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Entrepreneurs

Driving Growth With Hometown Roots

By Johanna Cano, posted Jun 29, 2018
Tech Raymond Fisher Jr. works on a tire at Black’s Tire & Auto Service’s Whiteville shop. The company, based in Columbus County, was founded in 1929 and has grown to 47 locations. (photo by Grant Merritt)
Black’s Tire Service Inc. has experienced years of changing markets and the emergence of e-commerce giants like Amazon, which promise to deliver almost everything, including tires, to people’s doors.
 
Black’s Tire did not succumb, however, to these emerging markets.
 
Starting with just one location in Whiteville in 1929, Black’s Tire was able to grow into its current 47 locations in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Virginia.
 
Vice President Ricky Benton Jr. said his firm was able to accomplish all of this with two key factors: service and family.
 
Benton said the Whiteville-based company, which sells tires and provides auto services, has relied on its customer service to grow and maintain its business for the past 89 years.
 
“We're always big on the service side of the business and just top customer service, and that's really what's helped us and how we've grown,” said Benton.
 
The private company’s president is Ricky Benton Sr. Besides Benton Jr., the other two vice presidents are his brothers, Christopher Benton and Jeremy Benton. The secretary is Dianne Benton, Benton Jr.’s mother.
 
Black’s Tire is a family-owned business, but the company’s beginnings didn’t start with the Benton family.

 
A FAMILY HISTORY

 
Black’s Tire & Auto Service was originally named Black’s Service Station when it was founded in 1929 by W. Crowell Black, according to the company website.
 
In 1976, Benton Sr. and Dianne Benton opened a gas station in another Columbus County town, Cerro Gordo.
 
There was only one Black’s Tire store in 1981 when Benton Sr. began to work with Black to help expand the business.
 
In 1986, the company was registered under its current name, Black’s Tire Service Inc.
 
Benton Sr. and Dianne Benton bought Black’s Tire in 1996 when there were eight stores. Over time, Black’s has expanded to its current footprint, which includes retail stores, commercial outlets, warehouses, distribution centers and a tire retread shop.
 
The company purchased Perry Brothers Auto Service, another family- owned business, in 2017.
 
While Benton Sr. is the president, the company is primarily being run by his sons.
 
Benton Jr. said he decided to join the company after studying business at East Carolina University.
 
“I came back here to help the business grow, and people need tires,” he said. “I grew up in the business, me and my two brothers.”
 
Benton Jr. and his brothers continued to grow the business into what it is today, and its economic impact can be seen in Whiteville and Columbus County.
 

HOMETOWN CONNECTION

 
If you ask Benton Jr. how many employees the company has, he will tell you it has none. He does not like to refer to them as employees, but rather as team members.
 
Currently the company has about 700 team members, more than 100 of them from Whiteville, which has a population of 5,500, according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau numbers.
 
President of the Columbus County Chamber of Commerce Jennifer Holcomb said the company has had a profound impact on the county.
 
“The vast number of employees that they employ, the continual expansion of the company and keeping their headquarters in the county has been just a huge economic impact in our community,” Holcomb said.
 
Black’s Tire is a community partner whose reach goes beyond its own corporation, Holcomb said.
 
Since 2002, Black’s Tire has held an annual charity golf tournament to support Boys and Girls Homes of North Carolina. According to the Boys and Girls Homes website, the event has raised more than $1 million for the Lake Waccamaw center.
 
Holcomb said the company’s decision to remain in Whiteville has contributed to the Whiteville economy because the Bentons own property there and do business there. The company’s economic reach also expands to Wilmington, where Black’s has four locations.
 

90 YEARS OF SERVICE

 
Greg Nobles, the store manager at the Carolina Beach Road location in Wilmington, has worked with the company for 19 years.
 
He said he was best friends with Benton Jr. growing up and decided to work with him at Black’s Tire knowing that the tire business would be successful.
 
The friendly family atmosphere is one of the main things Nobles appreciates about the company, he said.
 
“I like that it’s all about family and that there is respect and they treat you fair,” he said in a recent interview. “If you have an issue, you can get direct with the owner, and he can talk to you like you and I are talking right now.”
 
Nobles said he has remained with the company for so long because he has always felt taken care of.
 
“I am going to continue on, and I am going to be here until the end,” he said.
 
Benton Jr. said the company plans on growing its wholesale business by partnering with other family-owned tire dealers.
 
“We're a family business so, we are just families doing business with families,” he said.
 
With the company’s 90th anniversary approaching, Benton Jr. said the firm will be celebrating the people who work at the company and the customers.
 
“We’re a long ways from perfect, but we try to do that,” he said. “We try to create that cultural experience for customers and our people.”
 
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