CANTON, Ohio (July 23, 2004) — There's nothing like the government totally outlawing an industry to make someone look at switching careers. But it worked out just fine for Ziegler Tire & Supply Co.
In 1919 as Prohibition dawned, saloon owner Oliver Ziegler needed a new profession. With his brother Harold, he started a tire shop in downtown Canton. The company—the oldest existing Firestone dealership in the U.S.—celebrated its 85th anniversary this month.
“He just thought it would be a good idea,” said Bill Ziegler, now owner of the retail and commercial dealership. “The industry was just starting.”
Bill Ziegler said his uncles dealt directly with Harvey Firestone when they were setting up the business. They also were on the cusp of the pneumatic tire's gaining acceptance.
The remaining two brothers, Herb and Norm Ziegler, entered the business in the early 1920s. Bill Ziegler's father, Herb, had taken accounting in high school, so he was the official bookkeeper.
“That was the whole family, four brothers, that's how they got started,” Mr. Ziegler said.
Mr. Ziegler, like many tire dealer sons, worked various menial jobs starting when he was 12. But he went to Ohio State University to be a certified public accountant and worked in Columbus, Ohio, for five years after.
“I was a CPA, so I really didn't intend to come back,” he told Tire Business. “But my uncle talked to me and explained all the benefits of a family corporation and (said) the family needs you.
“(They) really needed cheap labor, that's what it's all about,” he joked.
Following Oliver Ziegler's persuasion and noticing that his father and uncles were getting older, he returned to the shop in 1975. “It's family, so you feel a lot of obligation to your family,” he said.
Mr. Ziegler said he hasn't regretted the decision.
“Sometimes when you think about what you could be doing, a family business is a lot of fun, but it's a lot of heartache too,” he said. “You're up and down. When all the good things happen, you're way up. The bad things, you're down. It's just a tough thing from that standpoint, but it's a lot of satisfaction.”
Mr. Ziegler has two sons, Patrick, 36, and Brian, 31, in the business. The elder, who had been with the business for the last 10 years, is a commercial salesman. The younger is an automotive technician and still exploring his options.
Asked if he gave his sons the same speech his uncle gave him, Mr. Ziegler laughed. “Not too much,” he said. “You just have to work hard, and nothing's handed to you.”
Bob Davidson, who previously had worked for Michelin North America Inc., was hired three years ago as general manager. Mr. Ziegler said the outside perspective has helped in making decisions and fostering the idea that any employee in the business can do anything.
By the time Mr. Ziegler rejoined the family business, the company had grown to four stores.
“It's almost as if each brother had a store to keep him out of trouble,” Mr. Ziegler joked. “But we've expanded a lot since then, and we've gone up to about 20 stores, give or take.”
Five stores are retail only, others are combination retail and commercial and the rest are only commercial. The company has one retread plant, a Michelin Retread Technologies Inc. precure and mold-cure facility in Massillon, Ohio.
Commercial business represents about 70 percent of Ziegler Tire's sales, which this year are expected to reach about $65 million. Now based in Massillon, the company also is looking for locations to expand, possibly in Pennsylvania, but Mr. Ziegler doesn't have specific growth benchmarks for the coming years.
As the company moves forward from this milestone, Mr. Ziegler said he hopes to keep his stores on top of the competition. “Wherever we have a store, we want to be the best in that market,” he said.
But that hasn't always been easy. Ziegler Tire was one of the first tire dealers to switch to Michelin's retread system from Bandag Inc. with hopes of besting the competition in terms of technology. But Bandag sued Michelin in 1999, saying Michelin was trying to eliminate Bandag as a competitor in the retread market. Michelin quickly countersued, saying Bandag held a monopoly over the market.
The two companies eventually settled in 2002, but Mr. Ziegler said his dealership often got involved in the heated exchange.
“(We had a) little bit of heartache with that,” he said. “We were probably a little naÃ¯ve. We felt, it's America, you can do whatever you want, just go out and promote your product and do well. But it got very personal between our previous supplier and Michelin. We got caught up in the middle of that.”
But for the anniversary, Mr. Ziegler relished in the family business' accomplishment.
“There's not a whole lot of dealers that made it this far,” he said.