ONE of the stalwarts of the Westlakes commercial and sporting communities – and one of the district’s characters – has sold his business and retired.
Neville Heaton established Toronto West Tyre Centre in 1974.
His emotional ties to the business, and to his customers, run deep.
So when he decided it was time to call it a day, he wanted the business to go to the right person.
“I’d been thinking about it [selling the business] for a while, and one day Mick walks in and asks if I was interested in selling the place,” Mr Heaton said.
In Mick Linnane, Mr Heaton had met a kindred spirit, a self-made man, and another 70-something-year-old “young bloke” who was old school in his approach.
And so the two sealed the deal.
Mr Heaton said his deteriorating health, and his wife Yvonne’s cancer diagnosis meant “the time was right” to sell up.
Mr Heaton is still coming to terms with how retirement might look, but he hopes it means more time to watch his beloved Macquarie Scorpions go around on the rugby league field.
Mr Heaton started playing for the club in 1959. He’s a life member, and a former club president. Mrs Heaton used to run the club canteen. And Toronto West Tyre Centre is the club’s longest serving sponsor.
“Every week the Scorpions give us a rap on the microphone on game day. It’s one of the best forms of advertising,” he said.
“I might also go fishing, and do a bit more work with Toronto Lions Club, and with the Southlakes juniors,” he said of his retirement plans.
Mr and Mrs Heaton founded Southlakes Junior Rugby League Club, at Dora Creek, in 1979.
Horse racing is his other sporting love.
Mr Heaton is a former harness racing driver and horse trainer.
“They reckon I was the heaviest man to win a race at Harold Park on a Friday night in 48 years,” he laughed.
In the 1980s, Mr Heaton also captured some national media attention for the novel training methods he used to turn his bargain-buy trotter Flying in Style into a 14-time winner.
“I was pretty famous for my horse hypnotism,” he said.
Mr Heaton was featured in a story on the front page of the old Sydney Sun newspaper under the headline ‘Look into my eyes and win!’
“Jana Wendt wanted to do a story on Channel Nine, and I even had calls from America wanting exclusive rights to do videos. We had all sorts of fun with it,” he said.
Over the years, Mr Heaton’s support for all local sports has become legendary in these parts.
He’s sponsored more sporting clubs than he can remember. And he admits he hasn’t always displayed the certificates of appreciation from the clubs because he can’t find the space for them all in his office.
But it’s a bond he cherishes.
New customers regularly drive in and say they’re here because Toronto West Tyre Centre sponsors their club.
“It’s been great,” he said.
Mr Heaton said he was pleased to learn that it was one of the traditions that Mr Linnane was happy to continue at the business.
“We’ve always had a motto: you don’t sell people here tyres and services they don’t need,” Mr Heaton said.
“That has endeared us to the people of Toronto who have supported us for all these years.”
Not for the first time in our interview, Mr Linnane nods sincerely.
He and Mr Heaton are clearly on the same page.
“They’re pretty big shoes to fill,” Mr Linnane says of Mr Heaton.
“But we’ll be continuing those values and traditions,” he said.
In fact, apart from Mr Heaton’s absence, customers were unlikely to notice any change at the centre under Mr Linnane’s tenure, he said.
Mr Heaton’s son, Kyle, and Warren Hardy, would continue to work at the centre, Mr Heaton said.
“You wouldn’t get two better and more experienced tyre men,” Mr Heaton said. “They know all about the trade. If you take their advice, you’ll save money.”
Mr Linnane said he and Mr Heaton shared a common view of how things should be done in business and in life.
“We just took an instant liking to each other,” he said.
The more they chatted, the more they realised their back stories were similar.
Both men were earning their keep at a young age. As young men, both worked hard at building their automotive skills and business acumen. And when the time was right, both moved into business for themselves.
Mr Linnane comes to the tyre centre after running his own mechanical repairs and tyre fitting shop in Seven Hills for 39 years.