DELPHOS — There are no shortage of entrepreneurial success stories in Allen County, but perhaps none is more jaw-dropping than that of a business which started in an Ottoville gas station nearly 50 years ago.
Ken Langhals bought a gas station in that Putnam County village for little more than “a handshake deal and $100,” the story goes. And thus, K&M Tire was born.
The business went very well, and Langhals decided to dip his toes into the tire distribution business. In the 1980s, he moved the business to the corner of 5th and Main streets in Delphos and entered into a partnership with a Hoosier businessman who had already established himself as one of the most reputable tire dealers in the Midwest.
The relationship with Paul Zurcher, of Monroe, Indiana, allowed Langhals to gain a solid footing in the industry. The rest, as they say, is history. The business was growing by leaps and bounds.
In the late 1980s, K&M Tire moved into a 60,000 square foot warehouse on Gressel Drive in Delphos. His tire distribution business gained a foothold in Indiana and Michigan, and in 1999 a Toledo distribution center was added. Over the next decade, the family-owned business opened similar centers in Detroit and Chicago.
The company acquired Minnesota-based Triton Tire Universal Coop in 2010, added the Texas-based Reliable Tire in 2012 and gained a new market in New England in 2017 with the acquisition of Moto Star.
Along the way, the corporate headquarters in Delphos outgrew its surroundings, and in 2003 K&M moved across town to the site of the former Freuhauf trailer facility and a 240,000 square-foot facility. Today, the family business has more than 350,000 square feet of office space, sales and training facilities, an employee gym and warehouse operations under roof.
More than 200 employees work at the Delphos site, and the company employs 750 workers nationally.
The company remains a family business, with Langhals last year moving from company president to chief executive officer. His daughter, Cheryl Gossard, assumed the role of president.
Dave Miller, a Detroit transplant who moved his family to Delphos 10 years ago, is the marketing manager at K&M. He said the company services independent tire retailers “by figuring out how to transport tires to our customers in a very short amount of time. We almost act as sales consultants for our customers. Our customers are our shareholders.”
Miller said that building a solid reputation through decades of controlled growth has allowed K&M to prosper. Treating customers and employees alike with the dignity they deserve helps the firm continue to thrive, he said.
“Our expertise, I could have to say, is that we have a consultative mindset,” Miller said. “The feedback we hear from customers at trade shows is, ‘The K&M guys who visit our stores are interested in what’s best for the long term; in what’s good for the business.’
“We want them to rely on our expertise,” said Miller.