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Making sure the rubber hits the road

As third-generation business leaders, brothers Timothy and Jon Shay have spent countless hours dispelling the negativity that sometimes surrounds their product and building a positive reputation for their company.

"The picture of a retread shop to most people is just a dirty old place with a bunch of tires stacked up," says Jon Shay, vice president of Main Tire Exchange Inc., based in Dansville, Livingston County.

"Mike Rowe would call it a ‘Dirty Job,’" company president Tim Shay says, referring to the Discovery Channel show.

That, coupled with the idea that retread tires are lower in quality than new tires, can be disconcerting, even for people who have been in the business nearly four decades.

"If we could get more of our customers and the outside world to come into the retread shop and see what goes into it, maybe it would help dispel some of these nasty myths that are created that retreads are no good," Jon Shay laments. "Because every time you see a (tire) carcass along the road, ‘That’s a retread tire.’"

The problem is not the retread tire, he says. The problem is a poor or nonexistent tire maintenance program. To combat the negativity and to educate consumers and customers, Main Tire offers extensive training on the product and its benefits.

Last year the company posted revenue of more than $15 million, down 6 percent from the previous year. Main Tire employs about 40 people in Dansville and roughly 15 each at its Rochester and Buffalo facilities.

The Shays’ commitment to educating their customers comes from their father’s and grandfather’s work ethic, they say. The company was founded in 1936 by their grandfather, Lloyd, and father, Harold.

Main Tire began as Shay Oil, hauling petroleum and petroleum products from Pennsylvania. In the early 1950s the duo started Shay Service, a short-haul trucking company serving central and western New York.

In 1972, flooding caused by Hurricane Agnes wreaked havoc on New York’s Southern Tier. Business at Shay Service surged, Jon Shay recalls, because the Dansville location was not affected by flooding, unlike other Southern Tier trucking companies. Inbound freight was heavy right after the flood because the area was being rebuilt and shipments of products such as appliances were high.

"One’s misfortune is someone else’s fortune. And this happened to be the case," he says. "Our business for the next three or four years boomed, and it was particularly in that area, Steuben and Chemung counties."

In 1972, Harold Shay attended a tire convention and saw the Bandag retread process, which takes a customer’s worn tire casing and through several steps replaces the damaged rubber with new tread. Main Tire, which still uses the Bandag process, opened later that year.

The Shays sold the trucking firm in 1985 to a freight company from New Jersey, which rented space at Main Tire’s three locations until it folded in 1990. Main Tire continues to operate its retread business, as well as a maintenance facility in Dansville and a 200-unit storage facility.

Early start
Jon Shay started working at the family business while he was in high school. On weekends he and a friend would go to the shop and help wash the trucks. It gave him his work ethic and taught him the importance of pride and appearance, he says.

"Every weekend we would wash every piece of equipment that we had. We were very anal about our appearance-every piece of equipment, tractors and trailers, every Saturday," he recalls. "A lot of it was probably unnecessary, because Monday morning at 8 o’clock they were all dirty again as they hit the road, but that’s how we were."

Tim Shay also worked for the company in high school, sweeping the docks and washing trucks, but after graduating he went to work as a driver for B.R. DeWitt Inc. for three years. From there he went to the Mason and Dixon Lines Inc. for a short stint in sales, and in 1974 he joined Shay Service, working out of Buffalo.

The Shays say the company’s longevity and success stems in part from their father’s business acumen and philosophy. Harold Shay recently passed away, but he continued to serve in an active advisory role nearly until the time of his death.

Jon Shay also credits hard-working employees who helped to expand the company and make it successful.

"A lot of our employees were farm boys who came down here, and I’ll tell you, we had some great workers. We had good workers, we had good drivers, we had dedicated people, all tremendously important to the success of the company," he says. "And it’s the same today. To me it’s a lot easier to staff your needs in an area like this than in an urban area."

Employee turnover at the company is low, Tim Shay notes, and several staffers have been with the company for 30 years or more.

"I think it’s a testimony to the company if you don’t have a lot of turnover," Jon Shay says.

Another strength is the company’s reputation, he says.

"Dad always said we live and die by our reputation," Tim Shay adds. "That includes running your business with a high level of integrity."

Main Tire has a responsibility to its community, the Shays say.

"We’re very supportive of those who support us," Jon Shay says. "We like to build strong relationships with our customers, with our employees, with our suppliers." Five Star Bank assistant vice president

William Bacon works with the Shays through the bank and the Dansville Chamber of Commerce. He notes the relationship Main Tire has with its community.

"I don’t think Dansville would be Dansville without them," he says. "These guys give back to the community. They do as much as they can for the community when they’re asked, and they do it proactively. There’s a joke around town that when asked for donations or to contribute to something, Jon’s check is the first one back."

Leonard’s Express Inc. owner Kent Johnson says the Shays’ loyalty to the community is second to none, and he describes Jon Shay as an astute businessman.

"I think the product that they produce is excellent, and they stand behind their product," Johnson says. "Their personnel are quick to respond, and they are just a good company."

Bacon says Main Tire was innovative at a time when it needed to be innovative, and that helped the company grow.

"They were right there, on the cutting edge. The timing was pretty good when they came into the market," he says. "They built it with great people, dedication and focus. The folks they’ve got operate smartly."

The retread process at Main Tire is both cutting-edge and environmentally friendly, the Shays say. Each new truck tire takes 24 gallons of oil to produce; a retread requires six. In addition, rubber particles that are waste from the retreading process are collected and sent to manufacturers for use in playground mats, sports fields and colored landscape mulch, among other products.

Tires that cannot be retreaded are sent to a company that extracts the steel belts and recycles the metal. What is left becomes tire-derived fuel, much of which is used in power plants.

