Back in 1918, Art Ronda opened Ronda Tire, a small tire store in bustling Grand Rapids, Michigan, offering tires to the growing community. In the decades that followed, Ronda Tire gradually grew its tire services and also offered commercial tires, retreading and repairs. Finally in the 80s, its third-generation owners decided to make a change: the shop added vehicle repair services, which has helped stake its claim as a community staple.
Throughout its rich history, the team at Ronda Auto Centers (which changes its name from Ronda Tire) has looked for ways to innovate around the needs of its customers. A hundred years after Art began in the tire business, his grandsons, cousins Tim Ronda and Dan Ronda, the youngest of the third generation in the business, now run the two-store operation, which was named the 2019 Mr. Tire-Big 3 Tire Top Shop Winner by K&M Tire.
We caught up with Dan at K&M Tire’s 2022 Dealer Conference and Trade Show in Kansas City, Kansas to get an update on the business and how it has evolved as the world and the automotive industry has become more digital.
Watch the video interview above or read the transcript of our interview with Dan below.
TR: Dan, you’re a third-generation tire dealer, so first, I was wondering if you could give us some history about how you grew up in the tire business.
Dan Ronda, owner, Ronda Auto Centers: We started in downtown Grand Rapids in 1918, so a few years. Then, in 1962, the city decided to renovate the downtown and we moved a few miles out of downtown and built a new shop. That’s where my father and my uncle had a big location with a retread shop. Then, we expanded from there to other little towns around Grand Rapids. I had three brothers and three cousins at the time, and we are all in the family business.
TR: Tell us how you have evolved the business and really innovated with the times either in shop operations or the customer experience.
DR: Well, we’ve been around for a while. We were always known as Ronda Tire. We made a name change back in the 80s to Ronda Auto Centers to let people know that we provide more services for their cars besides tires, and we’re full automotive service. That helped our expansion efforts back in that day.
TR: What’s one thing, in the past year to past five years, that you have changed or tweaked at the shop either on an operations basis or with customers.
DR: Everything’s going digital. I mean, we’re always online. We have ability the to do DVI inspections. We’re constantly testing software for NAPA’s enterprise system (Ronda Auto Centers is a NAPA AutoCare Center). I’m a beta tester for them, so we get some of the updates before most people and we can kind of tweak it for other tire dealers.
TR: When you switched from more of a tires model to a tire and service model, can you explain how that helped you in a competitive tire landscape?
DR: You know, when your customer buys a set of tires, you need to help them get better mileage, you have to do the maintenance and there’s all types of services we can offer to help them get better mileage out of their tire investment—rotations, alignments, front end parts, etc. We saw that as a growth opportunity for the company, and it has worked out well.
TR: Ronda Auto Centers also tries to keep like a family-like atmosphere. In the past, you’ve provided your employees with some flexibility at work. Can you describe how you keep that family atmosphere and what you think are the keys to really keeping good employees?
DR: We’ve always had multiple generations of employees. As kids grew up in the business, starting a very young age. I have several families from day one that are either a father and son or uncle or brothers that have worked for us. It has helped us a lot. Currently, we have a couple brothers that just started in our training program and it’s working out well.
Plus, we have a lot of fun. We are pretty laid back. We tease each other like family.
TR: Can you describe how you help your employees keep a good work-life balance?
DR: With everybody being family in our business, there are situations that come about. A lot of our employees are cross trained that they can take over at different positions. I may be at the Grand Rapids location or at the Lowell (Michigan) location. Our employees don’t have a problem moving to a different location to help out if needed. Something always comes up—a birth, kids, family sickness, especially during COVID, we had to do some shuffling. We try to keep it simple and have the employees feel like they can ask when they have a request.
TR: That’s great. You’ve had a good relationship with K&M as well. Can you describe your relationship with them and what they’ve offered your business.
DR: Yeah, our relationship started in 2008. We were kind of dividing and conquering between the cousins and brothers and with our stores, and K&M stepped up and was able to provide us the products we needed and without stocking. We went from a 30,000-square-foot warehouse down to a 3,000-square-foot warehouse. We needed a supplier that could fulfill our needs and K&M stepped up. They also provided us with information and materials that we could use to continue to support our customers.
TR: Dan, after being named the 2019 K&M Tire Top Shop Winner, and seeing others being honored with the award at K&M’s conferences, what do you think makes a Top Shop in our industry?
DR: I think a Top Shop has community involvement. They’re honest and keep their employees safe. Most of the people here (at the K&M Tire Conference) have shops in smaller communities so they know most of their customers by name. They have to keep an honest shop or people will know that they don’t in their hometown. Just treating customers like family is important.
This is sponsored by K&M Tire. For more information about K&M, visit kmtire.com. Do you have what it takes to be a Top Shop? Nominate your shop or another’s for the 2023 K&M Tire Mr. Tire/Big 3 Tire Top Shop Contest here.