With age comes wisdom. The old adage can hold as true for tire dealerships as for the most venerable of elders.
That’s why Tire Review (age 114) asked leaders of five of North America’s oldest dealerships to ruminate and reminisce about their companies’ long and lesson-filled histories. Exactly what have they learned from their shops’ decades of operation and obvious success? How have their businesses changed through the years? And what accounts for their longevity in the first place?
Each has a different, but equally beneficial, story to tell. And the lessons they impart might help tire dealerships of all ages live longer, happier and fiscally healthier lives of their own.
HERVEY’S TIRE CO.
101 Years Old
Source: Steve Hervey, President
Early History: "Our company began in 1912, started by Charles Hervey and his two sons, Richard and Albert. At that time, they were vulcanizing rubber to the steps of horse-drawn carriages. Later they focused on tire sales and related repairs on the cars of that time, as well as bicycle sales and service.
“This continued until the third-generation ownership of Charles Hervey’s namesake grandson, when Hervey’s Tire was incorporated and began service and repair to cars and trucks. Mechanics and technicians were hired and the business rapidly expanded to 10 bays and 15 employees.
“Hervey’s Tire is now in the hands of fourth-generation owners, Steve and Al Hervey.”
Structural Changes: “The company began as a sole proprietorship with Charles Hervey, but with the next generation it became a partnership with Richard and Albert, and a sole proprietorship again with Richard’s son for a short time before being incorporated.
“Changes were undertaken by successive generations. Building and hiring expansions took place in the 1970s and 1980s, while technology expansion with shop management and vehicle diagnostics happened in the 1990s and 2000s.
“Our original building was an existing barn at the time the property was purchased. As additions were built, the barn eventually became the office and still exists to this day, 101 years later. No new locations were added, just land purchases adjacent to the original property.
“Vehicles have rapidly changed. But investments in OE scan tools have allowed diagnostic and programming capabilities on almost all makes of vehicles.”
Products, Equipment, Service, Marketing: “Product choices have changed over the decades. Tires were stocked in a warehouse built to allow purchases direct by tractor-trailer. Inventory items were fewer, and larger quantities were stocked. Now, with so many different tire sizes, speed ratings, tread types and a run-flat option in many, the warehouse is too small to handle it. Inventory is maintained with sets of four to allow for a greater range of sizes and types. Distributors are close with multiple daily deliveries, and stocking levels are monitored through sales reports generated by a management system to allow constant inventory updating.
“Parts for auto and truck service have moved toward a just-in-time approach, and only basic items are stocked on site. Here again, there are now so many different part numbers, and distribution points have a constantly moving inventory available.
“Sources for tires and parts have gone to sales-by-website and many transactions for both are done by Internet, with no phone calls involved. We are able to see the inventories of our distributors in real time and are able to plan accordingly.
“Most of our earlier equipment became obsolete and has turned over with each succeeding generation. We still have the original air compressor from the 1920s. Tire machines, wheel balancers and alignment equipment, for example, have become more elaborate to allow more speed, accuracy and ease of use. Truck and tractor tires that used to be very labor-intensive are now changed by equipment that makes the process safer, with less labor cost.
“In years past, the company did little-to-no advertising and marketing. Reputation and referrals from existing customers has been and still is the best advertising. Now, as the city is growing larger, we have taken a more active role, with a Web presence and more advertising. But good customer service has always been the best advertising.”
Into the Future: “Luckily enough, there has been an interest with each generation to keep the business going. With the fourth generation now aging, we’ll see if there’s a carry-over to the next.
“We’re also seeing yet another shift in auto repair: Control systems are still becoming more advanced. And hybrids and plug-in vehicles may be our company’s future. Perhaps I should start to get a background in fuel-cell technology!”
FRISBY TIRE CO.
93 Years Old
Source: Donald Frisby, President
Early History: “Our company was founded by my great uncle, George Frisby. He emigrated to Canada from Great Britain after World War I and took a factory job at Goodyear in Akron for five years. He saved enough money to start his new company, called Frisby the Vulcanizer, in Ottawa.
“Uncle George suffered a mild heart attack in his 50s and decided to hire a general manager to run the business, and he cut back on his responsibilities. Interestingly, George lived to age 92, spending his winters in Florida, golfing and painting. His nephew and my father, James, would start working in the business after serving in World War II. He took over ownership in the late 1960s, changing the name to Frisby Tire, building a new facility and opening a second location near the old store in downtown Ottawa. More locations were added in the next two decades, and today we have five retail locations with a wholesale division and commercial truck center.”
Structural Changes: “Since the passing of my father in 1998, ownership of the company has been shared by myself and a brother. We consolidated our wholesale business into one unit about 10 years ago and that has been a tremendous success.
“But I would say computerization has been our most dramatic change and is, of course, constantly evolving. We have always done our best to keep up with changes in technology, business practices and marketing. In other words, we try to embrace new ideas and technology rather than take a wait-and-see approach.”
