ODESSA, N.Y.Jeff Parmenter has spent most of his life on one side of the coin that is navigating relationship dynamics within a family business.
Now, with his young children getting their first taste of the tire industry, he's catching a glimpse of the flip side.
For the co-owner of Parmenter Inc.a six-outlet commercial, wholesale and retail tire dealership operating in Upstate New Yorkwatching his sons Phoenix, 13, and Drew, 9, help out around the company their grandparents Ron and Donita Parmenter founded in 1974 has brought him full circle.
Probably like any second-generation kid, I grew up with it, sweeping floors, unloading trailers, he said. I always joke that I heard about (the tire business) half my life and then I've actually been working in it full time the other half of my life.
In fact, outside of a four-year stint with the U.S. Air Force, Mr. Parmenter has spent his entire career working for the dealership that's been a home away from home for him and his family. Now as vice president of operations for the firm's commercial/wholesale division, he is helping to guide his two sons through what may be the start of their own careers in the industry.
When you ask them what they're going to do when they grow up, they say they're gonna work for Dad, and I'm blown away by that, Mr. Parmenter said. I'll put as many layers of people between us as I can just to keep a healthy relationship, but I'm fortunate enough that I had children young. I think one of the best retirement jobs for me would be to work for them.
I don't want to have accountabilityif I say I'm not going to be there tomorrow, no harm no foul, he continued. I don't even care if they pay me, but hanging out with them every day, seeing through their success, that would be retirement to me.
According to Mr. Parmenter, his elder son experienced his first roadside service call this summer when a service manager at the company's Odessa location offered to take him on a ride-along.
It was a very rewarding thing seeing him dressed up in his boots and jeans; he came back dirtier than dirty, Mr. Parmenter said. ...I asked him yesterday, 'What are you gonna do when you grow up?' He's like, 'I'm just gonna work for you, Dad.' I said, 'Well, I'm glad you still feel that way, but think of a fallback.'
Mr. Parmenter even has both of his sons pegged for the future roles he believes they'd have at the company.
He's my salesman, he said of Phoenix. Drew, he noted, is a natural operations guy. He's got a restless mind. He's up early in the morning. I can just tell.
Mr. Parmenter said the fact that his children are interested in working for the family business is the most wonderful thing in the world, but such a career choice for either would come with the caveat that they experience working for someone else first.
Looking at myself and my brothers, I tell (my kids) you're not allowed to work for me until you have a job working for somebody else, he said. ...I don't care if they're flipping burgers at Burger King or if they jump on somebody else's tire companyeither way, I want them to work for another person so they realize maybe Dad isn't the biggest jerk in the world.
Mr. Parmenter added that he knows all too well that running a company with family comes with its own set of challenges.
Working with his elder brother Jason Parmenter, who runs the retail end of the business, and his younger brother Joe Parmenter, who dabbles in each segment, he admitted the three have found success together but have had their share of differences.
I'm not always (my brothers') favorite person, but you can't argue with success, he said. I'm a black-and-white kind of guyrules are rules.
Not that he always felt that way. In his early years at the business, Mr. Parmenter said he and his father also frequently butted heads when it came to work, often over his dad's rules.
After entering basic training in the military he began to understand why his dad, another military veteran, was so strict. These guys are just screaming and yelling at me, and I'm like, 'This is easy,' he said. 'These guys never lived with Ron Parmenter.'
Mr. Parmenter called his father a phenomenal mechanic who started off his business career in retail, running a Rotary-brand gas station business. When that company folded, he bought a service center down the road in Montour Falls, N.Y.
In the mid-1980s, Ron Parmenter sold his first set of Goodyear truck tires, made a nice profit and, according to Jeff Parmenter, I don't think he ever really cared about automotive from that day forward.
The purchase of a retreading business in Rochester, N.Y., in the late 1980s catapulted the company into retreading. Parmenter Inc. eventually sold that location but retained the retreading business, moving it first to Montour Falls and then to Odessa. The company continues to operate those two locations in addition to outlets in Batavia, Cortland, Geneva and Horseheads, N.Y.
Mr. Parmenter spent much of the 1990s working for his father at the company until he graduated high school, after which he spent four years in the Air Force. Following his exit from the military, he returned to the dealership at his father's request.
(My dad) asked me, 'What do you want to do?' Mr. Parmenter said. He assumed I wanted to work on cars, but I was like, 'No. Just tell me where your worst spot is,' and he put me right in the retread shop. That was nice because I could run that kind of in a military way, in a disciplinary way.
He began his full-time career with Parmenter Inc. in September 2000, managing night shifts at the company's Goodyear retread shop within its Odessa location. The company still runs the retread business today, having implemented Marangoni's Ringtread system in 2007.
Six months into the job, the plant manager resigned and Ron Parmenter challenged his son to run the shop.
My dad was like, 'So, do I need to hire somebody?' And I said, 'I guess let's just go at it,' Mr. Parmenter said. ...I took over in April 2001 and just cranked it from there.
Eventually, he said, he learned to take his father's advice like it's the word and then do what he needed to do to make things happen.
I probably made a lot of mistakes that he didn't know about, but I saw them through, he acknowledged. I made a decision. I owned it. Either way we got from point A to point B, but it made me a better leader because I don't spend so much time telling people how to do something or how to accomplish something.
I say that if they're anything like meand a lot of people areif they pick their decision, they'll work 10 times harder to make sure that's the successful decision than if I tell them, 'You got to do it this way, and this is the only way to do it.'
In part, Mr. Parmenter attributed the success after returning to his father's company to David Lee, the firm's former COO, who served as an intermediary between him and his fatherand taught him a lot about the finer details of running a business.
Probably the best thing that guy ever taught me was that you put a value or a price on everything, he said. What's it gonna cost you? Whether it's time to walk from one building to the other, or a machine, or waste, whatever it was, the guy just dove into what it's costing us.
...My father was a sales master, he continued. Relationships and sales I got from my dad. Cost, value, efficiencies I got from the guy between us.
Ron Parmenter began transferring day-to-day responsibilities to his sons in the mid-2000s. These days, he serves as president and still owns the lion's share of the business, Mr. Parmenter said, but he's stepped away from management all together.
While my dad was maybe tougher than some fathers I see in this business, when it came time for him to let go...he was so good at letting go, Mr. Parmenter said. He'll never say it to my face, but if anybody crosses his path I'll hear, 'Your dad says you're doing a great job.'
As for the company's continued success, Mr. Parmenter said it's all a matter of the good morals and ethics that got them to where they are now.
I always tell my guys we make our living in tires, not one tire, he said. So be honest, take care of the customer, take care of the company and it'll take care of you.
To reach this reporter: [email protected]; 330-865-6148; Twitter: @Will_Schertz