Steve Cloward and Dan Howarth may have shared a cup of coffee with Big O Tires Inc., and perhaps not a whole lot more. The two former executives, however, each made a significant mark on the giant retailer, and now have something equally significant in common.
Mr. Cloward, who started his 20-year Big O career in 1978, and Mr. Howarth, who left that same year, were recognized for their accomplishments and contributions with their induction into the company's hall of fame.
Mr. Howarth actually began his career in 1937, purchasing an OK Tire store for $130, along with some hunting gear and an old car. OK Tires-known in those days as OK Rubber Welders-predated Big O by a quarter century.
Mr. Howarth, at Big O from the start, recalled a story of how the name ``Big O'' came about. It wasn't given the moniker merely because tires look like Big O's. The ``O'' stands for ``opportunity,'' which Mr. Howarth was looking for back in the day.
``I was with OK Rubber for years and decided to quit that and start a new deal,'' he said. ``So I talked to (the son of) Millard James, who was the (founder) of OK.''
Perhaps offering a bit of legend-the story could not be confirmed by current Big O personnel-Mr. Howarth said the Big O name actually emanated from a saloon at which plans for the company were discussed.
``We went to a bar called the Big Oasis,'' Mr. Howarth recalled. ``The owner of the bar said, `Why don't you call it Big O.'''
OK eventually was KO'd, as Big O evolved into what it is today. Mr Howarth was around from the company's inception in 1962 until 1978, when according to Big O he sold his 16 company-owned stores, the largest retreading facility in the Pacific Northwest, and a distribution center that covered several states, to Big O.
Mr. Howarth is credited with concepts that ``revolutionized the tire industry and remain today at the core of the company's `Bigology,''' a Big O publication said.
Mr. Howarth, who traveled from his home in Utah to Colorado Springs for the ceremonies, said he was thrilled with his induction into the company hall of fame. ``It meant quite a bit,'' he said. ``I was really happy about it.''
Ditto for Mr. Cloward, who spoke fondly of his time with Big O. After joining the company in 1978, his career highlights included a successful stint as company president, resurrection of the company's ``Blue Book,'' and growing the company from 200 stores in 1985 to 448 by 2000.
Among Mr. Cloward's other accomplishments was implementing such programs as ``Cost U Less, Make U More,'' and the ``New Century'' marketing program. He also redesigned the company logo.
``At this point in my life, what I have that I cherish most is memories,'' said Mr. Cloward, who said he is for the most part out of the tire business, but owns some quick lube stores. ``My time with Big O was just full of tremendous memories. There was a lot of satisfaction in watching people become successful.''
Mr. Cloward, who stepped down two years ago, traveled from his home in the Denver suburb of Parker to the induction ceremonies. He recalled tough times in his early days with the company.
``We had some growth periods, a lot of reorganization to go through,'' he said.
``We had to reintroduce the company into a little more modern way of doing business, and we were able to be successful in most of what we were doing.''
Topping the list of his life and times as a Big O employee, though, was his crowning achievement, the induction into the hall of fame.
``That would be No. 1,'' he said. ``It was a very special night shared with a lot of very special friends.''
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Pete Calabro, retired founder and owner of Calabro Tire & Auto Service southeast of Pittsburgh, was recently honored by the Tire Dealers Association of Western Pennsylvania, for celebrating 60 years in the industry, which actually became 61 a few weeks later.
Mr. Calabro, 79, started his business in the early 1940s before heading overseas for World War II, during which he spent time in a P.O.W. camp in Poland.
He started out as a retreader, then converted to replacement tire sales when in the late '60s he added automotive service to his dealership.
At last count, Calabro Tire was a $1.5 million dealership, with seven bays and 12 employees. The authorized Michelin dealer sells Michelin, Uniroyal, BFGoodrich and Cavalier brand tires.
The store sells some wheels and does a bit of wholesaling, said Mr. Calabro's daughter Janine, who runs the business along with her brothers, Perry and Jack. Tires represent 60 percent of the business.
At the recognition banquet held in Pittsburgh, Mr. Calabro was given a plaque recognizing his years of service.
``He just said thanks,'' Janine Calabro said. ``He doesn't like groups too much anymore.''
Ms. Calabro said she and her brothers are ``pretty content'' with the way things are going with their business right now, and they have no plans to expand.
They billed it the ``biggest racing event inside Fayette County.''
But in the S&S Tire 500, hosted by Lexington, Ky.-based S&S Tire Co., not a single car took to the track.
That's because the 500 isn't a race, but just an event celebrating the warehouse's customers. And 500 was a bit on the low side, as some 700 invitees were on hand for the festivities.
The day's schedule included an appearance by racing legend Mario Andretti, who signed autographs and had his picture taken by attendees. Firestone's ``Bigfoot'' truck, the UPS show car and Bill Elliot's NASCAR simulator were among other attractions.
The day also featured the Continental/General money booth, and an appearance by John Gamauf, Bridgestone/Firestone vice president of consumer tire sales.
``It's been fabulous,'' Paul Swentzel, S&S Tire president, said of the response to the semi-annual event. Customers keep asking us to do it again.''
Mr. Swentzel said he holds the events as a way to show customer appreciation.
With warehouses in Lexington, Huntington, W.Va., Galax, Va., Nashville, Tenn., Memphis, Tenn., and Birmingham, Ala., and a pair of retreading plants (which Mr. Swentzel estimated produce a combined 300 retreads per day), there are plenty of customers out there.
With 22 retail stores, six warehouses and two Bandag retreading shops, S&S Tire employs approximately 550. The S&S Tire 500 was only for those involved in Lexington.
S&S Tire sells Bridgestone, Firestone, Goodyear and Mastercraft brand tires.