QUEENSBURY, N.Y.In 1983, the same year that Tire Business began publishing, Wayne Kellogg had reached a crossroads.
At 40 years old, he had spent the previous 13 years working as a manager for an independent Firestone dealership in Glens Falls, N.Y. When the owner of the business died and his children decided to sell the company, Mr. Kellogg was presented with two options: stay on board under new ownership or go out and become his own boss.
Thirty years later, the company he helped found, Warren Tire Service Center, is celebrating its anniversary the best way Mr. Kellogg knows howby continuing to grow.
The Queensbury-based retailer increased its store count to 16 this year by adding two outlets. The first opened July 1 in Schenectady, N.Y., and the second on Aug. 1 in Whitehall, N.Y.
The Schenectady location was an existing tire shop owned by Family Tire & Auto, whose owner, Bill Glock, was looking to retire. The Whitehall location was a former railroad freight station, Mr. Kellogg said. We renovated it and kept that old theme of the railroad station.
At 16 stores, Warren Tire is among the 60 largest independent dealerships in the U.S.
At 71 years old, Mr. Kellogg is finally beginning to slow down a bit. In 2007 he sold Warren Tire to his children, Robert Kellogg and Denise Potter, but he remains on board as the company's part-time CEO. I help a little bit with everything, he said.
But some might say Mr. Kellogg deserves the break after spending the better part of his career as the guy known for turning struggling stores around.
Mr. Kellogg started in the tire industry when he was 16, working at a local gas station owned by Arkley Mastro. I used to sell tires there as a kid, and he would laugh because I would call him at home on nights and weekends and say, 'Can I do this? Can I do that? Can I do this?' Mr. Kellogg recalled.
After a three-year stint with the U.S. Army, Mr. Kellogg bounced between jobs, spending time as a milkman and a factory employee before Mr. Mastro called him one day with a new job opportunity.
He had a Firestone store in Scotia (N.Y.) and was going to open a store in Glens Falls (N.Y.), and he wanted to know if I'd be interested in being the service manager, he said. I went from service manager to salesman to (store) manager, and then he died and I became the general manager and ran the two stores for the family.
That relationship lasted until Mr. Mastro's children decided to sell the stores to Johnny Antonelli, former pitcher for the New York and San Francisco Giants, who was a major Firestone distributor and dealership owner in the area. The new ownership approached Mr. Kellogg about staying on board, but he decided it was time for a change.
I looked into business opportunities, and there was an ad for a Goodyear franchise, he said. So I kind of wrote a resume. I didn't have any money or anything, and a Goodyear area sales manager contacted me and we started talking.
I said, 'You know, I really don't have any money.' He hooked me up with a guy who was in the business who was a second-generation guy at the time, Mr. Kellogg said. That man, Michael Canavan, became his business partner for the next decade.
After preparing a pro-forma statement, Goodyear gave Messrs. Canavan and Kellogg a credit line of about $100,000 to get their new business off the ground. The outlet was built originally in the 1940s and was located on Warren Street in Warren County, which is where the name Warren Tire came from, Mr. Kellogg said.
The original owner of the dealership had been doing some state contract and commercial business but hadn't focused much on retail sales, Mr. Kellogg said.
My background was retail, and I'd done some wholesale and some commercial. As I came over, I moved the company towards retail, he said. He had a little bit of a commercial base and state contracts. Put those all together, and we really did pretty well. It was really successful from day one.
So successful in fact that three years later Goodyear came back to Mr. Kellogg with an offer to take on another location in Clifton Park, N.Y.
The rent was really high at the time, Mr. Kellogg said. It was $6,000 a month and people just wouldn't look at it. I said, 'What the heck, I'll take a shot at it.' I never made much money as a store manager, and I was doing pretty well with my new partner, so we took on that store and it was a huge success.
Goodyear soon came to them with another location in Latham, N.Y., with an owner who was looking to sell. Warren Tire bought out the store along with its inventory and retained the employees.
At the same time, Goodyear was trying to sell a company-owned outlet in Plattsburgh, N.Y. Messrs. Canavan and Kellogg partnered with Ed Boyer, whom Mr. Kellogg previously had worked with in the oil business. The three of them formed a separate company, called KCB Inc., and opened the Plattsburgh store under the Warren Tire banner.
The Plattsburgh store was a success right off the bat, Mr. Kellogg said.
We just improved on everything immediately, he said. The way we went to business was a little bit different than Goodyear as far as the way we advertised, so that store was a real big success. Then we just kept adding stores.
At one point Mr. Kellogg even got into the gas business, operating one Sunoco and three Mobil service stations, but they became very difficult to manage with people working nights and the price of gas.
In the mid 1990s, Mr. Kellogg bought out Mr. Canavan and sold his share in the KCB business to Mr. Boyer.
Starting a tire business today can be much more difficult than it was 30 years ago, Mr. Kellogg said.
Currently, the big problem and the hardest thing is trying to get into these cities, towns and villages that are very difficult with automotive, Mr. Kellogg said. If they are reasonable, there are rules and regulations, and the cost of the property and building stores is extremely high. To try to figure out whether you're going to be able to afford to do it is very difficult.
Many localities don't want new automotive service businesses because of the stigma they carry for presumed dirtiness.
Our claim to fame is our places are extremely clean, neat, organized. Goodyear tells us all the time our stores are some of the best in the country, he said. We're real conscientious about scrap tires. They're in cages that have roofs over the top, so there's no water in them.
The tires are picked up weekly. Waste oil is disposed of correctly, batteries go back to suppliers, he said. We do everything environmentally friendly, 100 percent.
In addition, the automotive service business has grown in complexity as both the vehicles and the equipment used to repair and maintain them become more complicated.
I've been in the business since I was 16 years old, Mr. Kellogg said. Disc brakeswhen those came outthat was a challenge. It changes with each stepcomputerize the car, check engine lights. It's a constant training thing, and fortunately we're associated with Goodyear. They have a training program, and they have people in the field who come out and train with you.
There are parts distributors that offer training, he continued. There are several different avenues to keep us up-to-date on this stuff.
But the toughest challenge these days is retaining good employees, Mr. Kellogg said.
We don't turn over managers and service managers, and we're pretty good on techs, but with the lower paid jobs, people are nowhere near as loyal as they were 30 years ago, or even in the last 10 or 15 years, he said.
People are always looking to better themselvesmore money, whatever it is. We try to pay on the higher side all the time and retain people. We have health insurance, we have 401K, we have vacation and personal dayswe try to supply everything to keep people, but still we turn over a fair amount of people on a yearly basis.
To reach this reporter: [email protected]; 330-865-6148.