Warholak Tire Service, located in Detroit, might look like nothing out of the ordinary, even when taking a glance in the bay area.
Step into the waiting room, though, and customers might feel like they were sent back to the 1950s. Co-owners Mike and Paul Warholak decorated the waiting area with mementos from the 1950s such as old gas and oil cans to share their appreciation of history with visitors.
“It’s not just a tire shop,” Mike Warholak says. “It’s somebody’s history, and it’s our history.”
Being in the center of the automobile capital of the world, the Warholak’s have been fortunate to see some classic and rare vehicles come through their doors. The shop is known for their work on vintage vehicles. Warholak says the coolest car he has worked on was a 1959 Aston Martin.
Each year, hundreds of classic cars come through Detroit for the annual Woodward Dream Cruise, the largest collectable car gathering. Warholak says watching old cars drive through the city reminds him of how much his little business has seen and experienced. Many of the classic cars in the Dream Cruise have likely been in the shop at one point in time, be it a ’57 Eldorado Biarritz, a ’62 Corvette or even the ’37 Lincoln.
Warholak Tire Service was built during the Great Depression, and today it continues to ride the economic waves in one of the country’s most vulnerable cities. Detroit has seen hundreds of thousands of jobs leave over the years, and the city’s population fell by 25% between 2000 and 2011. In 2013, the city filed for bankruptcy after Michigan’s governor declared a financial emergency.
“In Detroit, there’s an old adage that when the economy sneezes, Detroit gets the flu,” Warholak says.
Despite the city’s troubling times, Warholak Tire Service has remained resilient. The third generation owners, Mike and Paul inherited the business from their father who, in turn, took it over from their grandfather.
“My grandfather started out as a full-service gas station,” explains Warholak. “He had four sons, a daughter and a wife to feed. In the middle of the Depression, he started this little service station, and that’s how it all began.”
Today, the brothers run the shop and are teaching their sons about the business.
The family is proud of its modest operation in the heart of the Motor City. The shop remains on the same corner where their grandfather opened its doors in 1931. One of the only changes has been the removal of the gas tanks in 1964, switching to a focus on light repairs and tire sales.
Today, the retail tire business performs a variety of tire services, including tire maintenance and repair, wheel repair and refinishing, whitewall widening, balancing and rotating.
On the sales side, Warholak says price is a leading factor for most customers in his home town.
“Tires, for a lot of people, are an expensive commodity, and they just go buy whatever is cheapest,” Warholak explains. “What we express to them is that there’s a lot of things that distinguish tires, and price is certainly an issue. A lot of people don’t look at tires as a safety issue.”
Warholak says they try to offer tires that are both versatile and budget-friendly. Warholak Tire Service sells name brand tires, including Goodyear, General, Continental, Cooper and Hercules.
With decades of experience, the Warholaks have become a trusted name in the city. Warholak says their business philosophy is to treat customers fairly, honestly and respectfully. “We treat every single sale like we’re working on their Ferrari,” he says.
He credits their grandfather for instilling those values.
“We were raised in a household and work environment where you did your best, and second best really wasn’t acceptable,” Warholak explains. “That’s the thing we emphasize with customers. There’s value in getting a job done well. People feel, after they leave here, that someone is looking out for their best interest.”
Auto service is pretty easy to come by in Detroit, and competition is mixed among tire stores and car dealers.
“Car dealers tend to be kind of in the neighborhood, and they do a lot of selling when people come in for other service,” he says.
Another competition issue are the small shops that offer cheap service. They might have a floor jack and tire machine, so that qualifies them as a tire business, Warholak jokes. “One of the advantages is they operate under the radar and have low overhead,” Warholak says. “It’s tough to match prices, especially in a depressed area.”
Despite competition, he says they have never felt the need to add locations or enter into a partnership.
“I think there’s something about being able to stand on your own and not really be associated with another group,” Warholak says. “I think that’s probably why we’re still doing things the same way we were 50 years ago. When you’re in a group, you’re obligated to carry someone else’s line and provide a uniform type of service.”
Having been in the community for 80 years, Warholak Tire Service does not need much advertising. Warholak says the company usually just does some sponsorship with community projects and sports teams. Even with new technology, word-of-mouth is still the company’s biggest source of attracting new customers.
Warholak adds that if you’re going to be a customer at their shop, you better be ready to be treated like family.
“We try to do things with a little bit of humor, and we treat people like family whether they like it or not,” he says.
In addition, Warholak says customers, particularly women, appreciate the company’s honest and upfront approach. It is more often the women customers who are sent to the company by friends or relatives.
“I can’t advertise enough to get that sort of trust and response from our customers,” Mike Warholak says.
Online reviews have also attracted some new business.
“We have excellent reviews, and these aren’t coming from people my age,” Mike Warholak says. “These are people my son’s age that are posting these reviews. So, we’re constantly getting a new generation of customers here who really haven’t experienced this level of service in a lot of cases. Their parents never did, either.”