When brothers Oliver and Harold Ziegler got into the tire business in downtown Canton, Ohio, in 1919 they routinely worked through the night to meet the needs of their customers. Contractors brought their trucks to the shop at the end of the day and expected they would be outfitted with new solid rubber tires, ready to pick up the following day.
When his father and uncle started the company, ``There were no distractions. All they did was work. Today, people aren't willing to work that hard,'' said Harold Ziegler Jr., president of Ziegler Tire & Oil Co., the oldest Firestone tire dealership in the U.S.
But Mr. Ziegler's actions belie his comments. He, along with other members of the Ziegler family, put in many hours each week. ``When your name's on the building, you've got to be here,'' is a favorite saying.
For three generations, family members have helped build the business from a small independent tire dealership in Canton to 18 thriving locations throughout Ohio.
After more than 60 years as an exclusive Firestone dealership, Ziegler Tire began acquiring other tire lines in 1982 when Firestone cut production of several truck tire sizes and the market began to dictate the multibrand strategy that is commonplace today.
The Zieglers now also offer Bridgestone, Dayton, Michelin, Kelly, Armstrong and General brands. In addition, they operate Bandag retread shops in Canton, Cleveland and Norwalk, Ohio, and have a substantial operation in distributing bulk petroleum products.
``The key to our success is to service our customers,'' said John Ziegler Jr., marketing manager for the company, which employs more than 100 persons. ``We do whatever it takes to satisfy our customers.''
His father, John (Jack) Ziegler Sr., is chairman and cousin Bill is secretary-treasurer. Bill's sons, Brian and Patrick, also work for the firm, representing the third generation of Zieglers in the business.
When Harold Sr. and Oliver Ziegler started the dealership at the urging of a Firestone sales rep 76 years ago, they often worked directly with Harvey S. Firestone Sr., the tire company's founder.
They were later joined by brothers Herbert, now 88, and Norman, 84, who are still involved.
In 1952, Harold Ziegler became one of the five members of Firestone's first dealer council. He retired in 1965, but continued as a board member and visited the dealership just a month prior to his death last December at age 94.
John Ziegler Jr. has experienced the tire business through the eyes of a company store manager and now as an independent dealer. Following graduation from college, he went to work for Firestone from 1979 to 1983. ``It was a great experience,'' he recalled, but added he appreciates the contrasts in operating an independent dealership.
``There is much less rigidity,'' he said. ``We have more flexibility to do what's needed to make money. We make our own decisions. There's more responsibility for the individual manager and we act on our own more readily than a large company.
``And, of course, there is great family pride in our business. We are driven to make the company better and make our parents and grandparents proud. Loyalty to the dealership keeps the independent dealer strong,'' he said.
If you do well in managing a tire manufacturer's store, John Ziegler Jr. pointed out, you normally are promoted from your familiar territory to a new location. Your loyal customers are left behind and you start over developing new contacts.
In an established firm like the Zieglers', you can always count on a family member being on the job.
Harold Ziegler Jr., 62, has been active in the company since 1958, following his graduation from college. He has fond memories of the four Ziegler brothers, who ran the business from an old shop in downtown Canton. ``There was never any question that Uncle Oliver was the boss,'' he said.
The Zieglers experienced hard times through the years of the Great Depression and World War II. But they persevered, concentrating on their one truck tire outlet and three retail stores.
Harold Ziegler Jr. marvels at the changes in the industry over the years he has been in the business.
As company president, he handles much of the personnel and administrative work. But he still loves to sell tires and call on customers.
He has been closely involved with the company's expansion, which began in earnest in the 1980s. With some reluctance, he personally took over a depressed company store which the Zieglers acquired in Cleveland in 1986.
He was hesitant about doing business in a big city after years in small Ohio towns. But he was pleasantly surprised by the help and cooperation of customers, city officials and government agencies in the titanic effort needed to turn the business around. The shop now has 22 employees in retreading and commercial sales.
What does the future hold for the independent tire dealership?
With the industry consolidation and restructuring apparently stabilized, John Ziegler Jr. foresees small- and middle-sized dealerships banding together for increased purchasing leverage to stay competitive. He sees continuing changes in marketing and a growing demand for more technical data and cost information for discerning retail and commercial customers.
Like other family members, Harold Ziegler Jr. is devoted to the tire business. So much so that he seldom gets time to play golf.
To avoid embarrassment after accepting an invitation to a tire company golf outing in California this spring, he spent a lunch hour getting a quick lesson. The payoff was swift. On the 156-yard fifth hole of the world-famous Pebble Beach course, Mr. Ziegler had a hole-in-one! The avid golfers in the party who have played for years without scoring an ace were awestruck.
When you're an independent dealer whose business has existed for 76 years, you do what you have to do to get the job done.