Plaza Tire Service being named the 25th winner of "Tire Dealer of the Year" this week came as a surprise to Phil Autenrieth, who manages the Fulton location.
"I didn't know that," he said, adding he's managed the Fulton shop since 2007.
His grin showed how delighted he was by the honor, which came from Modern Tire Dealer magazine. The publication selected Plaza Tire Service as the best of 30,000 eligible, independent tire dealerships across the nation.
Plaza Tire is owned by Mark and Scott Rhodes, brothers and the company's second-generation owners. Since they purchased the Cape Girardeau-based business from their father, Vernon "Pee Wee" Rhodes in 2004, the business has grown to 62 retail stores in Missouri, Arkansas, Illinois and Kentucky with an estimated $80 million in sales.
But it all started with a car wash, according to Modern Tire Dealer magazine. "Pee Wee" Rhodes grew his car wash by working with local used car dealerships, cleaning vehicles and replacing the tires. He ripped out his car wash equipment during Labor Day weekend 1968, and reopened as Plaza Tire Service the next morning.
"This business has been part of my life since my earliest memories," Vice President Scott Rhodes said. "I've seen good years, bad years, fires and floods. Employees have seen me grow up as I have seen their families grow up."
He said the award means a lot to his family — including his working family.
"This award validates the dedication that our family, our employees and their families have put into making the company successful for more than half a century," he said. "We have a great team of employees who play an integral role, and we're excited to see what the future holds for Plaza Tire Service."
The Fulton branch, at 100 W. 4th St., has six full-time employees. Besides tire sales, repair and replacement, services include oil changes, front-end alignments, brakes, preventative maintenance and safety inspections, Autenrieth said.
A $12,000 donation from Modern Tire Dealer and Plaza Tire's suppliers will be made in the Rhodes brothers' names. The donation will be split between two charities: Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Missouri and Hope Children's Home in Jackson.
Nominees for the Tire Dealer of the Year Award are evaluated on their business success, marketing and management skills, industry knowledge and community involvement by an independent panel of industry judges, according to editor of Modern Tire Dealer magazine Bob Ulrich. The magazine has been the industry's leading publication since 1919 and is known for its market research and analysis.
Ulrich's story about the award can be viewed at moderntiredealer.com/tiredealeroftheyear/winner/2017.