LYNDHURST, N.J.—No need to salute him the next time you come aboard, matey, but Jerry Boyle would be tickled if you simply called him "Captain." After all, it's the way he answers his phone. Not as in "Captain of Industry," though the longtime patriarch of Englewood Tire Distributors (ETD) Inc. certainly could be considered that. He and his son, John, the company's president, have successfully guided the retail/wholesale dealership through some choppy waters.
Jerry Boyle proudly wears his "Captain" moniker—a designation he received 40 years ago from the U.S. Coast Guard when he was licensed to navigate 100-ton vessels for hire. In addition to the tire business, the Captain and family members operate a charter boat out of Brielle, N.J., for fishing and sightseeing excursions and, over the years, have hosted several tire industry social functions on it.
"It's a nice honor, but not a big deal," he said of his title.
In an industry where the big fish constantly swallow the smaller ones, the Boyles have worked hard to see that ETD evolves and prospers. While the bulk of the company's earnings comes from its wholesale business, it has slowly grown its retail arm to represent 35 percent of overall revenue.
"We've gotten more into retail," the Captain acknowledged. "If you didn't do that, I think you were not respected as much by the manufacturers. In fact, to get along with everybody, you had to have retail, so we went into it pretty gung ho" five years ago.
The Lyndhurst-based business operates nine ETD Discount Tire Centers retail stores that feature "fast lane" service bays for quick tire changes and related services.
On the wholesale side, the company is constantly looking for new opportunities for growth within its primary trading areas of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Delaware, said Jeff Walling, marketing manager. He cited the success of ETD's Discount Tire Express—which does what he called "shotgun" just-in-time deliveries to customers such as service stations, car dealerships and repair shops.
That's a far cry from when the Captain got into the business.
Fresh from the service in 1946, after four years as an Air Force pilot, he considered continuing as a flyboy. But since some commercial air carriers were paying pilots only $200 a month, he said, "I thought I'd take a shot at my own business."
He heard that a guy in Hackensack, N.J., was liquidating his tire business, so he showed up, along with two other prospective buyers. The Captain remembers the dealer telling him, "Kid, it's nice of you to come, but I don't know what you can do here." When the others didn't want the entire inventory, the Captain bid on all the tires.
The dealer said he admired the 25-year-old's chutzpah and gave him the tires—no charge.
Another tire dealer was born.
Those were, indeed, simpler times. Today, the Captain said, business has gotten so complex, "there are very few dealers who can carry a complete line of tires."
ETD handles brands from Michelin North America Inc. and Bridgestone/Firestone Inc., as well as Yokohama, Kumho and Falken lines.
Jumping into retail "turned out, through a little luck on our part, to be a better business than we originally thought it would be," he said.
"We happened to have a hell-of-a-good 1999," he added, bringing in a total of $50 million in wholesale and retail sales.
Despite recent health problems, the 79-year-old said he's not planning to retire—"not that I know of." He recently left the hospital after a 90-day stay for bronchitis that had progressed to pneumonia. While he likes to go to ETD daily, he said he tries to stay in the background, since his son has been in charge for about eight years and "runs a good show—as you can see by the numbers."
Recuperating back in his Riveredge, N.J., home, about 100 yards from the ocean and 20 minutes from New York City, the Captain said he can't wait to get back to work. "It used to be 7 a.m., but now I'm usually there from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m.
"All of us here at Englewood Tire are early operators.|.|.|. We really enjoy the business. We're proud that we've never missed a cash discount in 50 years and never run overdue on our bills.
"We're loved in the eyes of the tire manufacturers because of the way we pay on time."
When he's not at the dealership, chances are you can find him at one of his other favorite avocations: tournament fishing, pool—not the splashy kind—and, shall we say, "games of chance," Atlantic-City-style.
The Captain has won a number of trophies, which are on display in the 10th-floor billiard room of the famous New York Athletic Club, where he's been a member for 40 years. He's even played against some of the big names in pool, including "Minnesota Fats."
Ask him about the time, at a tire dealer meeting several years ago, when Fats put on an exhibition of trick shots, then invited a challenger from the audience.
Someone shouted, "Hey Fats, why don't you play the Captain?"
Now, Mr. Boyle had played the fat man before and will be the first to modestly admit: "I could never beat him in a hundred years—I was never in his league."
Fats took the first rack, then lost to the Captain for the second. Was he merely toying with him?
"Some lady yelled, `Hey Fats, he beat you!,'" the Captain recalled. "And Fats waved his hands in a big arc, then said: `And who would believe it!' "