RICHMOND HEIGHTS, Mo.Aaron Telle has quite a bit to be proud of.
At 32 years old, the fourth generation owner of Richmond Heights-based Telle Tire & Auto Service has led day-to-day operations at the 73-year-old dealership for eight years, presiding over perhaps the strongest growth period in its history.
Since officially taking ownership of the company he acquired in 2010 after the retirement of his uncle Mark Telle and death of his father Scott Telle, Mr. Telle has expanded the business beyond a single outlet for the first time and introduced a number of operational improvements. The firm's annual revenue has more than tripled under his leadership.
Most recently, Telle Tire added its third locationits first outside of Missouriwith the acquisition in May of Drake Tire & Auto in Alton, Ill.
Originally, it was something I wasn't interested in because it's about 40 miles away from here, but it kind of was a fit for both parties, Mr. Telle said of the Alton store. But with the team they had in place, the business that they were doing, there was really just some minor changes that needed to be made.
I feel like the way they operated as a small family business was very similar to ours, so from a cultural standpoint it made a lot of sense and made me feel confident moving forward.
Under new ownership, Drake Tire will retain its name, said Mr. Telle, who added his company isn't done expanding, as he hopes to take advantage of similar acquisition opportunities.
As older tire dealers look at retiring and may not have plans for succession,...we find that might be a good fit for us, he told Tire Business. Those are ideal opportunities for us, and we feel that's something that's going to come up a lot over the next three to 10 years, especially with the equipment and the investment that's needed today to be a viable company. It's not cheap.
While Mr. Telle can be credited for his company's recent growth, he attributes much of his success to his late grandfather, Chuck Telle, who laid the foundation for that success by instilling in him strong business ethics.
Chuck Telle, who retired from the dealership in 1992, continued to help out in the shop for many years after, teaching his grandson the finer points of running a business. Customer service, he often said, was always the top priority.
He just always would drill into me that the reason you're successful and the reason you're in business is because of your employees, first and foremost, but there're so many places that your customers have a chance to go, he said. Every time they come in you have to give them a reason to come back.
Mr. Telle said his grandfather often likened the tire business to the food service industry.
'Restaurants don't sell the steak, they sell the sizzle,' is what he always used to say, according to Mr. Telle. For him, the message was always clear: it's the little extras that make the difference.
For Telle Tire, those little extras include checking the tire pressure on every vehicle that comes in for service and offering amenities like free WiFi, free car washes, courtesy shuttle service and customer car pick-up/drop-off.
Everybody sells the same products and provides a lot of the same services, so what can we do to differentiate ourselves from the competition? Really what we're selling is we're selling relationships, and having a place where our clientele can feel comfortable doing business with us, Mr. Telle said.
Telle Tire owes its existence to World War II, which resulted in a tire shortage that created many opportunities within the tire industry.
Arthur Telle, Aaron Telle's great-grandfather, along with his partner Dan Froesel founded Telle Tire (then Froesel-Telle Tire Co. Inc.) in 1942 as a retreading business. The firm quickly outgrew Mr. Froesel's mother's garage in Richmond Heights and moved to another location.
In 1946, rapid business growth forced another move to its existing building on Big Bend Boulevard in Richmond Heights.
In the mid-1950s, after doubling the size of its facility, the company moved its retreading operations and converted the Big Bend store to retail tire and automotive service. In 1962, Messrs. Froesel and Telle went their separate ways, with Arthur Telle and his son Chuck Telle retaining control of the retail tire arm of the business.
In 1976, Telle Tire added a 5,000-tire capacity warehouse to its existing business. The following year the firm was recognized by the former National Tire Dealers & Retreaders Association as Missouri's first Tire Service Specialist Shop.
Arthur Telle died in 1978 at age 81, leaving Chuck Telle as the sole owner of the family business. In 1992, upon Chuck Telle's retirement, his sons Mark and Scott Telle took over operation of the company. Chuck Telle died in May 2006 at age 79.
