UNION, N.J. — Of all the aspects of business Richard Kuskin has experienced since founding Foreign Tire Sales 50 years ago, one stands out: he's amassed well over 3 million miles of air travel in his visits to tire makers in far-flung corners of the world.
Kuskin, 75, has done business over the years with tire companies in Belarus, China, South Korea, Thailand and the former Yugoslavia while creating and developing a handful of proprietary brands, including YKS and Prometer.
So what drove a then-24-year-old recent college graduate to delve into the often murky world of international trade with tires?
Kuskin grew up in the tire industry. His grandfather Carl Schwartz founded a dealership, Schwartz & Nagle, in 1914 that served customers in the New York City metropolitan area, expanding that business over the years to three or four points of sale in New Jersey — Jersey City, Highland Park and Paterson — as well as the principal location in Newark.
One location, in Highland Park, N.J., is still in business under that name, but the Kuskin family is not involved.
Richard's father Harry Kuskin worked at Schwartz & Nagle for nearly four decades, from 1948 through 1986, but died while still running the business.
Richard worked at Schwartz & Nagle from 1974 through 1989, managing the business for a few years in the mid-1980s as his father was in ill health for many years prior to his death in 1986.
It was a chance meeting during his college years at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J., however, that led Richard to consider the opportunities offered by becoming an importer/distributor of offshore tires.
One of his classmates was from South Korea, and that relationship spawned a trip to that Asian nation in the early 1970s and eventually a visit to Woosung Tire Corp. — the company now known as Nexen Tire Corp.
Kuskin negotiated a deal with Woosung to buy bias-ply truck tires for sale in the U.S., but he and his partners were concerned that Woosung's Tong Shin brand name would be a issue with American customers. It was at that time that they came up with the YKS name — K for Kuskin, S for Schwartz and Y for a third partner who left the business shortly after the brand was created.
As for founding Foreign Tire Sales (FTS), Kuskin quipped: "I started a capital-intensive business with very little capital," but it worked out despite the apparent lack of a long-term business plan.
From those rather modest beginnings, FTS went on to establish relationships throughout the 1980s and 1990s and into the early 2000s with a range of other mostly Asian companies: Deestone Corp. Ltd., Hangzhou Zhongce Rubber Co. Ltd., Xuzhou Xugong Tyres Co. Ltd., Rongcheng Chengshan and Qingdao Double Happiness.
Along the way, Kuskin helped Hangzhou Zhongce create the Westlake brand name and logo. He also broadened FTS' product portfolio into the off-highway sector with brands like USA TodayTire Business