The well-driven asphalt of East Main Street in Siloam Springs brings trade and custom to numerous Latino shops and businesses. Their position between the economic hub of downtown and the manufacturing district is no accident, as many of these ethnically-diverse businesses developed 15 to 20 years ago.
Pedro Villalo, owner and manager of Latino Tires II, a tire repair shop along East Main Street, remembers this period of economic development well.
“At that time, I was the only Latino to open up a small shop,” Villalo said. “There were a couple big shops that have been here for a long time. But I think I was the only small Hispanic business to start up.”
For many John Brown University students and Siloam Springs residents, they don’t know the history Latino Tires has. Caleb Maine, an International Business senior at JBU, has been a customer at Latino Tires for several years. “I still don’t know what Latino Tires I was.”
Latino Tires II is a continuation of the original Latino Tires in Springdale, Arkansas – one of the many Latino businesses to serialize with a number on the end of the name. “At that time, Rogers, Bentonville, Siloam, part of Northwest Oklahoma, all the Hispanics used to go to us in Springdale for tires,” Villalo said. “Now, instead of going all the way to Springdale, they come to me.”
Latino Tires is a family-owned business, started by Villalo’s brother eighteen years ago. “I started working with him part time, and I learned that way,” Villalo said.
Villalo has come a long way since moving to Siloam Springs thirteen years ago. He builds his customer base with fair business practices and quality work, depending on the word of mouth from previous customers. “I’ve had a good reputation thanks to the public,” Villalo said.
Maine’s own introduction to this family business was also by word of mouth from a previous Latino Tires II customer, Matthew Feyerabend, owner and operator of Pure Joy Ice Cream, an ice cream shop located on Main Street. “He told me they were fast and cheap,” Maine said.
Maine has a historically bad time with tires. Since coming to John Brown, he’s had several tire patches and adjustments. “I always inspect the job they do afterwards, and it always looks good,” Maine said. “Different car and different tires. Different objects lodged into the tires. I’ve had an overall very positive impression.”
In particular, Maine considers the price of new and used tires and repair jobs at Latino Tires reasonable. After needing a used tire because his old one was bald, Maine noticed that the repairman carried the tire over to his car without even being asked. “When I bought a used tire, the one they had didn’t have much tread left on it, so they charged me, like, thirteen bucks,” Maine said.
“It was ridiculously cheap. But it was better than what I had blown on the highway.”
Villalo considers the safety of his customers more important than anything else when he sends them back onto the road after his service. “I just tell the customers, ‘you’ve got a problem right here.’” Villalo said. “’Don’t put yourself at risk. You gotta fix that up.’ If I see it is safe, I’ll do it.”
Villalo acknowledges the difficulty in providing a quality service for demanding customers. “In the past 13 years, I have only had a misunderstanding with one or two customers,” Villalo said. “It’s hard as a human being to please everybody, no matter how hard you try. Let’s say I can do one thousand good things for my customers, but it only takes one person who doesn’t like the price or how fast I’m working.”
Despite competing tire shops and Walmart’s own automotive service, Villalo considers his customer base independently. “I respect the bigger businesses coming in,” he said. “Ever since I opened up my business, I put it
in my mind I wouldn’t try to interfere with the businesses around me. I try to make my own customers. I don’t have anything against Walmart; it’s a huge business. You don’t even think about competing with them.”
However, Villalo has experienced some professional cross-pollination with other tire services. “Sometimes they call me, saying, ‘Pedro, I got a customer stranded here,” he said. “’You got a used tire we can buy from you to get the customer on their way?’ I say, ‘Yeah, no problem.’ If I have it, I help them.”
The competition sometimes makes it difficult for Villalo to expand his business, like pursuing mechanic work or hiring a technician to handle tire alignments. However, his work engages him and keeps him satisfied. “I’m not saying I might not extend it later on,” Villalo said. “But so far, it keeps me busy.”