BERGENFIELD, N.J.—It may have been just a business transaction to British financier James Goldsmith when he tried to wrestle control of Goodyear in 1986. But to Edward J. Kirk, a longtime—and often outspoken—Goodyear independent dealer, it was war.
The president of Kirk's Auto and Truck Service Centers, based in Bergenfield, singlehandedly took out a loan, then ran a full-page paid advertisement in the Wall Street Journal on Nov. 18, 1986, entitled, "Goodyear is being torn apart by a foreign invader." In it, Mr. Kirk wrote that if Mr. Goldsmith had his way, the tire maker would be decimated and "the Goodyear team will be no more."
Though the ad personally cost him $80,000, independent tire dealers from around the country began sending donations to Mr. Kirk and within 11 days he repaid the loan and actually had a surplus of $25,000, which was donated to charity.
Mr. Kirk, 68, died from a massive heart attack Jan. 1 in Pascack Valley Hospital, Westwood, N.J. He had been battling brain cancer.
Born on a farm in County Monaghan, Ireland, Mr. Kirk emigrated to the U.S. as a cabinet maker in 1954 at age 23, then worked several delivery-type jobs, according to his son, Eamonn. In the early 1960s, he patented a machine that vulcanized white rubber onto black tire sidewalls. Mr. Kirk then formed Little Giant Whitewall Co. and provided the service, at $3 per tire, to new- and used-car dealers in New York and New Jersey.
In 1973 Mr. Kirk founded Northern Tire. Today, that first store is still part of Kirk's Auto, which consists of nine retail and one commercial/retail center.
A member of Goodyear's dealer council, Mr. Kirk was one of the founding dealers of the tire maker's Certified Auto Service (CAS) operation, and was an integral force in discussions over the last several years about revamping CAS, which was relaunched last year as Gemini Automotive Care.
He was the first tire dealer to be honored, in 1994, as New Jersey's "Entrepreneur of the Year," and three years later he and his family-run company received an award as the state's "Family Business of the Year."
"Dad's No. 1 rule was, `If we don't take care of the customer, somebody else will,'|" Eamonn Kirk, the company's general manager, told Tire Business. Consequently, the dealership's motto is: "Where customers send their friends."
Mr. Kirk is survived by his wife of 40 years, Bridget; sons, Stephen, Kevin and Brian, who are store managers, and Eamonn; and daughters Kathleen, a bookkeeper for the firm, and Regina, a community organizer. A brother-in-law, Douglas Bogue, also manages a Kirk's Auto outlet.