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The Natural Giver
Jay Huff, Brooks-Huff Tire and Auto Centers

August 2015
Brooke Huff Riegel, Jay Huff, Trey Huff, Jennifer Huff Erdman and Todd Huff of Brooks-Huff Tire and Auto Centers.

Brooke Huff Riegel, Jay Huff, Trey Huff, Jennifer Huff Erdman and Todd Huff of Brooks-Huff Tire and Auto Centers.

Collecting toys for children; providing silent auction items; sponsoring local youth athletic teams; supporting cancer groups; supplying a NASCAR racecar for event appearances – the list is endless. A three-inch stack of thank you notes from the last six months alone is only a small indicator of the impact Brooks-Huff Tire and Auto Centers has had on the communities that surround their locations. And those are just the ones who take the time to write thank you notes, the Huffs say.

Over the last 72 years, Brooks-Huff Tire and Auto Centers has become well known for its giving nature. At its heart is Jay Huff, owner and president of six locations, with headquarters in Hunt Valley. He is a big believer in supporting the communities in which he does business. “We support everything,” says Huff, as he willingly admits one of his biggest challenges is saying no.

“We wish we could do more,” Huff explains. “The name of the game in business is giving service and being good to people in your community. They are your customers,” he emphasizes.

While the company, now the oldest independent Goodyear dealer in Maryland, makes it a point to support organizations within its business radius, the question of strategic return on investment inevitably arises. Every donation is not a direct outlay of cash, but every gift impacts the bottom line. The giving practice translates to goodwill within the community, which goes a long way for reputation and reflects the company’s commitment to customer service. Simply providing in-store floor space for a collection bin or a letter for a free oil change as a silent auction item is just as much a service as the free shuttle the company offers its customers who drop their cars off for the day. It’s good for business.

“We support everything from a ferret farm in Carroll County to walk-a-thons,” says Trey, the eldest son. “Toys for Tots is one of our favorites – we have been a drop-off point for toys for 15 years.” He adds, “We like anything that will benefit kids.”

Some additional highlights of the company’s innovative community support include a sporting goods bin at each store location where they collect used sporting equipment like lacrosse sticks and hockey sticks. When they accumulate enough for a local team, the equipment is donated. This is a project initiated and implemented by a local high school student who approached the company for help. Huff says that because they are an independent organization, they can make these kinds of decisions more easily.

Brooks-Huff also has a retired NASCAR racecar, which they send to events around the community upon request. “This is no small undertaking,” Huff says. “It requires a flatbed trailer, a driver, the car and more.” The car has appeared at events at schools and day care centers, as well as at fund-raising events and parades.

“My father was an avid Kiwanian and very active in the church,” Huff says, linking his generosity to that of his parents. Huff took over the business after his father passed away in 1976, moving from a career in farming to a career in tires and automotive. Jay Huff steadily expanded the company by moving to the current state-of-the-art facility in Hunt Valley in 1980 and adding locations in Towson in 1984 and Timonium in 1998.

Huff remembers, “When we moved to Hunt Valley, everyone said, ‘What are you doing in the middle of nowhere?’” Today, the corner of York Road and Paper Mill Road is one of the busiest in the suburbs of the I-83 corridor. Huff expanded into Pennsylvania, still along I-83, to locations in Shrewsbury, Manchester and Leader Heights. He confirms further expansion is possible if the right thing comes along.

The business spans the third generation of Huffs, with three of Jay Huff’s children immersed in the company. They include Trey, who has taken charge of the marketing and charitable efforts, and is described by his father as “the one who keeps me in line and doesn’t let me do everything,” followed by Todd and Jennifer. Huff’s wife, Lisa, also works in the business. Their youngest daughter, Brooke, pursued a teaching career, but still markets for the tire company.

Most of the other 75 full- and part-time employees boast at least 10 to 20 years with the company – the result, Huff says, of careful hiring practices. “Employing the right people is a big challenge,” Huff says.

Trey concurs. “We set a higher standard. We are more customer-driven than any company I know. If a customer isn’t treated right, the offending employee will be replaced immediately,” he says. “Family is very important. We are not open on Sundays because we want people to have a day with their families,” he explains. “It helps keep employees happy so they will keep our customers happy.”

Doug Meekins, general manager at Brooks-Huff and a 22-year veteran of the company, says working there is like being part of a family. “Jay is the most giving person you will ever meet. He is fair, honest, has integrity and you can go to the bank on what he says,” Meekins comments. In reciprocation, Huff says he feels the responsibility of “providing income for 75 families.”

He and his management team are members of the various industry associations and active on the boards and legislative committees of such organizations as the Maryland Retailers Association, Chesapeake Auto Association and local Chambers of Commerce. Huff was recently named “Person of the Year” for 2015 by the Optimist Club of Timonium for his civic and charitable contributions. But he says his proudest moment was celebrating 70 years in business in 2013. “Surviving in the Maryland business environment for 70 years is something to be proud of. We’re looking forward to 75,” Huff says.

Meanwhile, look for Brooks-Huff supporting a community near you. I95