MISSOULA, Mont. (May 29, 2014) — Roemer’s Tire Factory is celebrating its 60th year in business by giving back to its community through “60 acts of kindness.”
One of the recipients of kindness, in the form of a $3,200 check, was the Missoula Aging Services. After 60 years in business, second-generation owner John Roemer realized that many of the dealership’s longtime customers are now eligible for the agency’s senior citizen services.
“What better way to give back to our community than to support an agency that is helping those customers who have supported our family and staff these past 60 years?” Mr. Roemer told Tire Business.
“This is a big deal in this day and age when businesses seem to come and go. And we’re very proud to say that our company has survived and thrived through some of the worst economic times of these past 60 years.”
Since the dealership launched its diamond jubilee celebration last June, the store has held fundraisers and donated money and services to several local charities. In addition to the Missoula Aging Services, the dealership has issued $1,000 to a local children’s community theater; provided $850 in auto repair work free to an abused woman so she could leave town; and generated $2,400 in funds for the Watson Children’s Shelter.
All together, the dealership has donated money and in-kind services totaling $20,766 thus far to the community, Mr. Roemer said. “It surprised even me…. It sure feels good.”
During a recent fundraiser for the children’s shelter, Roemer’s Tire Factory committed to donate a percentage of its gross sales from January and February and match customers’ donations. The total for those months was $2,434.
Some of the in-kind donations involved comping a repair invoice for a hard-luck customer, he said.
After posting a press release about its 60 Acts of Kindness project on its website last June, the dealership was “inundated” with requests from various agencies.
“It immediately became obvious to us that we were not going to be able to respond to all the requests,” Mr. Roemer said, so he asked community agencies to fill out a request form and had an informal committee decide to which candidates to donate.
“Aging services was an easy thing because after being in business for 60 years, many of the people who were served by Missoula Aging Services had been our customers or legacy customers for these many years. So that was kind of a no-brainer.”
Evolving a legacy
John Roemer’s parents, Jack and Pat Roemer, opened the business in 1953 as a Conoco gas station in downtown Missoula. The younger Mr. Roemer said he is very proud of the fact that the business has evolved continually with the times.
In 1962 the business relocated to a concept store Conoco built a block away. While the station was pumping the highest volumes of retail fuel of any service station in the state, according to the dealership, it expanded its auto repair and tire business.
John Roemer began working at the business when he was in junior high school. He said his first job was to use “tire black paint” to dress up the used tires on display for resale.
In 1977 he graduated from the University of Montana and joined the family business full time. At that point the Roemer’s Conoco made the decision to abandon gasoline sales altogether, and the store was redesigned to become Roemer’s Tire and Auto Center, featuring BFGoodrich and Mohawk tires. About 10 years later the dealership became a Goodyear retailer.
John Roemer purchased the dealership from his parents in 1987 and 13 years later made the decision to join the Tire Factory marketing and buying group cooperative and change the dealership’s name to Roemer’s Tire Factory.
“The biggest move we made in the last 12 to 13 years is to move to Tire Factory…. We were not purchasing enough tires to keep the attention of Goodyear, who was our primary vendor, and at the time I joined Tire Factory, Goodyear was preparing to increase our purchasing rate by 16 percent, which would effectively taken us out of the tire game,” Mr. Roemer said.
“And at the time I joined Tire Factory, back in early 2000, I took that buying structure and improved my buying cost by 10 percent. So without an organization like Tire Factory in order to be able to acquire tires at a competitive rate, I would have been making my way as an automotive repair center, probably.”
The dealership has what he described as a “healthy” 50-50 mix of tires to auto service.
“If we can grow tire sales at the same rate as we’re going to grow automotive repair this year, we’re going to have a great year,” he said. “It has historically been that way….
“We have a huge legacy in automotive repair and maintenance and we never abandoned that,” he said.
“We’ve grown our sales by a significant amount, well more than 15 percent in the last two years. I’m very pleased with that. In spite of the flat economic climate, we’ve been growing.”
The dealership generated about $1.4 million in sales last year and is projecting to boost that figure by at least $150,000 this year. Mr. Roemer said he has increased his staff to meet the increased business.
“We just finished a February that I’ve never seen before. We beat any previous February by 56 percent in gross sales,” he said, noting that the unusually snowy winter probably helped boost snow tire sales.
After more than 40 years in the tire business, Mr. Roemer said his greatest enjoyment is his customers.
“We all enjoy our customers. If I get lucky enough to sell my business that is the part I will miss the most, that association with people. You make a lot of friends when you’ve been an active manager in your business for more than 35 years,” he said.
The Missoula metropolitan area of 100,000 people has about 17 other retail tire stores, he said, with the largest competitors being Les Schwab Tire Centers and Tire Rama, which he dubbed “the big hairy gorillas.”
As a single-store dealership, Roemer’s has tried numerous strategies to attract and retain customers.
While he provides a student discount to the nearby University of Montana community, he said he captures more business from local customers with a rewards program, which offers free oil changes.
He began the rewards program about two years ago and he said it has been one of his more successful marketing strategies for customer retention.
Last May Roemer’s Tire Factory ventured into social media with a company website.
“I have to say that it has helped us greatly in elevating our awareness with the Missoula public,” Mr. Roemer said. “You know we’ve been here for that many years, 60, and as the little guy, the one-store operator, we were kind of not known anymore. We kind of get lost in the jungle. But we’ve managed to leverage ourselves, get ourselves on top searches with Google and so forth. So that’s been very helpful to our business as well. It’s a nice spinoff.”
Mr. Roemer said the dealership faced its biggest challenge about 16 years ago when he was seriously injured in a snow skiing accident and couldn’t work for two years.
“And that’s when I learned that I had a good team who were able to run the business in my absence,” he said, “And it was really the beginning of my understanding that I didn’t have to be in there slinging tires everyday to be successful.”
He added, half-jokingly, “It scared the heck out of my dad. He wasn’t ready to go back to work.”
So how does a dealership prepare for such unexpected events?
“I have a pretty simple philosophy. I share the successes of the business with my team. They all have their individual goals on a monthly and on an annual basis. They are rewarded monthly for those efforts if they meet those goals,” he said.
“I share all of the numbers with them so there are no secrets. They know if the business is doing well, if the business is doing bad. Training, training, training because training begets rewards.”
He offers bonuses to his 13 employees predicated on a percentage of achievement toward a goal that is established every year.
Looking ahead, Roemer’s Tire Factory probably won’t see a third generation at the helm—Mr. Roemer’s son and daughter have pursued other careers.
So at age 61, Mr. Roemer said he is still working out a succession plan. He wants the dealership to continue on after he retires.
“It’s my ardent hope that I can find a buyer that is either a current Tire Factory member or is inclined to be a member and owner in Tire Factory so that we can keep it going,” he said, noting the work the dealership has done to build the Tire Factory brand name in his community.
The next nearest Tire Factory members are more than 90 miles away in Helena, Mont.
For now, Mr. Roemer continues to invest in updating and remodeling the dealership.
“We’ve continued year to year doing capital investing, a lot of it in equipment and bay remodels,” he said. The most recent investment was spending $80,000 to install a large scissor-rack lift so the dealership could align larger trucks.
The last major facelift happened in 2006 when the store’s exterior was painted with Tire Factory brand colors.
“That caused a real big uptick in activity in the store. It was like there was a new store in town. People forget quickly,” Mr. Roemer said.
To reach this reporter: firstname.lastname@example.org; 330-865-6127.