RICHFIELD, Utah—The late 1960s era mantra “Keep On Truckin'”—remember Robert Crumb's iconic cartoon image?—has taken on new significance for Pearson Tire Co., which claims to being Utah's oldest independent tire dealership.
The company celebrated its 60th anniversary with an open house July 16 at its home base in Richfield that included giveaways and prizes from several tire companies. The festivities were a throwback to where the company came from as well as where it's headed.
Hands down, though, the highlight was a surprise appearance by a hunk of iron with great sentimental value to Pearson Tire founder Raynal Pearson: the dealership's first pickup truck, a 1939 Chevrolet half-ton, that was “re-gifted” to Mr. Pearson, 83.
“He was pretty excited about it,” CEO Larry Pearson told Tire Business. “My sister just e-mailed me that dad was 'unbelievably excited' about getting the truck back.”
For years—“for pretty much my whole life,” Larry Pearson recalled—the truck was just a rusting hulk sitting out back behind one of the dealership's stores. Periodically someone would ask if they could buy the truck for parts, but he always declined. “My siblings remember driving that thing, but I don't. It was just a piece of junk to me all these years.
“Then about 10 years ago I asked him, 'Dad, do you want me to restore it?' and he said OK. He had probably forgotten that it had existed.”
Since then, it's been a long, drawn-out labor of love for Ken Johnson, who manages Pearson Tire's Direct Tire wholesale operation in St. George, Utah, located alongside one of the company's eight wholesale/retail outlets. He and a buddy have been painstakingly restoring the truck, and are almost done, save for some last-minute engine work and a few odds and ends.
Larry Pearson is prodding them to finish so the truck can make appearances—under its own power, not on a flat¬bed—at other anniversary celebrations that will take place at Pearson Tire locations by year-end.
Raynal Pearson founded the tire retailer in 1950 as an addition to his auto dealership. At one point the tire dealership had expanded to 26 retail outlets and, according to his son, had a thriving store franchise program. By the time Larry came back to the business in 1992, however, the franchise operation was waning.
Pearson Tire now operates eight outlets—including four franchised locations—serving Utah and portions of Idaho, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado and Wyoming, according to Larry Pearson. The dealership has stores in Richfield, St. George, Beaver, Provo, Salt Lake City, Salina and Ephraim, Utah.
In a press release marking the dealership's anniversary, Raynal Pearson attributed the company's longevity to maintaining its motto: “To provide customers the highest quality products, furnish them with exceptional service and make a fair profit for ourselves and the company.”
“We don't sell a customer anything they do not need—only that which is needed—and we exceed their expectations in service, quality and professionalism,” he added.
Among the brands the dealership carries are its three primaries, Cooper/Mickey Thompson, Hercules and Hankook, as well as Greenball, Triangle, Starfire and BKT.
Pearson Tire locations perform a range of services, including brakes; wheel alignments; lube, oil and filter service; exhaust, heating, cooling and air conditioning work; axle, CV joint, differential and driveshaft repair; and electrical and electronic system diagnosis and repair; glass repair, replacement and tinting; steering and suspension; and transmission, according to its website.
While Raynal Pearson still takes part in the business on some of the major decisions—his wife Maridell is a “silent partner” in the dealership—his son said that, day-to-day, “he doesn't get that involved. He claimed when he hit 80 that he retired, but he still comes around periodically and still visits the locations periodically.
“He came to Richfield for the anniversary and will probably go to the open houses at the other stores.”
When Larry Pearson finished college with a degree in finance, going back to work at the tire shop—where he'd grown up working—was probably one of the furthest things from his mind. He spent a few years playing keyboards and “messing around as a musician,” writing music for a few firms in Los Angeles and playing gigs with his sister.
“But I guess I always knew I'd come back to the family business,” he said.
Nowadays, he still plays the keys a little, but doesn't have time to play out anymore thanks to the requirements of running the dealership. And while he has an 18-year-old son Jordan who has worked a little around the shop, “he's got the music bug, too,” so a third-generation Pearson running the tire business may not be in the offing any time soon.
The company's wholesale operation comprises about 75 percent of the business. On the retail side, tires are about 60 percent of sales vs. automotive service.
Overall sales, including wholesale, rang up to about $12 million in 2009, and this year are up a little over that mark. “If we could get some tires, we'd probably double all that,” Larry Pearson said. “It's a pretty tough market out there. It's scary. As we've expanded, we've gotten more into the container business, but it's weird not having the product we need.”
Fill rates have been hovering at around 30 percent, he added.
Rather than add new locations, Mr. Pearson said the company has “expanded our reach out into states surrounding us, without putting brick and mortar there.
“We've offered extended delivery into these areas. We've tried to avoid going into more locations if we can stay with overnight deliveries.”
He has no plans to add stores, though admitting, “if our expansion continues to go beyond our borders we might have to; but we're just treading water at the moment.”
The wholesale operation has four Utah warehouses—in Salt Lake, Provo, Richfield and St. George—and has about 20 trucks that do “hot-shot” deliveries in metro areas. In rural areas they usually provide deliveries at least a couple of times a week, depending on the customer.
“We are directing our focus on our wholesale operations as we continue to expand,” Mr. Pearson said, adding: “Yes, we intend to be here in another 60 years!”