After 51 years, family owned and operated Venburg Tire + Service is closing.
Shrinking margins, the trend to online purchasing and a changing demographic all contributed to the difficult decision for the McFarlane family.
As the business prepares to close its doors July 3, Pat and Carol McFarlane want to thank loyal customers for their patronage, noting because of them, they’ve been able to be good community stewards over the years.
The industry is moving in a different direction, Pat contends. “Independent tire dealers are becoming industry dinosaurs. We’re going the way of Sears.”
Younger generations don’t value customer service like their parents and grandparents, he said, and the company’s customer base, the people who appreciate quality service, is dwindling as people age.
“Service was the No. 1 thing we sold. Customer service is not important to millennials because they’ve never had it,” added the longtime owner. “They buy online strictly on price.”
Carol’s parents, Keith and Irene Venburg, started the business in 1968 when she was a senior in high school. She marveled at the risk her father took to open the Maplewood business with four children at home. The original building was across Highway 61 then from the present location. When her father retired, Carol’s brother Keith II bought the company, continuing the same traditions as his dad, like keeping customers first and managing the business with little debt.
“He ran a tight ship,” recalled Pat, who bought the business from his brother-in-law in 1995.
Nine years later, Carol and Pat bought land and built a new building on Highway 61 next to Gulden’s restaurant. They ran the business until 2016 when Pat decided it was time to “redirect our lifestyle.” He sold controlling interest in Venburg Tire to son Kevin, a White Bear grad who also heads the area hockey association. He is looking at other opportunities, according to his dad as the business will officially dissolve.
Pat and Carol retained ownership of the land and building and although the deal hasn’t officially closed, they are selling the property to Maplewood Toyota owner Steve McDaniels.
“The decision wasn’t made lightly,” stated Carol, adding that they have accepted the fact the small business climate is changing. Pat expounded: “We used to have territory protection. We don’t anymore. Car dealers never sold tires before. They do now. There are major wholesalers that are moving us out. The business has changed tremendously since I bought it. It’s just the way things are.”
As the couple look back, they do so proudly. “We’ve had a good run,” Pat said. “We’ve made sure our employees found opportunities. During my tenure, we never laid off an employee due to lack of work and we’ve been philanthropic over the years, sponsoring events and donating a lot of services to charitable groups.”
“We have tried to be very thoughtful,” Carol added. “And we’ll still be around.”