by Mary Lou Jay
Ernest Duff, a young, enterprising attorney, founded Southern Tire Mart (STM) in Columbia, Mississippi, in 1973. He operated it as a Bandag (retread tire) franchise. His sons Jim and Thomas grew up working in the business, and even after their father sold the company, continued to grow their knowledge of the tire industry.
In 2003, the brothers took advantage of the opportunity to buy Southern Tire Mart back from Bridgestone/Bandag. They expanded the retread operation to include the full service of commercial trucks and fleets, passenger and light trucks and the sale of many brands of tires, including Bridgestone, Firestone, Continental, General Tire, Yokohama, Bandag, Michelin, Goodrich and Toyo.
The retread service remains one of the key factors in Southern Tire Mart’s success. With its cost-effective and fuel-efficient retread tires, STM can help its commercial customers and partners manage their annual tire maintenance costs. STM’s retread tires are refurbished through a vigorous process; they have been repaired, inspected and found to be safe and viable. The company operates 16 Bandag retread/manufacturing facilities throughout the United States, including seven locations in Georgia.
Under the Duff Brothers’ leadership, STM has grown into the largest commercial tire dealer and retread manufacturer in North America, with reported annual sales of $1.8 billion. Through its 140 retail and commercial locations in 15 states, the company annually sells about 3 million truck tires and retreads another 2 million.
In addition to tire sales, STM offers preventive maintenance and breakdown services.
Southern Tire Mart recognizes that a company’s fleet is one of its most valuable assets, and that maintaining a fleet takes expertise, knowledge and time. To fill this need, STM provides expert fleet services and maintenance to customers from coast to coast. Its fleet maintenance programs incorporate advanced technology, highly trained technicians, detailed reporting and innovative communication.
The company is also ready to assist its customers when there’s a problem. “We understand that for our customers time is money, and we take pride in providing prompt, cost-effective assistance when they experience breakdowns. Our dedicated team of professional, knowledgeable dispatchers provides exceptional customer service 24/7/365, reliable roadside assistance and best-in-class service,” said Jim Duff.
Southern Tire Mart’s goal is to have drivers back on the road within 90 minutes of receiving their call for assistance. To deliver that timely response, it has developed an extensive network of partners within the continental United States. Once a call has been received, STM representatives monitor the status of customer breakdowns every 15 to 30 minutes and provide timely updates to their customers.
To improve the efficiency of their breakdown response, STM creates customer profile accounts that include company information, preferences and any other relevant information that will help it provide a more seamless recovery. This enables STM to present customers with detailed driver breakdown reports. The company also offers uniform pricing across the board, no matter where or when drivers break down.
STM’s service footprint currently includes 140-plus locations throughout 15 states, and the company expects this to grow to 240-plus locations by year end 2022.
Southern Tire Mart began operations in Georgia in January 2014 and today employs more than 215 people in the state. Its locations include Atlanta, Forest Park, McDonough, Norcross, Covington, Lagrange and Gainesville.
Each STM location is independently operated by a store manager who is empowered to run the store as he or she sees fit with corporate support. “At every level of Southern Tire Mart, we have adopted the philosophy of ‘owning and growing’ what we do. It’s about taking responsibility in every situation and making it better for the customer,” Thomas Duff said.
Hardworking employees, enthusiastic brand partners and loyal customers are key to the company’s success. As a family-owned business, STM considers every employee who works for it part of the family. Many employees have been with the company for a long time. “They take care of each other in tragedy and personal successes and milestones in each other’s lives, as families do. They come together for birthdays and holidays and there is a real sense of family and friendship throughout the company,” he added.
Southern Tire Mart has supported GMTA since entering into the Georgia market, attending events and sponsoring various programs. “It
is important we support the fabric of our industry, and GMTA is the voice of our industry in Georgia,” said Jim Duff. “As a service provider, it is important for us to support the recruitment of business to our state. Trucking is prosperity to our business and to the employees we hire. The GMTA team has always shared our interest in
PLANS FOR EXPANSION
Thomas Duff believes that the greatest challenge STM currently faces is the volatility of the world’s current unstable marketplace. “There are also import fees and other costs associated with doing business with global suppliers,” he noted.
Like many other companies in a variety of industries, Southern Tire Mart has found it difficult to hire and retain good employees. To attract people, the company offers excellent benefits and wages. “We provide job-essential training and we promote from within,” added Jim Duff. “Our goal is to provide opportunities for long-term careers and job security for our people, and we feel we are achieving that.”
The company will need even more employees as it continues to grow. In early 2021, STM joined forces with Pilot Company, co-owner of Pilot and Flying J Travel Centers, to open Southern Tire Mart at Pilot Flying J. This partnership effort combines the strength and convenience of Pilot and Flying J Travel Centers with STM’s tire and maintenance expertise. Southern Tire Mart at Pilot Flying J now includes 33 locations across 20 states. They provide standard truck services, including preventive maintenance and tire care, and 24/7 roadside assistance. The companies plan to open an additional 200 of these locations by the end of 2022.