RIVERSIDE, Calif.The former Scher Tire Inc. store on Arlington Avenue in Riverside sits vacant today, one of three of the chain's stores that never reopened after company founder Bruce Scher died in 2012.
But the building wasn't always a Scher Tire outlet. Thirty-seven years ago it was a Mark C. Bloome Co. Inc. storethe same store where Bud Luppino, recipient of Tire Business' 2014 Tire Dealer Humanitarian Award, got his start in the tire industry.
Mr. Luppino, owner of Riverside-based Bud's Tire and Wheel Inc., a three-outlet retail tire and automotive service dealership, had never really intended to become a tire dealeror move to California, for that matter. Then again, he never intended to join the military, either.
Originally from Erie, Pa., he and his wife Claudia were planning their wedding for June 1969 when he received notification that he had been drafted into the U.S. Army, as the nation was embroiled in the Vietnam War.
With his wedding scheduled to take place four days after the enlistment date, he went down to the local recruiter's office to explain the problem. The recruiter, he said, wasn't so helpful.
The recruiter says, 'Oh, what were we thinking?' He dials a number and says, 'Can I talk to Ho Chi Minh? I got Bud Luppino here and he's getting married on the 28th. Can we put the war on hold for about a week while he's on his honeymoon? Mr. Luppino recalled.
He puts the phone down and he says, 'You know what, I did everything I could but they really want to keep the war going, so you're going to have to either join the Army or find some other branch of service by the 24th.
Mr. Luppino learned the U.S. Air Force had a delayed enlistment program, so he signed up for that branch instead. After basic training he was assigned to March Air Force Base in Riverside.
They said I was going to California. The only thing I knew about California was The Mamas & the Papas and California Dreamin', he said.
Mr. Luppino and his wife threw all their things in a car, drove to California and never moved back. He served for eight years as a cartographer, creating maps from photographs.
It was a great experience, he told Tire Business. I got to see the world and never left my desk.
After finishing his military career, he flew back to Pennsylvania to look for a job, but his dad dissuaded him from staying.
Unemployment was 28 percent, and (my dad) said, 'Don't come back. There's nothing here for you. You'll work the rest of your life and never get ahead,' he said.
In April 1977, the same month he finished his military career, he applied for a job opening in Riverside working for Mark C. Bloome Co. He was hired as a tire changera position he said lasted a day.
I have no problem mounting tires, but I wanted to do something else. So they put me in a sales training job and then, a month later, in a sales job and then, three months later, in the assistant manager's job.
Nine months after that he was promoted to store manager. Over the next few years he floated among several of the company's locations.
In 1982, while still working for the dealership, B.F. Goodrich Co. approached Mr. Luppino about an opening for a regional sales position. He accepted the job and spent more than a decade working for the tire maker, remaining onboard when the company merged with Uniroyal Inc. in 1987 and when Group Michelin acquired the then-newly formed Uniroyal Goodrich Tire Co. in 1989.
With Michelin's main office located in Greenville, S.C., Mr. Luppino would fly out every Sunday for a business meeting on Monday, come home Thursday, do laundry on Friday and then repeat the routine the next week.
I learned how to sleep on an airplane, he said.
He left Michelin in 1995 to start his own dealership, which officially opened later that year. His first store was a former Am-Pac Tire Distributors Inc. company-owned outlet on Indian Avenue in Riverside.
When he worked for B.F. Goodrich, he was the BFG rep for Am-Pac, so I worked the grand opening of this store, he said. It's kind of ironic that years later I ended up owning it myself.
In 2004, Bud's Tire expanded to a second location in Moreno Valley, Calif. Another former Am-Pac store, the outlet was built in 1946 as a Flying A gas station, Mr. Luppino said.
The newest store, which opened in July 2013, is the company's first and only from-the-ground-up location. The 5,900-sq.-ft. facility cost approximately $1.5 million to build, Mr. Luppino said. It houses eight service bays, including an in-ground lift, and has the capacity to store 400 tires.
Between his three outlets, Mr. Luppino estimated Bud's Tire does about $6.5 million in sales annually.
The dealership is a bit of a family affair. His wife Claudia spent 42 years managing Social Security offices for the government, but she was always involved on the tire side, too, Mr. Luppino said.
She does a lot of things, he said. She helps my daughtermy daughter's in the business, tooshe helps her with HR issues.
His daughter, Nicole DeLaval, has been with the company for 13 years and serves as the human resources and accounting manager. (The Luppinos have three grandchildren, ages 13, 11 and 9.)
When Mr. Luppino is working, most of his time is spent at his original store, where his office is a small, converted bathroom directly across from the front desk. This keeps him in front of customers and allows him to hear everything that's going on at the counter.
Nothing escapes me, he joked.
Customers and employees alike seem to hold Mr. Luppino in high regard.
He's a good guy, a good boss, said Ismael Mendoza, a 13-year Bud's Tire employee. He takes care of his people here.
Mr. Mendoza started with the company working on the tire service side and spraying truck bed liners, but he has since become the dealership's go-to person for computer problems. Now I do all the IT stufffix computers, run networks, fix machines, he said, noting that Mr. Luppino is always willing to make equipment upgrades that the staff deems important.
Cliff Baker, a technician at the Moreno Valley location, has been working for Mr. Luppino since he purchased the Moreno Valley store. He has served at the same location under different ownership since 1980.
They always like to say that I go with the building, he kidded.
Mr. Baker said he was a little leery when Mr. Luppino purchased the location.
I heard rumors that he was a hard boss when he took over the place, he told Tire Business, but I've never seen it.
While he said he believes those rumors were unfounded, Mr. Baker said his boss is not one to avoid problems either.
If he's got a problem with something, he'll tell you. He's never been shy, he said.
According to Mr. Baker, Mr. Luppino pretty much lets us run the shop the way we want to run itso long as it doesn't come at the expense of customer service.
Customers are No. 1, Mr. Baker said. They're always right. Even if we are, they're right.
Indeed, customers are the dealership's number-one asset, said Manny Bautista, operations manager.
It's not about me, it's how can we help you,... he said. (Mr. Luppino) has instilled that in all of us.
For Mr. Luppino, it's a matter of meeting customers' expectations.
They're not measuring how we serve them against the last tire shop they went to, he said. It's the last place they got serviced. If they were at Nordstrom and they came here, and we don't deliver the same level of service they got at Nordstrom, we can really get hammered.
Mr. Luppino allows his sales staff a discretionary spending budget of $200 to make sure customers have a good experience, and he empowers them to make decisions.
His business has garnered numerous awards, including being named the Medium Business of the Year by the City of Moreno Valley, in 2010 and 2013. It also has won the Press Enterprise Reader's Choice award for 11 of the last 12 years the newspaper has presented it.
Mr. Luppino said he believes his involvement in numerous charitable endeavors over the years have made him better at dealing with customers.
We're better listeners, he said. I don't know what happened at your house last night and sometimes just a little compassion and a little listening, understanding, reading between the lines and lending an ear goes a long way. And that's what we ask our guys to do, just understand.
We don't know what happened, he added. People have issues every day. Kids get sick, they die, a guy lost his jobwe don't know.
We just treat them with dignity and respect and give them what they need.
To reach this reporter: [email protected] crain.com; 330-865-6148. Twitter: @Will_Schertz