Tomorrow's tire dealers face some daunting obstacles but, as some second- and third-generation tire-dealing Texans might say, that's ``mighty fine.''
``I think margins will continue to be squeezed and the channels of distribution will make it so dealers will have to work smarter,'' said Bob Beasley, whose mother Bobbie still heads the Houston-based Beasley Tire Service that his father E.B. started in 1968. That's long before Houston grew to become the fourth-largest city in the nation. ``Dealers are going to have to find where they fit,'' he added. ``You can't be everything to everybody.''
Rick Pilger of Pilger's Tire Auto & Muffler Center in College Station, Texas, said competition ``has made service even more important. I don't think customers get the kind of treatment they want at some other places even though they may have a cheaper price. Take the wholesale clubs-it's a night-and-day difference between going there and coming to our shop.''
Mr. Beasley said today's tire retailer shouldn't think in terms of ``just an individual sale. You have to get into his shoes. You have to help him save money and, at the same time, you get what you need. It's not an individual sale, it's a transaction.''
Indeed, Mr. Pilger-whose father Ed still works occasionally at the family store just three blocks from the campus of Texas A&M, the first public college in the Lone Star State-sees cause for optimism. ``I would say the profit margins are still about the same, and in some cases, maybe even better.''
He gives partial credit to the ``good, better, best'' tire marketing scenario.
``In the mechanical aspects-that is, parts and labor-we have learned over the years to price accordingly. You don't have to give things away,'' Mr. Pilger said, noting that his business is roughly split evenly between tire sales and automotive service. ``We've learned price is not the major buying motive. Customer service is definitely high on our list.''
Service and employees who can make customers happy are the chief concerns of these Texans.
``Workers today want to be given the knowledge,'' said Mr. Beasley. ``They don't want to be micro-managed. You give them what knowledge they need. You tell them what the job is. You give them the chance to do it. They want to think for themselves.''
He credits his father E.B., who established Beasley Tire Service, with being ``good with people and character. The basis is, `Treat 'em right.' Communicate what you want and let them retain their dignity.''
Mr. Beasley's eldest son Michael, 22, who is spearheading the third generation's involvement in the family business, added: ``My biggest concern is being able to take care of the customer and please them like we have in the past. That's what we pride ourselves on. We're a service company. The right employee is worth every bit what you pay them. They're really the ones who make or break you.''
Mr. Pilger, who enjoys the college community and the ``real strong Aggie network,'' agreed.
``We're coming from a small-town atmosphere. I like to say it's a big enough town that there's a lot of business and small enough that I can go home and eat lunch,'' Mr. Pilger said. ``People like to be treated like they're important to the business and appreciate knowledgeable sales staff who can walk them through things and handle problems on the spot. We've been real blessed with some good people in that area.
``My biggest concern was just keeping employees. It's since become more stable. I think there are some good ones out there, but you may have to go through more. We're in a college town, so we use several college students part time. It's worked real well.
``We get a pretty high quality of prospects to choose from. And most of them need to work to go to school, so they seem to be more dependable.''
Michael Beasley, however, is troubled by the work ethic and ``greed'' showed by some of his peers.
``It seems that, for a lot of people in my generation, it's all about themselves. We were taught that you reach out and do all in your power to help the customer out. It seems my generation hasn't been pushed to work. Some people expect things to be served to them on a golden platter.''
``I do have some concerns over work ethic,'' added his grandmother, Bobbie Beasley, the matriarch and president of the company. ``But I'll bet that was true in my generation, too. We interview a lot of people before we hire one. There are still some good kids out there that were raised right and work hard.''
In her view, a more ominous threat facing tomorrow's dealers are ``double-digit'' cost hikes in worker's compensation, health and liability insurance. ``The insurance situation is going to plague them,'' Mrs. Beasley said.
Being a supplier of tires may mean hard and messy work, but neither father-and-son Beasleys nor Mr. Pilger said they ever seriously considered any other livelihood.
``I liked the idea of working for myself and some of the benefits that went along with that,'' explained Mr. Pilger, who holds a degree in economics. ``I saw the automotive repair and tire business was a viable opportunity. And my dad was probably more willing to let me try something-from advertising to promotion to what we're keeping in inventory-as opposed to other employees.''
Michael Beasley, who ultimately plans on getting an MBA after he graduates from the University of Houston, said of the family's business: ``I worked here since I was 13. I've had two other jobs. I worked at a Kroger (supermarket) for about three weeks. I didn't like that. Then I worked for a financial company. But it wasn't what I knew. I know tires and that's what I've always known. If you like it and you're good at it, why change it? So I decided to stick around here.''
When they're not in school, his brother Bobby, sister Tammy and cousin Brian also work at the family's Eastex Freeway store. His uncle David runs a second store in Humble, Texas.
``Whenever you work with family, you get to know them better,'' Michael Beasley noted. ``You get to know how hard they push themselves and how hard they strive to succeed.''
But that also means the occasional tinge of disappointment, such as when ``one of my siblings is not striving to live up to the expectations that I have.'' Or discussions with his father are frustrating because ``he has his way of doing things and I have my ways of doing it, which I may think is more accurate or quicker.''
But decisions are ``solved easily,'' he stressed. ``I tell him what I think. He tells me what he thinks. Then we make our decision.''
And to make smart decisions, tomorrow's tire retailer will need all the help he or she can get.
``You really have to be up on the business aspects, from accounting principles to financial guidelines,'' Mr. Pilger warned.
Dealers starting out now need to ``learn from the ground up,'' he added.
Michael Beasley noted: ``My grandfather didn't even complete high school, and he was able to start this business. But with my generation it's almost a prerequisite to have a college degree. It's changed drastically. My father has a college degree. To even get your foot in the door you need a college education.''
Advises his father: ``Make sure you have enough capital to do what you need to do. I'd take advantage of everything that the manufacturer offered me. I'd work my butt off to find out what the customer wanted and how I could meet that need better than anybody else.''
Michael Beasley thinks he has figured out one way to do just that. ``My main goal is to make the business grow. To do that you either have to take your existing customers and sell them more, or sell them a different product. Or you get customers you haven't had before. By taking on aftermarket wheels, I think the business can expand.
``People are checking out their wheels. They like seeing how much better you can make their car or truck look. I don't believe my grandfather was really excited about selling custom wheels and tires. He would do it, but we sure didn't go out and push it.
``Well, for about a month and a half now, every weekend we put up a tent outside the store. We have about four different sets of aftermarket wheels we display, and they've generated sales.''
He enlisted his father's new Sequoia, Toyota's Texas-sized sport-utility vehicle, as a demonstrator by installing 20-inch wheels and tires.
``I want to mark my spot,'' in the family business, he admitted. But Michael Beasley is quick to point out that God is his pilot. ``Faith is the priority in my life. I was raised in church. Ever since I can remember, it was twice a day on Sunday and every Wednesday. God is the center. God is first. Everything revolves around Him.
``One of the key factors of being a Christian is to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. That's the way I go about business and treat other people. You do all you can for others. You do what you have to for yourself, but you help others as well.''