Friendly City Tire has earned generations of loyal customers

By Galen Holley

Special to the Gazette

NEW ALBANY- He learned his salesmanship and attentiveness to customers’ needs working for the old Sears Roebuck Company, now, after 47 years in the tire business, Milton Campbell is still happily serving the public.

“The Sears catalogue had a tremendous customer base, and the company emphasized quality service and attention to detail,” said Campbell, patriarch of the shop, and cofounder of Friendly City Tire.

The compressed-air popping of compression wrenches echoed through the bays, and Campbell looked through his office window, as men changed oil, tightened lug-nuts, and tapped counterweights onto tire rims.

Campbell opened Friendly City Tire in 1972, with partner, Frank Madden. For the first 20 years they were located on West Bankhead St.

Campbell first got into the tire business working for BF Goodrich, then Sears put him into his own store in New Albany.

“Sears sold everything from appliances, to dolls, to ponies, and when they started selling tires, my store consistently sold the most in the region,” said Campbell. “Knowing your product and being able to convey that information to the customer is the key.”

Campbell started out selling light-truck, passenger, and few tractor tires. He eventually expanded to alignments, brakes, struts, starters, alternators, computerized engine checks, and engine rebuilds. Today, automotive service accounts for half his business.

Over almost half a century, Campbell has earned the loyalty of generations of customers.

“They’ve always been good to me, and I’ll never forget them helping me when I was a kid and didn’t have any credit,” said Ricky Medlin, who remembered, as a 17-year-old, buying tires for his 1971 Chevy pickup. Medlin’s father, Houston, was a devoted customer, and Friendly City has become a trusted name in the family. Medlin now owns three Subway sandwich shops, and knows what it takes to succeed in business.

“You get repeat customers when you give them a good product, with good service, at a good price,” said Medlin. “Treat people right, like Milton and his bunch do, and they’ll come back.”

Terry Ball has been a customer for 25 years.

“I had a Hyundai Sonata they always serviced, and it lasted me 13 years, and had 167,000 miles on it,” said Ball. “I had a Buick Regal for 19 years, and always took it there for oil changes, belts, and all kinds of service. They’re the kind of people I want to deal with, when it comes to keeping my wife in a good-running car. As long as I’ve got a vehicle that’s running, I’ll take it to them for service.”

Friendly City Tire moved to its current location, on Munsford Drive, in 1991. Milton Campbell bought-out Madden’s share of the business in 2010, and today, his son, Al, is the official owner. Trusted, long-time employees, like service manager Donald Mayo, and service-writer and first-contact, Susan Thompson, help Milton Campbell keep things ship-shape.

The personal touch Campbell exemplifies shows in his employees.

“You get to know people, wives, children, the whole family, and taking care of them matters a lot,” said shop manager Eric Brown. An Army man, Brown has been with Campbell seven years. “This is a good, family-owned place, special,” said Brown.

Friendly City offers a shuttle service to make it easier for folks to get their vehicles serviced. A popcorn machine in the waiting area provides a deliciously fragrant, buttery thank you to customers.

“We built the bathrooms bigger than my office,” said Campbell, laughing.

Selling washers, dryers, and refrigerators for Sears taught Campbell a timeless truth about business.

“I listened patiently and intently to people,” Campbell said. “Customers want to be treated with respect, and want to know you care.”

Visit Friendly City Tire on Facebook, or call (662) 534-7671.

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