The last thing a teenaged Don Frisby wanted for a career was to be stuck in his dad's tire store Frisby Tires for the rest of his life.
Instead, the man who's name is synonymous with tires in Ottawa wanted to be a musician. It was the 1960s and 1970s, after all.
“I had an aptitude for music, and was going to take music at university,” Frisby, 70, recalls from his office. “My dreams didn't include running a tire store. I had been working in the store since I was 15; my father knew I had the ability to take over the business, he wasn't sure if I had the desire. I never wanted to be a slave to the business. I saw men who ran their own business working 50, 60, 70 hours a week. What happens to your family, your life?”
So, he decided to buy a van and spend the next year driving through the United States, tuning in and turning on in Florida and California, living as much as he could, even joining a hippie EST cult.
“I took off to sort myself out,” he says. “Looking back on it now, it was good for me in the end. It was a real adventure. It was a way to get out of the rut I had back home.”
But even after his two-year spiritual sabbatical, Frisby still wasn't ready to rejoin the family business and in 1980, instead began working at Edelweiss Ski Hill, where he met his wife Sarah Tommy of the Tommy and Lefebvre sports stores chain.
“Running a ski resort wasn't for me,” Frisby giggles. “That's where I learned what I didn't want to do for a living.”
Two years later, his wanderlust dissipated and settled happily with a growing family, Frisby was ready to take over the reigns at Frisby Tire, the business his great uncle George began in 1920, first managing the Clyde Avenue store and later, becoming president of the chain in 1995. He also voices the Frisby radio spots.
A success right from the day it opened, uncle George didn't have any kids, so when he passed the business went to Don's father Jim. Don took over the chain of five stores in 1995. He has no interest in growing the company bigger than it already is. Frisby says that the reason for the company's success is because it's a privately owned business. His staff are loyal, many having worked at Frisby their whole life in part because Frisby's been a keen advocate of work-life balance.
“We treat the people who work here fairly. We take the same attitude with our customers. It sounds old fashioned but We want to make friends with customers. The motto for Frisby Tires is “service that satisfies”. We do our best to ensure they leave happy with the experience. It works. It's becoming increasingly difficult to get service. People like it.”
Now, he's preparing to retire and leave the company to his children.
“It's important to keep it a family business,” he adds. “I don't want to get into the franchise business. My vision for the company is to focus on our strengths, down-home, family style service and competitive prices.”
Frisby Tire celebrated it's 100th anniversary in 2020. One of the unforeseen side effects of the Covid pandemic is a shift in the attitude of employees.
“I've had a great time because I ran a decent business and made my happiness, and the happiness of my staff a priority. You don't have to be always shooting for the stars like Donald Trump to have a happy, normal life. What's wrong with running a decent business? I fundamentally disagree with the capitalist maxim that you always have to be growing in business, otherwise you're dying. Corporate culture drives that because they're working for the shareholder. Everyone's out for the big bucks. What's wrong with having a decent life?” “In my younger days, I had a vision of what I wanted to do, living in the country, marrying a nice wife, having kids and running Frisby Tire.”