Products, Equipment, Service, Marketing: “We sold Goodyear products exclusively from 1920 until the late 1960s. We saw a need at that time for an economy tire and began selling Cavalier tires with BFGoodrich. In the early 1970s, with radial tires revolutionizing the tire market, we began selling Michelin tires. And in the early 1990s we began a business relationship with Cooper, which is now one of our top suppliers, along with Michelin and Goodyear.
“Technology has had a very positive impact on our industry. We always strive to keep ahead of the curve in terms of equipment. The challenge is in educating and training staff to use it correctly and understand the advantages that can be achieved.
“We have always believed in having a strong presence in the marketplace and have focused our efforts on awareness marketing. Our main focus during the past decade has been radio ads, produced locally with my voice and a company jingle that’s quite well known. Currently, we’re investing in Google Ads and Facebook, and have plans to add YouTube in the near future. Our company website is constantly evolving with the help of Net Driven.
“Service has been the main focus for Frisby’s since its inception. It really is the key to success in our business. Our motto ‘Service that Satisfies’ came into being more than 50 years ago and is front-and-center in all of our marketing. Our entire staff is trained to connect with customers on a personal level. We believe this is the main advantage that independent tire dealers have in the marketplace.”
Into the Future: “It’s the level of service that we offer, and the consistency we achieve with many long-time employees on staff, that has (most contributed to the dealership’s ability to survive its competition and thrive for so long). We have a dozen people in senior positions, with more than 25 years of seniority. One manager has been with the company for more than 55 years!
“We are introducing new technology and training staff, along with developing new strategies with social media. And, right now, our future looks bright. We’re looking forward to celebrating our 100th anniversary in 2020.”
DELTA WORLD TIRE CO.
75 Years Old
New Orleans, La.
Source: Paul Bernstein, President
Early History: “Delta World Tire began in 1938 as World Tire and Supply. Founder Abe Bernstein began his venture selling used tires during war times with one underlying principle: customer service is the first priority. He knew that excellent customer service, connecting with his patrons, was the key to his success. And 75 years later, as his great grandson, I adhere to this principle, honoring family tradition.
“When second-generation brothers, Dave and Harry Bernstein, took over, they joined a tire-buying group called Delta Tire, now Del-Nat Tire Corp., in 1959. They also changed the company name from World Tire to Delta World, growing their presence in South Louisiana.”
Structural Changes: “In the mid- and late 1960s, key personnel joined the company. Marvin Bernstein joined the family business in 1963 and Sterling Broussard in 1967. Broussard and his three sons Sterling Jr., Ricky and Shane operate locations in New Iberia and Lafayette, La.
“In the early 1980s, Marvin began to transition the business to have more of a retail focus. And in the late 1990s he began to turn over the business to the fourth generation, continuing its growth in retail.
“In 2005, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita affected nine Delta World locations. The New Orleans location was flooded for three weeks, with varying levels of destruction to stores on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and Lake Charles, La. Since rebuilding the company, we now operate 15 retail/commercial tire locations as well as a Mighty Auto Parts franchise since 2004, selling product to our locations and other key customers as well.”
Products, Equipment, Service, Marketing: “Delta World began a relationship with Michelin in the early 1970s, realizing the value of radials early on. Today, we continue to have a strong relationship with Michelin, offering that product along with BFGoodrich and Uniroyal. We are direct with Cooper and are a stockholder in Del-Nat for our private-brand tires.
“Our marketing philosophy has not changed much over the years. We continue to communicate with our existing customer base, building strong, long-lasting relationships while continuing to attract new customers with traditional advertising. We also support the communities we live in, our schools, churches and playgrounds.”
Into the Future: “We are happy to have successfully transitioned the business over the years. But as we grow, it becomes more difficult to stay close to all of our customers. It’s extremely important that all members of our team know customer satisfaction is our highest priority. And making sure our staff enjoys coming to work is important, too. Families come first, and a happy home life carries into the office.
“Delta World will continue to increase its retail operations in prime locations that help our presence in current markets as well as markets outside of our current footprint in Louisiana and Mississippi. Although we still have many years under our watch, we all would be happy to see another generation continue to offer the opportunities we’ve been fortunate to experience.”
EAST BAY TIRE CO.
67 Years Old
Source: George Pehanick, CEO
Early History: “East Bay Tire was founded in 1946 by my maternal grandfather, Joe Fuetsch, who previously was a Firestone regional manager. It was right after World War II, and he started by buying government-surplus tires in Japan.
“In 1958, East Bay was one of the first Bridgestone dealers in the U.S., before Bridgestone USA existed. By 1994, we had moved the business from four warehouses in Oakland to Michelin’s distribution center in Fairfield. Shortly thereafter, in 1995, we opened our Hawaii warehouse. In 2000, we established our first commercial location and have since opened eight more.
“Ownership of the business has transitioned solely within the family. There have been no new partnerships.”
