DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Alan Inaba worked his last day yesterday at Lex Brodie's Tire, Brake and Wheel Co. after about 70 years of work in the tire business. Here, Inaba, left, poses with a good customer, Artie Wilson. Wilson said Inaba helped him out when he came to Hawaii as a young man and has been like a father figure to him.
Hitting the road
Alan Inaba calls it quits, almost, after a life in tires
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Gas was about 10 cents a gallon and a new car cost around $763 when Alan Inaba started his career in the tire business back in 1938.
Yesterday, after 70 years in the industry, Inaba "officially retired" from his job as a senior salesman at Lex Brodie's Tire, Brake and Wheel Co. He had retired once before in 1994 when he closed his Tire Recap shop on Oahu, but quickly came out of retirement to join the staff at Lex Brodie's. A couple years ago, Inaba suffered a stroke and scaled back to half-days.
Inaba, who will celebrate his 82nd birthday Wednesday, has been loath to leave his customers. He has worked out a deal with Lex Brodie's that will allow him to continue to help those customers who insist on his personal attention. Some of them have known him since he was a 12-year-old boy washing and painting tires in his father's shop on Oahu.
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Alan Inaba started working in 1938 at his father's tire shop. In 1994, Lex Brodie asked Inaba to help out, and Inaba stayed until yesterday. Here, limo driver Jay Lee, left, waited as Inaba shook hands with Scott Williams, Lex Brodie's general manager.
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After 70 years in business, most people would be ready to get out the door on retirement day.
THE COST OF THINGS
National average of wages and costs in 1938, the year that Alan Inaba started working:
Annual wage: $1,730
A new house: $3,900
A gallon of gas: 10 cents
Monthly house rent: $27
Loaf of bread: 9 cents
New car: $763
But that's not true of Alan Inaba, who began working with tire customers in 1938. Inaba worked right up to the end of his shift yesterday at the Lex Brodie's Tire, Brake and Wheel Co. on Queen Street and then tried to do more.
When Jay K. Lee of Jay's Limousine Service pulled up to the tire company at noon in a big, white stretch limo, it was quitting time for Inaba, but he grabbed his clipboard anyway and started writing up a new work order for his longtime customer. Imagine Inaba's surprise when he discovered that the limo was there to help him begin the next journey of his life in style.
"I pulled up in the limo, and he said, 'Oh, OK, what do you need today?'" said Lee, who has been a Lex Brodie's customer some 15 years. "He was working all the way to the last minute. Now that's true loyalty."
When Scott Williams, general manager of Lex Brodie's, told Inaba, "No, this limo is for you," Lee said that Inaba was characteristically humbled by the display.
Lee made a quick stop at Zippy's so Inaba could run in to pick up lunch for himself and his wife, Gladys, the high school sweetheart he married in 1950. Even with the limo, it was a pretty unassuming end to an illustrious career that began when automobiles were first coming to Hawaii.
Inaba started in the tire business when he was 12 years old while working in his father's Tire Recap shop on Oahu. At the time, according to national estimates from a Web site called the People History, a new car could be bought for around $763, and a gallon of gas cost just 10 cents.
"I started in this business washing and painting tires for my dad," said Inaba, who later took over the family business.
Inaba, who ran the family business until 1994, sold tires to Lex Brodie and his parents before they started their own tire company.
When Inaba decided to close his family business, he worked out a deal with Lex Brodie to work as a senior salesman so that he could continue to assist his loyal customers.
"After I retired from my business in 1994, Mr. Brodie asked me to help him out. I think he thought that I would be here for one or two years, but I ended up being here ever since," Inaba said.
At the tire company, Inaba's reputation for awesome customer service is legendary, Williams said.
"While on a tire dealer trip in Florida a few years ago, I met a dealer that Alan had helped out 20 years earlier in Hawaii," he said. "Twenty years later they still remembered him. It blew me away. It's a reflection of his customer service."
Inaba might not remember how many tires he has changed or how many customers he has helped in Hawaii, but few of them have forgotten him. Over the years many of Inaba's clients, who include the likes of June Jones, Artie Wilson and Fred Orr, have become part of his extended ohana.
"He literally looks at his customers as family," Williams said. "He takes care of them as if they were his own children, and they have complete and utter trust in him."
Fred Orr, general manager of the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani and longtime friend of Inaba, has been a customer for more than 40 years. Orr, who will host an Alan Inaba night at the Creation Dinner Show at the Princess Kaiulani, said he met Inaba back in the days when he was a struggling college student.
"I was waiting for my tires to be changed, and he took the time to talk to me and to show me around his tire business," Orr said. "He took a personal interest in me."
Orr, who was at Lex Brodie's to mark his mentor's last hours, credits Inaba with teaching him the true meaning of customer service.
"I run a hotel and have modeled my customer service after the way that he took care of his customers," Orr said. "He treats every single customer like family, and he wants to make sure that they get the best value. Regardless of the cost or application, no one questions Alan."
For Inaba, high-end customer service is a family tradition, Orr said.
"I knew his father, too. When he died, there were probably 2,000 people at his funeral, and many of them were his customers," he said.
Artie Wilson, former University of Hawaii basketball star-turned-Realtor, was another of Inaba's longtime customers in attendance during the final hours of his friend's last official day on the job.
"When I first came to UH on a basketball scholarship, he was one of the first men that I met, and he became like a father to me," Wilson said. "He's generally one of the best human beings that I've known in Hawaii. There's not a better man in the state of Hawaii."
From Inaba, Wilson said, he learned the importance of caring for others more than caring for himself.
"He's a shining example of giving and expecting nothing in return," Wilson said. "He taught me that you give because it's the right thing to do."
Inaba, who will celebrate his 82nd birthday Wednesday, is loath to leave his customers. He reduced his hours to part time a few years ago after suffering a minor stroke and even now in retirement has worked out a deal with Lex Brodie's that will allow him to continue to help those customers who insist on his personal attention.
"His longtime customers can call him at home, and he'll assist them," Mitchell said. "We'll give him a good percentage of the profit from these customers."
Inaba is not sure what path he will follow in retirement. He is vice president of the Iwakuni Bon Dance Club and has been a supporter of UH sports.
"I still haven't decided what I'm going to do, but I might take my wife on a trip," he said. "I want to enjoy life and not work until the last minute until I step in the grave."
Inaba said he is sure that he will spend plenty of time enjoying his son and daughter and his five grandchildren as well as his extended ohana.
"I have so many customers that I cannot keep track," Inaba said. "I have as many as three generations coming to me."