Jim Garno, owner of Totten Tire in Birch Run, Michigan, grew up unloading tires from trailers, and grew up to own a percentage of that company, eventually buying it outright.
The company has a history of serving the community, led by Jim’s unending commitment to building trust with his customers. Totten Tire specializes in passenger, light truck and farm tires as well as commercial truck tires, and also does light automotive work such as brakes, suspension and alignments.
We caught up with Jim at the 2023 K&M Tire Dealer Conference & Trade Show to learn more about opportunities and challenges in the industry, how his shop influences his community and how his relationship with K&M Tire influences his business.
Maddie Winer: Hi everyone. I’m Maddie Winer, editor of Tire Review, and we are here at the 2023 K&M Tire Dealer Conference and Trade Show. I’m pleased to be joined by Jim Garno, owner of Totten Tire in Birch Run, Michigan. Jim, thanks for talking with us today. Jim, tell us how you got started in the industry.
Jim Garno: Well, I think probably, like a lot of guys in this industry, we just kind of got thrown into it. As a kid, I started showing up to unload tire trailers and then worked through school and then just one day went out, looked another direction and decided that wasn’t it. Came back and the previous owner let me start buying shares and one share after another, worked my way up until I owned a percentage of the company and then bought the rest of it out. In that time, changing tires, became a mechanic, and worked the front desk. You name it.
Maddie Winer: All the different areas of the business – and when did you formally buy the business from the previous owner?
Jim Garno: In 2017 we bought the business out.
Maddie Winer: So tell us about the business, maybe a little bit of the history, the kind of work you guys do, things like that.
Jim Garno: Sure. So it was originally owned by a Totten. It’s on the corner called Totten’s Corner, which was kind of a unique exit to Birch Run off I75, and everybody had to drive by there, so it got all of that business. And we kind of thrived off that in the beginning. They did automotive, then they added a tire building. In the early eighties don Compton bought it from Tom Totten, and then I started there in ’94 and we have kind of grown a little bit since then. And then like I said, 2017 we bought it and that’s where we’re at.
Maddie Winer: The rest is history.
Jim Garno: The rest is history.
Maddie Winer: What type of work do you guys do? Is it… You do the whole gamut, passenger, light truck, commercial, OTR, Ag? What type of work, what type of brands, things like that?
Jim Garno: Not all of that, no. We kind of honed in a little bit on mostly passenger, light truck repair. We do farm tires, and we do some commercial truck tires, but we’ve kind of narrowed that down a little bit to try and do what we do best and then not try and stretch too far out into the other areas. And we also do auto repair in the shop as well.
Maddie Winer: Tell me about some of the types of services that you guys provide. I’d imagine maybe brakes, oil changes, things like that?
Jim Garno: Yep. Light automotive work, brakes, suspension, minor engine repair, and alignments. We don’t get into the bigger jobs, but all of those little things that you can usually have done in a day’s time, we get into that work.
Maddie Winer: Okay. So as a tire dealer, what would you say is one opportunity and one challenge you see in the industry today?
Jim Garno: So I think that in my opinion, our biggest opportunity, and I put it together, opportunity/ challenge is the youth that in our town, we’ve got generation after generation after generation, and I thought that I started seeing the younger generation kind of slip away and we just got a little bit of personality towards the younger kids and they’re right back just like their parents. And show them a reason to trust you, and they do.
And I just kind of caught onto that in the last couple of years really. I really used to think that they were going a different way and we were going to lose them and then we’d run out of customers and nope, they just keep turning over. But we kind of got to work them a little bit differently to get them to understand their cars. And as I said, then they trust us. So I think that that’s my biggest challenge. And then I think at the end of it, that is our opportunity.
Maddie Winer: I love that. And that’s a great answer. Can you maybe, because I’m curious about this, we’ve heard from so many dealers it’s hard to find talent these days. What are some things you’ve done to connect with a newer generation of talent?
Jim Garno: Well, you have to, I am not a social media person, I’m not putting myself out there as much as most businesses do, but they really want it. They need to have a presence there. They are the ones that are sending you text messages, they are putting in quote requests online and not our traditional ways that we definitely have had to step that up. And then just when they come in, they would rather drop their keys in a dropbox out front and not walk into the store. So you got to kind of meet them at the dropbox, “Hey, how’s it going? Come on in.” And then we get them.
Maddie Winer: Very cool. Very interesting. And have you also reached out to some younger folks that may be interested in the automotive industry?
Jim Garno: That’s definitely the tough one. I think that I am very fortunate with the group of guys that I have. I do not have a high turnover rate and I actually just had a mechanic retire. He worked for 39 years for us.
He retired as a mechanic. I didn’t know that was a thing, but he retired and we’re super proud of him. And we had a young man that worked for us through high school. He went to college down in Ohio, and for an automotive degree, he got the degree and he filled his position. So we just kept him interested all the way through. And I hope he turns into another 39-, 40-year mechanic.
Maddie Winer: So, something about K&M shops, K&M Tire dealers, they are a pillar in their communities, they give back to their communities. It sounds like you guys at Totten Tire are no exception. So tell me one way your business gives back to your community.
Jim Garno: I think that with most of the dealers here, it’s pretty universal. I’m not tooting my horn, but yes, we do. Of course, we help out a lot with the school programs, all the sports programs. You’ve got your banner up on every single event and you do the local charities, you take care of the churches. We also try to do a customer appreciation event. We’ve done Bigfoot events in our parking lot, we’ve done them off-location and that really, really gets a good response from the community.
Maddie Winer: What are Bigfoot events?
Jim Garno: Sorry, the truck, Bigfoot, the truck, we started out with, they’d have Indy cars come out or they’d have the Bigfoot truck come out and sit out there. And then it got to the point where, “Okay, you can have them crush cars,” and families will come up to you a week later and say, “You didn’t have to do that. You didn’t charge us anything. Thank you.” So I think that was a good thing. And then K&M is right on it, you’re right, it’s something that they help out with and all the vendors here, they’re really good about that.
Maddie Winer: That’s great to hear. So, speaking of K&M, tell us about your relationship with them and what makes them a good partner to have in the tire business?
Jim Garno: Yeah, I jumped ahead. Yeah, just that they do, they help me with events, they help me with my training. We’ve dealt with K&M since before I was there, so I came up right in the loop and I remember my salesman when we used to have to call in, he’d say, “Nope, Jim, you’re doing this wrong. Ask this question this way and then we’ll give you the right answers. Or if you don’t propose a question right, I can’t give you the right answer.” And then they’ve had phone training courses for us, they’ve sent me to different events, ride-and-drives. They really excel past the other distributors that we have in that area. And with that, they retain their employees and we show up here and know people and they know me and that’s really cool.
Maddie Winer: Well, Jim, thanks so much for your time today. We really appreciate you talking with us. If you’re interested, Mr. Tire/Big 3 Tire Top shop nominations are now open. You can go to mrtiretopshop.com and nominate a K&M shop for this year’s award.
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