Structural Changes: “The most dramatic change we encountered in recent years was the recession of 2009. We closed two locations in Southern California and downsized from 140 employees to 86. It was a brutal time. Like many businesses, we did what we had to do to survive. California is the least business-friendly state in the country. Constantly adapting to the ever-changing rules and regulations that are strangling business here is an ongoing challenge.
“After retrenching, we slowly built our business back up. We probably will never reopen in the Southern California market. Surviving the current economy has been a major challenge but, in the end, it made us stronger.
“Over the years we’ve bought existing businesses, as well as started from ground zero. Outside of buying Michelin’s 386,000-square-foot facility, our biggest challenge has been building the nicest and largest truck tire center on the West Coast in Fresno, which was completed in 2008.”
Products, Equipment, Service, Marketing: “We’ve had to adjust as suppliers have come and gone. Years ago we were partnered with Bridgestone. We are happily partnered with Michelin today.
“We’ve always emphasized customer service. We believe our wholesale team is second-to-none in product knowledge, and that our commercial team is the best in Northern California. We haven’t survived by trying to be the cheapest on everything we sell. We compete every day against the ATDs of the world. We know we have to be better than they are and, so far, we are.
“I’ve said all along, we’re only as good as our people and our suppliers. Like all dealers, we have a love-hate relationship with our suppliers. But our people, our team, are the best in the biz.”
Into the Future: “Right now, we are growing our commercial business and footprint in Northern California and Hawaii, as well as aggressively growing our Dawg Pound Tires dealer network worldwide. Overall, I see our company’s future positively, not because business is good in California, but because we are an institution. We have survived the war of attrition, and it has made us stronger."
63 Years Old
Source: Larry Pearson, President
Early History: “In 1950, the peak of the whitewall tire era, my father, Raynal Pearson, had a small Buick dealership in southern Utah. As part of the dealership, tires also were sold. He could see the trend in the industry toward separate tire stores, apart from car dealerships, and made the move to open the first Pearson Tire store. That store spread quickly into 26 tire stores with gas stations by the mid 1960s. By the mid-1970s, my father had sold the gas stations and the tire stores associated with them, leaving him with 10 company stores. By the mid ’80s, the company had added a wholesale division. Today, wholesale is the biggest part of Pearson Tire, with four warehouses and more than 25 employees.
“I came on in 1992 as the managing partner and my father retired in 2008.
“Our benchmark years were 1980, when Seiberling, Firestone’s private label, was replaced by Cooper as the company’s main tire brand; 1982, when several retail stores were sold and the move was made to focus more on wholesale distribution; 1999, when Kumho was replaced with Hankook for the dealership’s second-tier line; and 2006, when Hercules was added to the product line-up.”
Structural Changes: “Our biggest change was the shift from retail to wholesale. The dealership has had tremendous overall growth since adding and focusing on the distribution side of the business. Retail didn’t see the same growth, but was helped by the availability of inventory.
“Expansions of the company resulted as wholesale was added. The current locations have all added to their warehouses in the last eight years, with one location moving into a new, expanded facility in 2008.”
Products, Equipment, Service, Marketing: “Product additions have come as the company has grown, and as the need for exclusivity within the brand territory became an important factor in our wholesale business.
“Our retail stores have maintained updated equipment, and continue to do so. For example, the main retail location just added Hunter’s latest alignment equipment, making it the only tire dealer in several countries with that type of front-end service.
“The biggest change and impact from marketing came as the company began sponsorship of what is known today as ‘The Pearson Tire Performance Series.’ This is a series of concerts and events that bring major artists to rural Utah. The most recent event was comedian Bill Cosby, with bands like Styx and the Beach Boys coming up in early 2014. This concert series has added a community-support piece to our marketing that has impacted sales in a very positive way.
“Despite increased housing capacity, space continues to be the biggest challenge facing Pearson Tire. The company is in the process of building a mixing house, which hopefully will alleviate some of those challenges.”
Into the Future: “Our ability to survive has come about because of the customer trust developed by the company. That trust is essential in the tire business. I have people who’ve just moved into the area come to me all the time and say, ‘I hear from everyone I ask that you’re the only place I should ever take my vehicle for tires or service. Is that true?’ You can’t buy that kind of advertising. It has to be earned. Our marketing campaign and support of community, college and high-school events has helped as well.
“With our company beginnings in small, rural towns and everyone knowing everyone customer service was the only way for our stores to survive. Because the stores were independent, customer-service training couldn’t come from a corporate trainer, but instead from old-fashioned ideals taught by the owners. The company mission statement is, ‘To provide customers the highest quality products…and exceed their expectations in service, quality and professionalism.’ And we live by our motto: Always give the customer more than they paid for.
“Even though the competition on all fronts is fierce, our company continues to grow. We now service more of the five surrounding states as delivery options have increased. And we carefully watch the bottom line as we move into the future.”