SUMTER, S.C.—When it comes to helping others, Arthur Bradley manages to find time and energy to lend a hand. He not only is active in his Shriners organization, he is the busy co-owner of Ace Parker Tire Inc. in Sumter. The combination retail/commercial dealership has built a good reputation in town over the past 33 years for customer service above and beyond the norm—much like Mr. Bradley's active volunteerism, which has earned him the 2013 Tire Business Tire Dealer Humanitarian Award. “You got to be yourself, do good work, be honest with people and treat them like you want to be treated...,” Mr. Bradley told Tire Business. “We treat customers like family.... They are already part of us when they walk in the door. And hopefully they will tell their kids and grandkids. That's how we've survived all these years—people tell others about us. We have a reputation for good and honest work.” “If you live in Sumter and you deal with Arthur, you don't have to subscribe to AAA,” said Ivy Moore, features editor for the local newspaper, The Item, referring to the dealership's roadside assistance. “We've got triple-Arthur,” joked Kathy Stafford, the newspaper's electronic paginator and dealership customer. “If you're driving a 14-year-old car and Arthur is your dealer,...you can call him almost anytime day or night and he'll get you some help,” Ms. Moore said. Ace Parker Tire also offers to pick up customers' vehicles at their place of business. “It's a huge benefit for people whose schedules are so tight. So instead of you having to take your vehicle in, he provides a service of coming to pick up and bringing it back to you,” said Amanda Boykin, president of the Ladies Auxiliary Shrine in Sumter, noting that Ace Parker Tire has friendly and professional employees. “You don't have to take time out of your otherwise busy day to do that.” Mr. Bradley said the challenge for his business, like many businesses, is getting dependable employees. “You have to run a business, service the customer and make the employees happy.” He encourages his employees to treat the dealership as their place, too—telling them: “Treat this place like you treat your household.” Mr. Bradley also encourages his staff to work as a team. “If you work as a team, you can be a winning team.” His dealership has struggled through tough economic times the past several years but he has always looked for ways to survive. “So often in business people quit. I go to a lot of meetings to find new ideas and find ways to do something better,” said Mr. Bradley, who is a member of the local chamber of commerce and state tire dealers association. Auto service has always been in his blood—Mr. Bradley served in the U.S. Army transportation unit during the Vietnam War, and then worked in the motor pool for the National Guard and served in the Sumter County Police Reserve Unit while attending automotive school at night. After several years in law enforcement, he decided to switch careers and work in a car dealership, where he met his future business partners, Adrian “Ace” Parker and William Burrows. In 1980, the three partners opened Ace Parker Tires. Mr. Parker died in 1991. leaving Messrs. Bradley and Burrows running the dealership since. Messrs. Bradley and Burrows each has his own responsibilities in running the dealership. “We have a good relationship. We've been together a long time,” Mr. Bradley said. While the dealership's namesake has been gone for more than two decades, the partners plan to never change its name since Ace Parker is so well-known in the community. “I think if we change the name, it would hurt the business.... We've been affiliated with the name for years,” Mr. Bradley said. Mr. Bradley said he is most proud of reaching his goal: “I always wanted to own my own business.... All my energy was put into owning my own business. It was the right place, the right time and the right partners.” Some day, when the economy improves, Mr. Bradley would like to add on to the dealership and expand the truck shop. The dealership's sales are split 60/40 auto service and tire sales, he said, with about 25 percent in commercial fleet service and the remainder is retail. With all the time he devotes to charitable causes, especially numerous Shriner fundraisers and events, it's a wonder he has time to run a business. But as Mr. Bradley explained, “As long as my partner Billy and Tammy (Coleman) are there, I don't have to worry about the business.” He said it is important for business owners to give back to the community—and they can always find the time. “I hate the word 'can't.' You can do anything you want to do if you set your mind to it,” he said. Ace Parker Tire operates in the heart of Sumter, a city of 42,000 that in the last century led the state in industrial jobs. But the recent recession forced several local manufacturing plants and stores in the city to shut, spurring high unemployment. Now the city is anticipating the opening early next year of Continental Tire the Americas L.L.C.'s passenger/LT tire plant, which should create up to 800 jobs. Caterpillar Inc. has been expanding its plant in Sumter as well. The increase in staff at nearby Shaw Air Force Base also is expected to boost the local economy as base personnel buy homes and shop at local stores. “We're coming back. We were hit pretty hard by the recession. But not as hard as some other places that I've seen,” Sumter Mayor Joseph McElveen Jr. said. Mr. Bradley said he expects the influx of higher paying jobs will boost his dealership's sales. “For the last four years my biggest profit was from used tires. New tires are now picking up,” he said. Before the recession, Ace Parker Tire had 12 employees, “now I'm back to seven mechanics and two secretaries. I used to have a full force at one time but I just couldn't afford to pay all those folks with what we had coming in and all those people who lost their jobs. I probably get five to six people a day coming in to fill out applications,” Mr. Bradley said. His tidbits of survival advice: “Be careful. Watch what you are doing. Don't put all your eggs in one basket. Know what other dealerships are facing and take a different route.” He also tries to watch his money, watch the market and “spend within our means.” Mr. Bradley said he tries to be competitive on price and know the job market. And he has no problem installing tires customers bring in from mail order sites. “You bring it in, I'll put it on. You build customers that way.” As dealership president, Mr. Brad-ley focuses on dealing with customers rather than doing the mechanical work. “You can't be a mechanic and run the business at the same time. You don't have a hands-on touch with the customers. You need a relationship with the customers,” he said. “I never meet a stranger. I like talking and finding out what their needs are and what we can do to make it better,” he said. There are about a dozen tire shops in Sumter and there's enough business for all of them, he said. But some days are busier than others at his store. On the slow days, Mr. Bradley doesn't just sit around waiting for customers. He said he tries to generate sales by visiting other businesses and asking, “Is there anything we can do for you?” He then talks about the services the dealership offers. He goes around town to hand out coupons for 25-percent off tires and parts, $25 coupons for services, and VIP cards offering a 15-percent discount on parts. At the local colleges he offers 10-percent discount cards to the students. Every Wednesday is Ladies' Day when the dealership offers $19.95 oil changes. “You got to put your name out there,” he said. “That's what works for me,” he added. “If it's slow, you got to go out and find business. You don't wait for it to come to you.” The dealership also talks to people in charge of a company's vehicle fleet and dispatches its service trucks to local businesses to provide free tire pressure checks. “Nine out of 10 times we get work out of it. That's how we get work in slow times,” he said. At the dealership, Mr. Bradley encourages his staff always to smile when they meet customers, keep the dealership facilities clean and dress well. “I've always been a believer in that—make sure everything is neat and clean,” he said. To reach this reporter: [email protected]; 330-865-6127.
Ace Parker Tire Economic struggles Generating sales
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