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Editor's Notebook

Our Better Angels: In These Tough Days, Dealer Greatness Needed More Than Ever

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It’s not hard, as one watches the warm ocean wash over a white beach (in the middle of February), to come to the conclusion that one has a pretty good job. A great one, I guess.

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And I do have the opportunity, now and again, to enjoy a few days of fresh, warm beach air while my colleagues are back home frantically tossing another log on the fire in an effort to stave off sub-freezing temperatures.

I’ve had the occasion to kick back, beer in hand, and call the office from a cafÉ dead on Red Square, ride in a Formula One racer in Barcelona, ride a snowcat to a mountaintop restaurant at Big Sky and fly over glaciers in Alaska.

Over my 25-plus years in this industry, there have been many such cool opportunities. More than anyone deserves and every one thoroughly enjoyed, not so much for the scenery as for the people I have met along the way.

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People like Gus Hawkinson, who was my very first tire industry exec interview way back when. During a mid-October snowstorm in Minneapolis, as I recall. More recently, like just yesterday (as I am writing this while attending Hankook’s dealer meeting in Los Cabos), Roger and Anna Cornelius from Statewide Tire Distributors in Vandalia, Ill., a delightful pair, the kind you’d want as neighbors, whose stories and back-and-forths kept our table rolling all evening.

Others like Bill Jarvis, of Midwest Tire and Auto Repair in Schererville, Ind., and his wonderful family, and Mark Griffin of Tandem Tire in Dubuque, Iowa, two tiremen who are as salt-of-the-earth as they are razor-sharp businesspeople.

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There are hundreds of people, many now counted as dear friends, who have been the guideposts of my tire industry journey. They are all great for who they are rather than what they have accomplished – great tire people and just plain great people.

And that is, more than anything, what I so love about this business.

While we’re all wondering what to do next as the impact of the financial implosion is felt in our personal and business lives, we should never lose sight of the “greatness” within.

What dealers do every day, putting it all on the line – financially and physically – to live your dream alone deserves merit. The fact that you do so while many others – from employees to customers to your community – depend on you each and every day is absolutely phenomenal.

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And to do so with integrity, honesty and wisdom is the mark of greatness.

I’m not writing this to cheer you up so much as to remind all of you – dealers, manufacturers, suppliers, competitors – that the hard work, values, smarts, instincts and, yes, good humor that got you where you are today will surely get you through to tomorrow.

These are not easy times, perhaps the worst in history. You know those around you are hurting, worried about what the next day will bring. Just as your customers are gravely concerned, surely you too wonder how this will affect your livelihood.

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There isn’t a single consumer looking to spend more money, not when there is a chance that the paychecks might end unexpectedly soon. So the money they do spend must get them more than just four new tires or fresh brake pads. Now more than ever, any purchase must convince them it was money well spent, that they got tangible value.

Anyone with a working TV or Internet connection has seen blatant opportunism rear its ugly head, with promises of instant riches. Preying on these troubled times is no business plan, certainly not one of which to be proud.

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It is easy in these days of lagging ledgers for the unscrupulous to take advantage of people, to pad bills with the unnecessary repair or the higher priced tire or part option or the added work hours. Those incidents are few, and hopefully they will remain far between.

No matter how high or how low, the great dealers I have met always stick to the things that got them there, the foundations upon which they built their businesses. And part of every one of those foundations is service to the community.

Today, your community needs you more than ever. Not just your dollars or your time or your dedication to one group or another, but more so your attitude, selflessness and, occasionally, the helping hand to those down on their luck.  

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In his first inaugural address, Abraham Lincoln called on the greatness of the American people, the “better angels of our nature,” to preserve the Union and peace in our country.

In no small way can we discount those better angels now.

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