Chuck Telle did live long enough to see Aaron Telle become a full-time employee at the shop in 2003. Aaron Telle's younger brother Alex Telle, 26, also works for his brother at the Big Bend store as a service manager.
The customer relationships that Telle Tire has established have been long-lasting, explained Mr. Telle, as several customers have looked to the shop for their service needs since his great-grandfather worked there.
The people that come in that I enjoy most are the customers who come in that are older. (They) tell me stories about when they used to come here as a kid with their parents and they remember my great grandpa and him helping them fill up their bike tires, Mr. Telle recalled.
Walking through the doors at Telle Tire, the regard for heritage is apparent. Historical photographs, articles and past awards adorn the shop's walls, along with the framed work shirt of Rufus Weaver, the longest serving technician in the company's history, who retired after 38 years.
While Mr. Telle has a strong appreciation for the history of his family's business, he also hopes to leave his own mark on it through expansion and modernization.
When my dad and uncle were getting toward retirement, they were more concerned about getting to the finish line and not necessarily continuing to grow the business or take a risk, he said. They had a comfort zone they were accustomed to and that's what they wanted. Because of where they were at in their business careers, it made sense for them to be there.
As a younger guy, I kind of want to grow on the traditions of the family business, but I also want to try to put my own stamp on it and make it grow, so I'm willing to take risks to accomplish the goals I want to accomplish.
Growing up in the tire industry Aaron Telle spent a lot of time with one question on his mind: Why?
One thing that I noticed when I came into the business and was learning from my father and uncle, they were doing a lot of things that they were doing for the last 25 years, he said. A lot of them made sense, but some of it I would question: 'Well, why do we do it this way?' And it felt like that generation was like, 'Well, this is the way we've always done it, and it works well for us so we'll keep doing it.'
When he came on board, his father and uncle allowed him the flexibility to make changes. When properly executed, the benefits of these changes made a big difference, Mr. Telle said.
One of the areas that we changed was getting away from micro managing, he said. It was my goal to expand and grow the business, and as we would grow I knew right away I could not do everything on my own and that I needed good managers that shared my vision and goals for this company. As a single store for many years, my father and uncle were able to manage and oversee all aspects of the business.
Now with three locations and 22 employees, Mr. Telle said he has had to learn to delegate work to managers and give them the freedom to make important decisions.
Other ways the firm has modernized is through the tire sales process itself, shifting to all-inclusive pricing for mounting, balancing, rotations, tire disposal and road hazard warranty without increasing the cost of the tires themselves. As a result of these changes we saw double-digit increases in our tire sales for five consecutive years, he said.
The firm also revamped and updated reporting processes and pay for its technicians.
We were neglecting to focus on the importance of collecting on labor dollars, Mr. Telle said. At the time, Telle Tire did not communicate the importance of accurately capturing labor dollars to the service managers or technicians.... We were not properly charging for diagnostic time.
We changed the compensation structure for the technicians, which has been redefined to include incentives to increase labor efficiency, he continued.
Under the new system, technicians and managers are looking carefully at the benchmark data on a weekly basis to ensure productivity goals are met, Mr. Telle said. The company holds weekly and monthly productivity reports for individuals and the shop as a whole to better understand the numbers.
Since 2006, we have seen an increase in mechanical sales of 130 percent, Mr. Telle said.
Mr. Telle said it's not always so easy for younger generations to make these changes in the work place.
I'm sure there are a lot of generational businesses where the next generation comes in and it's very hard-line and a fight to allow the younger generation to make their changes if they want to, whereas for me, I wanted to and I was allowed to, he said.
...There's a lot of things I tried back then that didn't work, but I kept going back to the table, and I'm thankful for them giving me the opportunity to be able to do that.
To reach this reporter: [email protected]; 330-865-6148; Twitter: @Will_Schertz