"That’s a pretty effective utilization of 24 gallons of oil," Jon Shay says.

Leadership styles
Tim Shay calls himself an opinion gatherer.

"I think my style is more to get agreement from the most, versus directing or telling," he explains.

"I think we’re both that way," Jon Shay says. "We give a lot of latitude to our supervisors and our managers and, I think, manage by example."

They recognize the needs of their employees and try not to be too spontaneous with their decisions, he adds.

"On the flip side is that we talk and we talk and we talk," Tim Shay adds.

"To a fault," his brother inserts. "It’s our passion and our desire to make sure those who need and should have buy-in have just that."

Larry Hurtubise, who serves as manager of the company’s Buffalo location, says Tim Shay is easy to work with because he makes suggestions rather than demands.

"I know him well enough now that if he suggests something, I know it’s something he would really like to get accomplished," he says, adding that Shay also is a good listener.

The company is successful because everything is above board, Hurtubise says.

"We’re not a discounter. We’re not the cheapest, but I think that what we give the customer is its money’s worth," Hurtubise adds.

What makes the job enjoyable is that no two days are the same, Hurtubise says.

"I enjoy the day-to-day helter-skelter," he says. "Sometimes I might create it. But yeah, every day is very different."

Rochester branch manager Peter Bacon describes the atmosphere at Main Tire as relaxed and family-oriented. Low turnover and high morale make the company successful, he says.

"Good leadership fosters a culture of wanting to do well for the company and wanting to work there," he adds.

Like Hurtubise, Bacon says each day is different and that keeps it interesting. He adds that the ability to joke and have fun, as well as talk to the Shays about things besides work, is a plus.

Jon Shay says the best part of his job is knowing that the company is providing for 70 people and their families.

"To be able to continue to supply a meaningful existence to 70-plus people, that’s big to me," he says. "We’ve got a lot of people that are dependent upon us. You get a high level of satisfaction from that."

Adds Tim Shay: "After you get through working through your issues and your problems and you get your buy-ins and a program is successful, to me it’s a good feeling. Because if the programs are successful, that means the employee is going to be successful, which in turn makes the company successful."

The Shays agree that disappointing profit-and-loss statements are the most unpleasant part of their jobs.

"There were times when we just let (the statements) pile up the first three or four months of the year," Tim Shay says. "The hardest part of my job is having a disappointing month, knowing that everybody worked hard and gave 100 percent."

The trucking industry has been hit hard by the recession and that has trickled down to companies such as Main Tire.

"The biggest impact we’ve seen: Instead of our delivery trucks going out to our customers with eight to 10 items, they’re going out with two to four," Tim Shay says. "Our customers are not stocking."

"We’re suffering like everybody else," his brother adds. "Trucks aren’t moving; rubber isn’t getting worn off."

Rochester branch manager Bacon says less expensive import tires also are taking a toll on the industry and causing challenges.

"The industry is getting harder and harder to work in," he says. "You have to be better at what you’re doing. And everyone is doing more with less."

While the Shays say health care costs are a concern, their biggest challenge is competition and growth.

"Trying to sustain an acceptable level of growth on an annualized basis, that’s been very difficult," Jon Shay says. "Competition is so fierce, coupled with an economy that’s staggering."

The company has in the past leased some of its space to trucking companies. That space is empty now, and trying to fill it has been a challenge, the brothers say.

Growing internally or externally is a long-range plan for Main Tire, they say.

"We very much would like to see some growth and realize it’s going to be very difficult to develop the kind of growth we want from within the firm’s structure," Jon Shay says. "We’re always open to thoughts and ideas."

The Shays say running a third-generation business that has been around nearly 75 years is one of their greatest accomplishments.

"They usually don’t run that long," Jon Shay says, "and particularly functioning from where we function, in Dansville, N.Y. Let’s face it: We’re not at the epicenter of the world."

Off the job
Tim and Jon Shay were born and raised in Dansville, where Jon, 67, still lives with his wife, Linda. He has three daughters, Kelly, Kris and Nicole. Tim Shay, 59, lives in the Buffalo suburb of Williamsville with his wife, Debbie. He has two stepchildren, Robert and Kristen.

No fourth generation is being groomed to take over the business, they say.

Both Shays enjoy golf in their spare time, and Jon Shay enjoys spending time with his grandson’s and granddaughter’s sports activities. Both also are active in their communities.

The Shays’ favorite family memories are of a gentler time. "We hit the bricks at dawn, and we never came home until my dad stepped out on the back porch and let out with that whistle," Jon Shay says with a laugh.

Adds Tim Shay: "It was a kinder time. We couldn’t have grown up in a better time."

If he could pass on a piece of advice to others, Jon Shay says it would be to be yourself and be credible.

"Be humble," Tim Shay adds. "Never let your ego take you beyond what you know."

Timothy Shay
Position: President, Main Tire Exchange Inc.
Age: 59
Education: B.A., business administration, Rochester Institute of Technology, 1972
Family: Wife Debbie; stepson Robert; stepdaughter Kristen
Residence: Williamsville, Erie County
Activities: Golf, family time
Quote: "Dad always said we live and die by our reputation. That includes running your business with a high level of integrity."

Jon Shay
Position: Vice president, Main Tire Exchange Inc.
Age: 67
Family: Wife Linda; daughters Kelly, Kris and Nicole, four grandchildren
Residence: Dansville, Livingston County
Activities: Golf, coaching, family time
Quote: "We’re very supportive of those who support us. We like to build strong relationships with our customers, with our employees, with our suppliers."

1/29/10 (c) 2010 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or e-mail rbj@rbj.net.

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