Shop Local: Westside Tire Stays Ahead of the Curve

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – In the late 1970s, Lisa Walters was attending high school when her father, Rich Rogenski, owner of Westside Tire & Service in Youngstown, asked her to help out by cleaning the office. She fell for it.

“I always say I had no intention of getting into the family business,” Walters says.

Soon she was keeping the books, eventually taking on more responsibilities and becoming vice president.

Like her, older brother Rich Rogenski Jr. has been working at Westside Tire since their father opened the first location, 2408 Mahoning Ave., in 1978.

“About the time the steel mills started closing down. So that was kind of frightening,” Rogenski recalls.

Today, the younger Rogenski is president of Westside Tire while Rich Sr., who is 85, is CEO. “Dad was the visionary,” Rogenski Jr. says  “He knew what he wanted to do and what he wanted to be. Shortly after we opened he was planning our first addition.”

Westside Tire began with two service bays and focused only on tires. But the elder Rogenski was eager to get into the service side of the business.

In 1979, the family began work to add four service bays and an office. Rogenski, at the time in his early 20s, says he and his father did most of the work, pouring the concrete and installing the lifts themselves.

“Business had grown substantially,” the younger Rogenski says – so much so that they began to look for more locations. Westside Tire opened a branch in Niles in 1984, followed by the Austintown location, fewer than three miles from the original store on Mahoning Avenue, in 1987.

“It got to the point where the Youngstown store could not do any more business than what it had. We were totally saturated,” Rogenski says.

The business also moved fast to expand services. Today a customer can come to Westside Tire for tires, alignment, maintenance, heating and air, diagnostic work, suspension, and oil and transmission fluid changes, among other services.

A growing segment is doing repair and maintenance work for fleets, Rogenski says. “Whether you have a one-truck fleet or 75 vehicles, we can do most everything for you.”

Westside Tire has 22 employees across its three sites with the Youngstown store still the busiest.

As for the state of the tire industry, Rogenski has one word: “crazy.”

Price increases and supply chain issues, as well as effecting no-contact procedures as a result of the pandemic, have been challenging, Rogenski says.

“In December of 2021, I placed an order for a container of tires,” he says. “As of today, we still don’t have them.”

On the other hand, Walters says, business during the pandemic was good when the lockdowns prevented people from spending money on what they normally would. “Plus, with the government giving them extra money,” she says. “Suddenly they had the money to get their car repaired.”

What helped them through the pandemic was a set of steps they began taking in 2015 as they sought to get the business through a rough patch. “We were still trying to run things the way Dad did,” Rogenski says.

So, the siblings decided to partner with the Automotive Training Institute in Baltimore to see how they could improve the business.

“They demand that you give the customers an experience when they come in,” Rogenski says. “They want you going out to the vehicle and looking in the vehicle when you drop it off.”

To help with no-contact service, Westside Tire effected a digital drop- off box with several compartments available to customers anytime.

Each customer gets a code allowing him to access his keys without coming into contact with a staff member. “And their invoice is in their car waiting for them,” Rogenski says.

Over the past six years, all stores have undergone a rebranding for a more consistent look. Each store now bears the full Westside Tire & Service name in its signature blue, accompanied by the company logo.

In that time, Walters also spearheaded an initiative to make Westside Tire more female-friendly.

All team members who come in contact with customers have become certified as female-friendly by AskPatty.com, a website that helps women feel more comfortable when buying or repairing a vehicle.

Rogenski says Westside Tire was the first tire dealer and the second

service center in the state to receive the distinction.

To get women more comfortable doing some maintenance work on their vehicles, Westside Tire hosts Lady Car Care clinics. The next one is scheduled for October in Niles.

“What we found works best is we spend a little time talking about maintenance and repairs but then we take them to the vehicle and they love that part,” Walters says.

Westside Tire also hosts the clinics, which are free to attend, for schools and Girl Scout troops. “Community involvement is very important to us,” Walters says.

Other recent initiatives include a rewards program, where customers earn 2% back on every dollar they spend, and photo inspection of vehicles, with technicians taking shots around the car to send to the customers while they’re away from the shop.

“We take pictures to tell them what we found. ‘We recommend you replace this belt and this is why’ and you can see that it’s frayed,” Walters says.

Westside Tire also makes a point to give back to the community, partnering with the United Way, sponsoring baseball teams, donating to churches and organizing back-to-school drives.

The business is also a mainstay at the annual Austintown Fourth of July parade. “We won second place this year,” Rogenski says with some disappointment. “I think they got tired of us winning it every year.”

Pictured at top: Rich Rogenski Jr. and his sister, Lisa Walters, grew up in the family business.

Shop Local is sponsored by PNC and the Eastwood Mall Complex.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.