Anyone who has spent any time in Northeast Ohio over the last several decades has heard that word whispered in advertising. It's immediately recognizable.
The kickoff event of the John Carroll University Entrepreneur Association 2009-2010 season featured the Conrad's Tire Express & Total Car Care team.
Bob Conrad, son of founder Ed Conrad gave a few opening remarks about the Conrad's businesses. Yes, I said businesses. Their portfolio goes beyond the familiar Conrad's Tire Express & Total Car Care.
Their holding company, Western Management, manages the increasingly valuable real estate holdings and includes two manufacturing operations, a stamping plant called Elyria Spring and Specialty LLC and S&H Industries, which makes pressure blasters and other tools in Bedford.
Bob Conrad then asked questions of his father Ed and John Turk who was selected to run the businesses in the 1980's.
Ed Conrad worked for his parents' family-owned retail business and came to realize that he wanted to be on his own. After selling the Catholic bookstore he owned in downtown Cleveland, Ed Conrad investigated franchise opportunities.
In 1969, Ed and his wife Joan decided to buy a franchise that sold Goodyear tires. When they were awarded that first store at the corner of Snow and Broadview, Ed said "it was the happiest day of my life."
Conrad's now has over 30 locations throughout Northeast Ohio including the original Parma store.
Though Conrad's has a family-business philosophy, most of the children and grandchildren do not have day-to-day involvement in the companies. They, like founder Ed, pursued their own opportunities. Bob Conrad, for example, is the familiar commercial spokesman of the company and a board member but works for an investment firm.
Ed said you should "Operate as a business not a family support group."
Ed Conrad hired John Turk away from Hausser + Taylor to run the businesses in 1986. A month later, Ed suffered a heart attack. (A coincidence, they laughingly reassured the audience)
When Turk first met with Ed and Joan Conrad he asked 3 questions:
- Are you building to grow or to sell?
- What do you want the business to earn?
- What risks can I take?"
Their answers, "Build to grow, earn 15% after taxes, and take the risk necessary to accomplish the task" convinced Turk to accept the position - and a pay cut.
Many entrepreneurs fall in love with one idea or a business they are passionate about. Conrad and Turk are more passionate about business in general than a particular field. Ed Conrad didn't know or care about tires. He knew and cared about business opportunities.
He said that retail businesses were all about the same requiring Money, Markets and People. In the podcast, Turk tells a funny story that demonstrates how little he originally knew about the spring business.
I also asked how they can compete with global markets, say China, with commodity items such as springs and tools.
John Turk replied that "We sought out to compete with ourselves. I'm not going to allow someone else to take my business. I'd rather take it from myself."
Congratulations to them and congrats to the Conrad kids and grandkids for not taking an easy path in the family business, opting to follow their own dreams.