LAS VEGAS-The concensus of most Big O dealers interviewed at the conference was that the company needs to get out from under the ongoing turmoil that has grown out of the movement to maximize shareholder value-including the possible sale of the company-and return to its roots as a private, dealer-run operation. Big O Tires Inc., one of North America's largest independent retail tire and auto service franchisers, currently has 375 stores in 18 states.
Pete Marrero, co-owner of five Big O stores in the Berkeley, Calif., area and one of the original members of Big O's predecessor, the O.K. Rubber Welders group, described the company's current state as a ``metamorphosis-we're coming back from where we came: a dealer-owned and -operated company where we're able to control our own destiny.'' He said Mr. Pavia may have ``inadvertently done us a favor.''
Another O.K. group alumnus who, like Mr. Marrero, joined Big O on the same day in 1962, said he believes dealers are now generally united in wanting to buy back ``their'' company. As Jim Akin, operator of one Big O outlet in Green Valley, Ariz., put it: ``It's an opportunity to better ourselves and enhance the image of the company. If we don't buy it, someone else will.''
Whether one of the purposes behind the formation of the new Big O dealer association is to buy the firm remains a rather well-kept secret at this point.
Big O Dealers of America was formed Feb. 14 to, as one member explained, ``protect the interests of our dealers.''
Those who are the backbone of the company, he said, will finally have a ``unified, significant, concentrated voice'' in issues that affect their futures.
But according to Richard Miller, co-owner of a Big O outlet in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, and the new association's secretary, the group's formation also was meant to send a message to all parties, including anyone interested in buying the company: In order for Big O to remain successful, its franchisees' interests and concerns must be addressed.
In accordance with Big O's corporate bylaws, the company's dealer planning board will continue to exist as a separate entity to address matters of concern to franchisees such as marketing, advertising programs and product quality and distribution. However, while that board culls one dealer representative for every 20 stores, makeup of the new association's board consists of nine members, or one member for every 50 Big O dealers nationwide.
Its dealers are 100-percent sold on the Big O system, said Wes Stephenson, president of the new association and an influential California Big O franchisee. Mike Lyons, a Longmont, Colo., Big O dealer, is vice president.
``We've never been in such an optimistic position before,'' Mr. Stephenson said. ``It's a time in our history when we need to make sure we have one voice.''
A buyout that involves dealers has long been discussed, he said, and is still one of a number of options, though he would not disclose any. But the overriding interest, noted Mr. Miller, ``is what's best for our dealers-and they are feeling more united than ever before.''