PROGRESS 2019 | More than tires: Local tire business focuses on creating family atmosphere
Published 10:30 am Wednesday, February 27, 2019
Day after day, Winchester native Michael Paynter makes the long trek up the hill to his shop on Daytona Drive.
Mike, 52, said the hill might be a pain, but he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Paynter Tire existed long before he was born, Mike said. His grandfather owned a “Paynter Tire” in the 1960s; it was downtown, close to where the post office currently sits.
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“That closed up in the early ‘70s, but that name and tire business has been here for a while,” Mike said.
Mike never met his grandfather, as he was only 2-years-old when his grandfather passed away.
But he feels like he knows him, thanks to his loyal customers.
“I have 90- and upper 80-year-old customers who come in and tell me about how they did business with my grandfather,” Mike said. “It’s amazing.”
Paynter tries to hold onto the stories. It’s a way for him to connect to the grandfather he never knew. He also added wooden floors to his building, a nod to the old wood floors his grandfather had at his store.
“A lot of people who knew my grandfather are passing on now, so the stories get a little bit more special when I hear them,” he said.
But the Paynter Tire business that people love and know today officially opened in 1984.
Mike’s older brother, Rick, started the company as a wholesale tire business.
“I was still in high school when he started there,” Mike said.
The business, in those days, would distribute tires to retail stores.
“We were in a chicken coop out in the Yeiser Industrial Park right out on Rockwell Road,” Mike said.
Eventually, the word got out about Paynter Tire, and folks would come to the shop wanting to purchase tires. Rick saw the need for Winchester to have a retail store, so he purchased Paynter Tire’s current property at 101 Daytona Drive and built the store in 1986.
Two years later, and while in college, Mike was working alongside Rick.
“I found I was very interested in it,” he said. “I knew nothing about automobiles at the time. It was all about getting in there and learning.”
When Rick was ready to move on from ownership in 1999, Mike seized the opportunity to purchase the business. Now, he and his brother laugh that Mike, as of 2019, has owned the business more years than Rick.
“I do owe him,” Mike said. “He took the first risk.”
It was a learning curve at first, and much has changed since its humble beginnings, he said.
“When we purchased the company, we were still old school,” he said. “Computers weren’t a big part of our store at that point, so I’ve personally had to bring that in.”
As of 2019, Paynter Tire offers basic auto services, excluding internal motor services.
Over the past few years, Mike has incorporated social media into his daily business practices, which he said has been a hit among his customers. Post after post on Paynter Tire’s Facebook page incites laughter as he uses the page to share memes or poke fun at one thing or another. Many jokes are at the business’ own expense.
“I have people all the time complain about my hill,” he said. “I decided to take this a different way. I had a company design me advertising that made fun of my hill. We had an ad made where a person is on a rope climbing it on a mountain.”
Perhaps one of the most surprising things about the business, Mike said, is sales have increased every year.
“That’s the biggest thing I’m proud of,” he said.
The secret is being kind to people. Humor helps too, he said.
“Sometimes we look back at the history of our customers, and I’ve had one gentleman that claims he was our very first customers and I believe him,” Mike said. “I do. To know that someone has come for 33 years, that’s amazing. I’m proud of that because that means something is being done right.”
And even after 33 years, Mike still enjoys his job.
“If I ever get to a point where I don’t enjoy it anymore, then I’m leaving,” he said.
Paynter’s eight full-time employees have also become his family. His service manager, Scott Ferguson, and employee Carl Reese have been working in the service department for more than 20 years. Rick Roland has been the front end technician for 15 years, starting at Paynter Tire as a teenager.
Mike’s nephew, Brent Chapman, has also worked at the front counter in sales for several years.
“I’m very proud to note we don’t have much turnover,” he said.
Mike’s wife, Tina, helps with the business’s accounting and booking. His 19-year-old son, Aaron, recently started working for the company. Mike said he hopes to one day pass it on to him. He also has a 15-year-old daughter, Hailey.
“I’m letting him know it’s there for him if he wants,” Mike said. “I would like to keep it going.”
When his children were young, Mike would take them to the shop. Often, they would return home dirty from playing in whatever they could get their hands into while he worked.
Mike said the business has always felt like a home away from home, and he hopes his customers feel just as comfortable. He lets his customers freely roam the shop, allowing them to watch the technicians repair their car.
“I think a lot of people these days have a lot of negative experiences with our industry that sometimes they are surprised when they get to our place that we are so relaxed,” he said.
He usually develops a personal relationship with his customers; he tries to stay in touch, asking about their families and their well-being.
The hardest part about doing what he does, Mike said, is losing people.
“In the past year or so, I’ve lost some of my oldest customers,” he said. “Us guys get to know these people. We get close to them.”
As an owner, his work never seems to stop. He’s always trying to improve the business or try out new ideas. The main thing, though, is keeping his customers happy, he said.
Mike said he hopes to keep the business open for another 30 years and then some.
“Every time someone new opens, like a new chain, everyone looks at me and is like, ‘What are you doing to do now?’” he said. “I say, ‘I’m not doing anything.’ If you spend too much time worrying about the other guys, then you spend too much time taking away time from focusing on yourself.”
And he has spent the last 33 years focusing on Paynter Tire. Mike thinks of it as more than just a tire business, as its motto indicates; it’s home to his family, a place of laughter and love. And it’s made possible by the precious people of Winchester, he said.
Mike, who left Winchester for a few years to work at another tire store decades ago, said there isn’t a better place to be.
Winchester, as Mike noted, is a lovely, small town because of its people.
He wants to do his part to keep it that way.
“I look at my customers, and I’m surprised, so many people want to turn that corner and come up this hill, but I guess I’m doing something right.” §