When protests turned to riots in Ferguson, Mo., in August 2014, John Zisser sat in his living room, local news on the television, and watched in dismay as looters shattered the windows of his tire dealership and carried out much of the inventory.
“There wasn’t a darn thing I could do,” recalls Zisser, who founded Zisser Tire with his father, John Zisser Sr., in 1984. “Out of 14 big plate glass windows, they broke out 12. They were in the building for about three hours before the police showed up.”
Zisser – who says he’s always learned from mistakes, picked up the pieces and moved on armed with new knowledge – wasted no time in leading his team toward recovery. The damaged shop, located in Dellwood, Mo., is one of three Zisser Tire stores in the greater St. Louis area and is the company’s original location.
“It wasn’t easy,” Zisser says of the process. “We lost a few employees who just didn’t want to tolerate it; most of my guys have been with me for many years, so we got through it together.”
The crash course in adversity is one of many lessons Zisser has learned since starting the company with his father, who retired from BFGoodrich in 1984 before deciding to go into business with his son.
“My dad did everything from running the BFGoodrich retread plant to working in retail stores, so I grew up with tires,” says Zisser, who was in his early 20s when the pair opened the tire shop. “In the beginning, it was basically night and day work, and not much money. I was self-employed in construction before that, so it was similar in a way; some days you made a couple hundred dollars and some days you had to chalk up as losses.”
With a combination of “old school” and “new school” management styles between Zisser’s father and himself, the dealership soon became profitable, growing in sales each year until the recession hit in 2008.
“When we first opened, I was referred to by some of our competitors as ‘the punk kid on West Florissant,’” he laughs, referring to the street on which the first store is located. “At my urging, there were some things we did differently, like moving away from the traditional newspaper format for advertising.”
Zisser, who took over operations fully about 10 years ago when his father’s health began to fail (he passed away in 2007), says that as the business and industry has evolved, so, too, has his management style.
“I used to scream and holler a lot when I was younger and I don’t do that anymore; I’ve figured out there are better ways to do things,” he says. “I don’t get hung up on mistakes anymore. As long as my employees’ hearts are in the right spot and the customer is number one, I’m happy.”
Zisser says he is proud to be a tire dealer mainly because of the relationships he’s built over the decades – with staff, customers and competitors alike.
“It’s an industry that’s been really good to my family,” he says. “It’s nice that I can look back and say I was responsible for helping to build this, along with all my employees. I didn’t build Zisser Tire alone; I engineered its route down the highway, but it’s been the people I have that truly made Zisser Tire what we are today.”