By B. Adam Burke
North Liberty Leader
NORTH LIBERTY– 1932 was a hard time to start a business, but in hard times there is often opportunity.
That was the year Henry Linder, with an Iowa City High School diploma and a few years of experience at Bernie Sparks Standard Tire, bought a bankrupt tire business for $2,800.
His shop was relocated to its current Iowa City location on Riverside Drive in 1973 and today his grandson, John J. Linder, runs Linder Tire Service, in business for 80 years.
Linder’s North Liberty shop opened in 2002, just when John J. relieved his father, John C., to run the entire operation.
Today, Linder Tire shops are in Grinnell, North Liberty and Iowa City with a wholesale distribution company in Cedar Rapids, Linder Tire Wholesale, which supplies eastern Iowa and the three Linder Tire stores.
In North Liberty and Grinnell, they offer full automotive service, excepting exhaust systems.
What’s kept the company going long and strong?
“It’s in the history of Linder Tire Service from 1932, started in the depression,” third-generation owner John J. Linder said. “The foundations that my grandfather built the business on were just as important then as they are today. It’s about people.
“If you take care of the customer and take care of that relationship, treat them fairly, it makes everybody’s jobs easier.”
Linder sees that same relationship extending outside the business.
“The health of our community reflects on the health of our business,” he said. “The community has been very good to us.”
And to reciprocate the community’s support, Linder Tires donated $4 for every tire sold and $8 for every alignment at each location through the month of June. Proceeds will go to the North Liberty Community Pantry, the Grinnell Community Daycare Center, and the Salvation Army of Johnson County.
“It’s important not to forget that there are people in need,” he said.
“The organizations that shore up and strengthen our community– like the Salvation Army– we often don’t realize what they do because we aren’t using their services. For the people that do use and need them, it means a great deal,” he said, and added that “regardless of who you are, you’ll find yourself in need of help (at some point).”
Because summer tends to be a slower month for donations and charity giving, Linder said he hoped the service campaign would generate money for organizations at a time when many people forget about social service providers like the charities Linder Tire will help.
“We’re doing this in a more visible and proactive way,” reminding each other about those in need, he said. He said he’d like to continue the program annually.
For the past few years, he’s been planning a way to give back to locals who helped him when Linder Tire was in need.
Seeing the way people responded during Iowa City’s floods and 2006 tornado that reminded Linder of the deep connection of businesses to the communities they serve.
People came unasked to fill sandbags when floodwaters threatened the Iowa City showroom floor and more came to help clear debris after the F2 tornado tore through town and caused a half million dollars of damage to the store and business offices.
“It’s not just a business,” he said of the help he got from customers and staff. “It’s a relationship.”
The same deep ties run with the company’s long-time employees who’ve developed the company’s culture of mutual respect and integrity.
North Liberty store manager Dave Kindl is a lifelong Linder Tire worker and an example of another pride point for the company.
He’s worked for Linder Tire since 1973. When he suggested the company purchase the North Liberty shop and open a second location. His boss listened. Since 2001, he’s managed the facility at 55 Commercial Dr.
In 2009, the North Liberty shop doubled its capacity, adding three automotive maintenance bays for a total of six at the facility.
Kindl said since opening of the North Liberty shop, he’s seen traffic on Highway 965 increase three-fold but the easygoing nature of the North Liberty clientele hasn’t changed.
Kindl said the North Liberty store moves about 250-300 tires and fixes up a few hundred vehicles per month.
Both men spoke of a loyal customer base that keeps growing.
But for Linder, “our strength is our employees,” he said. “They’re dedicated to doing the job right and we’re proud of doing work with integrity. That’s been another foundation of the business.”
Linder said his family’s business has been blessed with some very long-term employees.
“They’re the ones dealing with the customers and they take pride in the service we produce,” he said.
Linder said there are no plans to open other shops, but if the right opportunity arises, he won’t hesitate.
Since John Linder took over for his father, the Linder Tire Service staff has nearly doubled to about 40 employees.