business exponentially in the last 10 years. Telle Tire opened a second location in 2011, and this year boasts 18 stores between St. Louis and Kansas City.
“Growing up, I always had an interest in business. It didn’t matter if my family owned a dry cleaner or manufacturing company, I wanted to be in that business,” Aaron says about his entrepreneurial spirit. “But if I was going to come into the business, I knew I’d like to build and grow it.”
Grow it he has. While he keeps a keen eye on opportunities for growth, Aaron reflects on some of the opportunities that have allowed him to be successful in growing the dealership. First, he became involved in 20 Groups, a group of tire dealers that shares best business practices and holds each other accountable for specific goals. Specifically, Aaron was involved in the DSP 20 Group founded by Norman Gaither. He also majored in business in college and joined local networking and business groups in St. Louis to be around other like-minded individuals.
“I take pride in surrounding myself with great advisors who help guide me, put things into perspective and help me with planning,” he says. “Early on, that was very beneficial.”
Aaron believes another beneficial experience was working with his father and uncle, who co-owned the business when Aaron was growing up. “They were very willing to allow me to try different things,” he says. That time to experiment helped Aaron learn what worked and what wouldn’t.
With expansion plans on the horizon, Aaron hopes to continue to grow the dealership in Telle Tire’s existing markets of St. Louis and Kansas City. He also has his eye on further growth deeper into Kansas and perhaps Colorado.
However, he’s acutely aware that sometimes growth comes at a price. “Culture is important to us. As we grow, I want to make sure we keep our finger on the pulse of our people and make sure we make them feel like they’re part of a team and remember them on a name-to-name basis. Nothing complex, nothing crazy—just making sure we maintain that human interaction and meet the needs of our team.”
This was a huge lesson he reflected on during those six months away with his family. How can we create a better work environment for employees? How can we help them achieve work-life balance? How can we create a better workplace to retain our talent?
Closing the stores on Saturday and Sunday was one way. Giving employees the day off with pay on their birthday was another. Funding one-week trips for long-term employees at anniversary milestones was a third. Telle Tire employees also engage in profit sharing, so they can reap the rewards of the company’s success.
Looking back on his time in the industry, Aaron feels that finding good people and treating them well is a key to Telle Tire’s success. Creating avenues for them to grow within the company is a challenge.
“As an industry, we’ve done a poor job of bringing in new talent and creating opportunities for them. We’re all aware of that as industry leaders,” he says. “I’m excited for industry leaders coming in to hopefully change the dynamic and create something unique for next-generation mechanics.”
For tire dealers starting out or those looking to grow their business, Aaron advises them to not only be patient when it comes to growth, but also to join an industry 20 Group.
“Dealers often get caught in the day-to-day and lose sight of the big picture,” he says. “Being part of a group of industry peers is important because you learn how other successful dealers have made it, and it helps create accountability for what you want to accomplish. We all have these big to-do lists. When you focus on knocking one item off you make progress.”