After more than 40 years in the tire business, Mr. Roemer said his greatest enjoyment is his customers.
“We all enjoy our customers. If I get lucky enough to sell my business that is the part I will miss the most, that association with people. You make a lot of friends when you've been an active manager in your business for more than 35 years,” he said.
The Missoula metropolitan area of 100,000 people has about 17 other retail tire stores, he said, with the largest competitors being Les Schwab Tire Centers and Tire Rama, which he dubbed “the big hairy gorillas.”
As a single-store dealership, Roemer's has tried numerous strategies to attract and retain customers.
While he provides a student discount to the nearby University of Montana community, he said he captures more business from local customers with a rewards program, which offers free oil changes.
He began the rewards program about two years ago and he said it has been one of his more successful marketing strategies for customer retention.
Last May Roemer's Tire Factory ventured into social media with a company website.
“I have to say that it has helped us greatly in elevating our awareness with the Missoula public,” Mr. Roemer said. “You know we've been here for that many years, 60, and as the little guy, the one-store operator, we were kind of not known anymore. We kind of get lost in the jungle. But we've managed to leverage ourselves, get ourselves on top searches with Google and so forth. So that's been very helpful to our business as well. It's a nice spinoff.”
The company also has added a 60th Anniversary page to its websites at tirefactory.com/roemers or repairautomissoula.com. The dealership also maintains a Facebook page.
Mr. Roemer said the dealership faced its biggest challenge about 16 years ago when he was seriously injured in a snow skiing accident and couldn't work for two years.
“And that's when I learned that I had a good team who were able to run the business in my absence,” he said, “And it was really the beginning of my understanding that I didn't have to be in there slinging tires everyday to be successful.”
He added, half-jokingly, “It scared the heck out of my dad. He wasn't ready to go back to work.”
So how does a dealership prepare for such unexpected events?
“I have a pretty simple philosophy. I share the successes of the business with my team. They all have their individual goals on a monthly and on an annual basis. They are rewarded monthly for those efforts if they meet those goals,” he said.
“I share all of the numbers with them so there are no secrets. They know if the business is doing well, if the business is doing bad. Training, training, training because training begets rewards.”
He offers bonuses to his 13 employees predicated on a percentage of achievement toward a goal that is established every year.
Looking ahead, Roemer's Tire Factory probably won't see a third generation at the helm—Mr. Roemer's son and daughter have pursued other careers.
So at age 61, Mr. Roemer said he is still working out a succession plan. He wants the dealership to continue on after he retires.
“It's my ardent hope that I can find a buyer that is either a current Tire Factory member or is inclined to be a member and owner in Tire Factory so that we can keep it going,” he said, noting the work the dealership has done to build the Tire Factory brand name in his community.
The next nearest Tire Factory members are more than 90 miles away in Helena, Mont.
For now, Mr. Roemer continues to invest in updating and remodeling the dealership.
“We've continued year to year doing capital investing, a lot of it in equipment and bay remodels,” he said. The most recent investment was spending $80,000 to install a large scissor-rack lift so the dealership could align larger trucks.
The last major facelift happened in 2006 when the store's exterior was painted with Tire Factory brand colors.
“That caused a real big uptick in activity in the store. It was like there was a new store in town. People forget quickly,” Mr. Roemer said.
To reach this reporter: [email protected]; 330-865-6127.