Max Rua is one lucky guy. Just ask the independent tire dealer and retreader, and he'll tell you he has had the privilege of gaining satisfaction and fulfillment from his 43 years operating Rua & Sons Inc. in Cobelskill, N.Y.
``I've enjoyed being in the business-it's interesting,'' said Mr. Rua, 73, who now serves the company primarily as a consultant.
Not that Mr. Rua views the financial compensation as inconsequential. ``You don't get rich, but you can make enough to live well,'' he said, adding he appreciates the freedom he has had to build up his own assets and live a comfortable lifestyle.
Being an independent tire dealer, he said, has provided him with the opportunity to meet interesting people and become involved in local activities and organizations, both community and professional.
Mr. Rua has held board positions for a local hospital, savings-and-loan company and a bank, as well as a hardware distributor and the National Tire Dealers & Retreaders Association.
Like most small business owners, he also appreciates being his own boss: calling the shots; taking time off from work at his convenience; and not having to face the threat of layoff.
Mr. Rua started his sales career 55 years ago in the family's hardware business, Rua & Sons Inc. in Astoria, N.Y., working there from 1940 until he married in 1952.
That year he moved upstate to Cobelskill where he opened a division of the company under the same name, a 2,000-sq.-ft. hardware store that boasted a new profit center-tires.
With an investment of $15,000 to buy an inventory of Goodyear products, Mr. Rua became an independent tire dealer, selling tires, batteries and accessories.
While the dealership supplied primarily farm tires to the surrounding rural area, it also carried passenger tires-an easier item to stock in those days, with only six sizes available, Mr. Rua recalled.
A garage behind the main building housed the dealership's two tire-changing bays, and two years later became site of new sideline-retreading.
Expansion of the business in ensuing years brought a 10,000-sq.-ft. location in Oneonta, N.Y., and a 7,000-sq.-ft. facility in Johnstown, N.Y. Both operations offer passenger and truck tires and service, as does the firm's 36,000-sq.-ft. headquarters in Cobelskill, still site of the company's retreading operation. In recent years, the firm has added the Cooper line.
About 30 years ago, Rua & Sons became a Bandag franchisee, and today retreading of light and medium truck tires makes up 30 percent of the company's $6 million in annual sales, according to Max Rua Jr., who oversees day-to-day operations. New tire sales and vehicle service each contribute 30 percent of the total; service calls account for the remaining 10 percent.
Sales for Rua & Sons' first year of business totaled about $35,000, said Max Jr., or ``Mic,'' 41, the firm's corporate secretary who has had a hand in the business since his teen years.
He began assuming greater responsibility when his father had a heart attack in 1988. The elder Mr. Rua's declining health since then has forced him to reduce his involvement.
Among Rua & Sons' 50 employees is Max Jr.'s wife, Cathy, vice president and an employee of five years. Max Sr.'s wife, Lily, toiled alongside her husband during the firm's early years, when three people ran the business.
The senior Max's two grown daughters worked in Rua & Sons' office when they were younger, but chose unrelated career paths and are now married and living in different states.
The elder Mr. Rua said he didn't pressure his children to enter the tire business, instead letting them follow their own interests. ``Enthusiasm and liking what you're doing is very important,'' he said.
And there's no discounting the sweat factor. During his more active years, ``I worked whatever hours were necessary,'' he said. ``I'm self-motivated, a hard-working individual*.*.*.*.I believe I have that drive that makes a business person succeed.''
Add confidence and self-assurance to the description of Mr. Rua, who said he is satisfied with the business decisions he made over the years, avoiding mistakes by analyzing beforehand.
His only regret. Not spending enough time with his family during the years he built the company.
Establishing a dealership, or any small retail business, would present a much greater challenge today than when he started out, Mr. Rua believes. ``Young people today face a lot of obstacles,'' he said, specifically competition from large companies with massive financial resources, as well as government controls on business. The most successful tire dealerships, he believes, are small outlets located in rural areas, where the mass marketers aren't interested in penetrating.
A seasoned businessman, he cautions aspiring entrepreneurs seeking wealth not to enter the tire industry. ``A young, well-educated man could make a better living in another field,'' he said. But he's impressed with the smart, well-educated young people coming into the business.