To be identified as part of the "next generation" usually isn't meant as a compliment. That seems especially true if the person who is making that distinction is a generation older.
I remember a boss from my newspaper days who would surreptitiously refer to his employees as being from the next generation. It was code for: This person doesn't work as hard, isn't dedicated enough, and/or never will be half as productive as he and the rest of his generation.
While part of that shtick was his motivational strategy, I knew deep down he truly felt that way: the next generation was failing the current one.
What an antiquated way of approaching life. To think that way is an affront to the next generation — your children, grandchildren and great grandchildren — the same group who will advance our way of living in the decades to come, just as our generation did before it.
That's exactly what is happening at the Independent Tire Dealer Group (ITDG).
When you are part of the next generation of tire dealers in the organization, you have the opportunity to be part of the NextGen Committee, a group of like-minded, next-generation owners and operators who gather on a video conference quarterly to discuss and tackle some of the top issues facing independent tire dealers.
According to NextGen Co-chair Wes Tatum, vice president of Leete Tire & Auto Center in Richmond, Va., the mission "is to grow today for independents of tomorrow."
"Our mission is to share the ideas and share ideas of success with ITDG members and their businesses in this ever-changing industry," Tatum said during his presentation at the annual ITDG meeting and trade show, held April 20-24 in Nashville, Tenn.
"It's all about getting together and sharing knowledge and everything else about what we all do," said Josh Porter of Lex Brodie's Tires, with five locations in Hawaii.
NextGen Co-chair Colton Miller of Mainstreet Tire USA Inc., called the group a sounding board.
"We are able to bounce ideas and information — sometimes it's specific information or general practices — and we relay that to each other," Miller said.
"Ultimately, those ideas allow us to become better leaders in our businesses, allow us to improve our companies and in turn improve and benefit the group when we can bring those ideas, those general practices that have worked in our respective companies to the group."
The NextGen was founded rather by accident during the 2018 ITDG meeting in Phoenix.
Rich Howard, then the operator of Bruce's Tires Inc. in the San Francisco Bay area, suggested that his son and successor, Richie Howard, had some ideas to share with the group.
"A majority of the members in ITDG are family-owned," Clay Miller of Mainstreet Tire, father of Colton Miller, said. "We have second- and third-generation people that are coming on, and there's always been the struggle: How do we transition to that next generation of people? How do we train them? How do we prepare them to become board members and future leaders of the ITDG?"
It didn't take too long before a committee was formed, with the full support of ITDG President and CEO Dave Marks as well as Chris Barry, ITDG's senior sales director.
While the Howards since have sold their business and left ITDG, the group continued to meet throughout the pandemic. While there is no official age designation to be a member, the NextGen is focused on helping new leaders or others within a dealership tackle the top issues of the day.
Today, there are 28 members of the NextGen Committee, ranging in age from 20 to 45 years old, with around eight others expressing interest in joining after the group's presentation at the annual meeting.
The NextGen group discusses varied topics such as hiring practices, wages and payment options, or they discuss something as generic as sharing ideas to increase profitability.
One topic that seemed to resonate, he said, was how to adapt and conduct business in the early days of the pandemic.
"Members were able to share what they were doing to remain open, protect team members and customers and keep a strong revenue stream with minimal staff," Tatum told Tire Business.
"This is where NextGen really shines, reacting to the market conditions of 'now,'" he said. "We share what is working and what isn't to secure a successful future for ourselves and other independent tire dealers."
Tatum, who has been part of the committee for four years, said the group spent time talking about the workforce, trying to determine what motivates them.
"This new generation is different, and we've got to be here for the long haul and have good people," he said.
"It's not always pay. I think we all know that. A lot of times, it's time with the family. It's different than PTO. ... We have to tap into that and understand that. A lot of people are just restructuring that time off now, and we're getting good employees back they've lost."
Another hot topic is providing customers discounts for paying with cash.
"We've had a lot of back-and-forth on that," he said. "It's had a big impact on the counter and on the bottom line."
Some of the ideas are shared upstream. Marks said the committee has helped the 158-member group by vetting vendors that the organization has been considering.
Because of the input from the NextGen, Marks said ITDG stopped bringing several vendors on board and instead brought in others that might provide the services they promise more effectively.
"(NextGen) has really helped us," Marks said. "The more our members engage in it, the more it helps all of us."
In the ITDG, the "next generation" seems to be a code for collaboration, debate, fresh ideas, stability and long-term success, among others.
"If I benefit, we all benefit," Colton Miller said, "and if you're not involved in ITDG NextGen, and you are one those coming leaders in your company, you should come and join us. It is a phenomenal group.
"We pass along a lot of great information, and it benefits every single member who is involved."
After talking and meeting with fellow dealers in Nashville, Tatum said he feels even more confident about the major role that NextGen will play in the future success of the ITDG.
"I could feel the excitement and desire to share more information and help one another," he said. "It's a pleasure to be a part of such a bright group of individuals coming together for the common good."
Now that's a generation we can all be proud of.