During his 14 1/2 years as a Firestone store manager, Hugh Austin fostered a dream of owning his own business. That dream came true this spring when he purchased an eight-bay tire store and service center on busy Highway 10 in Little Rock.
The facility, formerly Roberts Brothers Tire and Service, has been renamed Austin Brothers Tire & Service.
Explaining the slight name change, Mr. Austin said: ``The store already has a good customer base, so I don't want to change anything more than I have to.''
The business, which once had been very successful, was only marginally profitable when Mr. Austin took it over March 1. But sales have improved every month since, he said, even though he hasn't made any great changes in the operation.
``We have excellent employees,'' Mr. Austin said. ``We all come to work everyday and work hard. We take care of everything that needs to be done. Above all, we take care of the customers and make sure they are satisfied. That's probably the biggest reason for our sales growth.''
The company also has done some direct mail advertising that has brought in business, he added.
Asked what he thought were the most important qualities needed to succeed as an independent tire dealer today, Mr. Austin said: ``It doesn't take a rocket scientist to run this kind of business. You just work and take care of everything-especially pleasing the customers. It takes dedication. You can't just take off any afternoon and go golfing. . . . Then you have to know the business and run the business efficiently.''
Mr. Austin said he was not at all worried about price competition or low gross margins in the tire business.
``You buy at the best price you can, then mark it up to a fair amount. As long as you do right by people they'll come back to you,'' he said.
Asked if competition from major marketers posed a problem, Mr. Austin said he has some chain store competition-one about a mile north, another about a mile south. In addition, there are a number of Firestone- and Goodyear-owned stores.
``If I could just get all of the customers they've made mad, I wouldn't have a big enough store,'' he said.
Mr. Austin said he is fortunate that key employees of the facility stayed on when he took over.
``Don Garrison, my right hand man, has been here 17 years,'' he said. ``He knows and gets along with everybody. He's a salesman and works in the office with me. And one of my mechanics, Tony Crutchfield, has been here 16 years and knows everybody and has quite a following.''
Austin Brothers Tire has five employees-two sales people and three mechanics-in addition to Mr. Austin.
Mr. Austin said his wife, Wrenetta, a career public school teacher, will begin working fulltime, doing the bookkeeping and payroll as soon as she completes her teaching contract. The firm sells Michelin, Uniroyal, Goodrich and Lee tires and offers full undercar and limited underhood service.