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When Succession Planning Succeeds

91 years after its founding, the fourth generation of Myers ownership has taken the helm at Gladwin, MI’s Myers For Tires.

Fourth Generation of Shop Owner Leads Family Business

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When a forward-thinking veterinarian in rural central Michigan realized the horses he was treating were soon going to be supplanted by motorized vehicles, he recognized the opportunity that fixing both would provide.

“My grandfather, Floyd Myers (known as Doc) was the veterinarian here in Gladwin,” explains Joe Myers. “He was also a sheriff and a mayor among other things in the ‘20s – in those days he was taking care of all the animals, but a lot of large animals and farms, because in the early part of that century agriculture was the largest part of society. He saw there were a lot of automobiles coming, so, in 1930, he got into the gasoline business. If you see pictures of him, he’s in a suit and a white shirt and tie and a hat all the time. He hired people to work in the gas station and do that while he did his veterinarian things and other service to the community.”

Now, 91 years later, the fourth generation of Myers ownership has taken the helm at Myers For Tires. Like his great-grandfather, 33-year-old Ryan Myers knows that changes in the automotive industry are coming – and they’re likely to be no less dramatic.

“My father, Ralph, took the shop over from his dad in the late ‘30s,” explains Joe. “He had attended a teacher’s college and taught for two years but found he didn’t like it. So, he got involved with this business and stayed active until 1979 when I took over.”

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Myers recalls that business in the ‘70s was tough. “The shop needed investment and some new life put into it. My father and our family have had a tremendous rapport with the community. He was probably one of the best salesmen I’ll ever know, but he wasn’t really good with grooming employees, bringing them along and having them help him build the business.”

Today, Myers For Tires is a full-service shop offering comprehensive repair and tire sales. This location was opened by third-generation Joe in 1984 as an Auto Value Certified Service Center and full-line Auto Value parts store. Offering customers whatever they need is in the Myers’ blood.

“In 1942, in addition to the gas station, we had a full-service Firestone store where people could buy bikes and appliances, as well tires. Eventually, those stores all closed, but my dad decided he still liked the tire business. In about 1965, he added onto the back of the gas station and separated them, leasing the gas station to someone else and holding onto the tire shop.”

Joe says his philosophy when he took over the shop was to recognize the importance of a solid team. “I need good people. We dabbled in service but we weren’t active. I added all those services and then we moved from the old downtown location out to a much larger facility. It took a while to get where we needed to be, but we’ve grown to the 12 bays we have and the substantial front room with the parts store business, as well as excelling in the tire business and the service business. We’re pretty diversified,” Myers says proudly. 

In fact, he says it’s the people who have allowed him to do what every business owner wants to do – retire at 66 when he can still enjoy his life. 

“Absolutely,” says Joe. “There’s a point when you need new people and new ideas and the technology moves along. Ryan’s here, and he’s so much better with the computers and technology than I am.

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“I think, like a lot of the small businesses like us, we have to decide where the numbers are going to be and how to pay people better. Our industry has just been horrible at paying people to fix automobiles and getting new employees. One of our techs we had for 20 years decided to start his own shop. So, he left us, and we’ve been searching diligently, and we finally decided we’d just grow our own. But it’s very difficult to get young people to come into our business.”

The younger Myers recognizes the challenges he’s facing in today’s industry, but points to the reputation his family has built for generations as a key to success.

“I started working here and changing tires in high school,” Ryan says. “I had a short stint where I thought I might want to be a state police officer. Instead, I came back and worked in the business and found out that I love doing all this stuff.

“We do just about everything except for bodywork and rebuilding transmissions – those are kind of their own niche businesses. We do everything else, including full diagnostic tests for gas and light-duty diesels.”

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Myers explains that general tech repair and the tire sales are probably split about 50-50. In addition, the shop does great business in battery sales. 

“We’re a Bridgestone-affiliated retailer, which means we buy direct and we have access to some of their other product lines. We sold 900 Interstate batteries and then a couple hundred of other brands – well over 1,000 batteries last year alone,” he says.

“Talking about the division of businesses a little further, labor makes up about 25% of our gross; tires are another 25% and the parts business would be the other 50%. But most of that is the parts that go along with our own service.”

The parts store is a somewhat unique entity, the men leading Myers admit. “Parts sales average 70% to ourself and 30% retail. We’re proud of how we manage our inventories – at least 90% of the time, we have the parts we need for repairs in stock. And, if not, we get deliveries from our WD, Auto Wares Inc., delivered the next day. The parts arrive at 6:30 every morning. That’s been one of our strengths – if you look through our bays, you’ll see that we are typically loaded with trucks, from plumbers, electricians, [various] trades and the oil industry, all kinds of service-industry people. They like that they can leave a truck and we can practically rebuild the whole thing and give it back to them the next day.

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“Having the parts store with that inventory gives us a very unique advantage,” says Joe. “Our techs aren’t waiting 20 minutes every time they need parts. They can just walk to the store and pick them up what they need.”

This commitment to the community is a tangible benefit to Myers For Tires, says Ryan. Gladwin County is a small rural county of about 28,000 people – the namesake city is a little less than 3,000. The nearest major city is Midland, MI, and that means Ryan and his team must work harder than ever.

“My philosophy is to be able to fix the vehicles in all regards as fast as I can so they don’t need or want to travel to those bigger cities to get things done,” Ryan says.

The recipe has been successful, explains Joe. “When I have people come in and look at what I do, they argue about inventory turn and some of those other business factors, but, overall, it has served us well. We’re definitely a different animal because we have all three of those businesses working.

“We’ve been very fortunate that we have no debt,” he continues. “Our sales peaked in 2014 at $3 million. And we’ve been running around $2.7, which for our community is pretty good. But, we suffer now and then from the profitability on the other end, which is what we really have to work on.”

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He admits that parts sales have taken a hit, not only from the addition of two additional stores to the community, including a large chain store, but a change in customer habits.

“They keep dividing that pie up and the internet has been just devastating as far as growth is concerned,” he says. “Basically, you’re competing against 10 more stores. COVID has helped the online retailers tremendously, of course, but growth is going to be a huge problem for small rural areas.”

The solution? 

“Well, our focus has to be on service. Everybody might be able to buy all the parts online, but nobody knows how to do anything on their car anymore,” Ryan says. “Half the people can’t even put gas in them. So, everything shifts from the old to the new – it happens every generation.”

Myers believes that great service feeds upon itself. “Word of mouth is definitely big. There’s no better review than a positive, personal experience that people talk about. We have a pretty nice website that  Bridgestone/Firestone helps us with; we’re on Facebook and other social media platforms. Moving forward, those internet systems and advanced computer marketing systems are going to be even more important.”

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As he grew up in the business, Joe Myers says what he learned about people has been just as valuable as what he learned about cars. “I went to Central Michigan University. My degree is in business administration which serves the shop well – my minor was behavioral psychology which serves me well with people. 

“As my father did, I’ve been involved in all kinds of different community activities. Being out there with people, different boards and church and the different things you do in small towns, people know who you are, and they know what’s going on. They give you an opportunity to get them as a customer. Maybe we can’t play with the big boys on the advertising fields, but we make sure we have billboards, that we do word of mouth and we do all kinds of community things. We’re there, our names are there. And that’s probably been our strength.”

As the succession plan unfolds, Joe Myers admits to some nostalgia.

“Really, I just enjoy the business. I enjoy the whole concept of selling and purchasing and vendors. I’ve met a lot of great people through the years, I have great relationships with our vendors, and we’ve been able to grow because of that. And so, yeah, I guess it just gets in your blood.”

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