CAMPINAS, Brazil-In Brazil, where Pirelli vies with Goodyear for the No. 1 position in the tire market, JoÃo Faria da Silva is Pirelli's top dealer. Based in Campinas, a suburb of SÃo Paolo, Brazil's commercial/industrial center and the largest city in South America, Mr. Faria's 20-outlet dealership, Campneus Lider de Pneum ticos Ltda., sells more Pirelli-brand tires than any other in Brazil, including the tire maker's own 33-store retail chain.
A true entrepreneur, Mr. Faria did not begin his business career in the tire industry, but his dealership has become the foundation of a larger business empire that includes plantations of coffee, oranges and rubber, a small transportation company and a first-class hotel.
From a small city in the interior of the state of SÃo Paolo (like New York, SÃo Paolo is both a city and a state), Mr. Faria earned a degree in business administration and headed for the big city. Within 18 months, he became a partner in a small fiberglass company. He then moved on to start his own food distribution company.
In 1975, he decided to start a new enterprise and, with assistance from Pirelli's Brazilian tire subsidiary, now called Pirelli Pneus S.A., he opened a small dealership in Campinas.
Pirelli was not exactly enthusiastic about Campinas as the site for his dealership, Mr. Faria said, as it already was home to Goodyear's largest and most successful dealership in Brazil. But after a year in operation, his observation of the market led him to believe there was an opportunity for a dealership with a modern, attractive store layout and an emphasis on good customer service.
In 1976, he opened four more stores in and around Campinas, including the warehouse of his previous food distribution business in Pocos de Caldas, which became Campneus' headquarters.
The company continued to grow, and, in 1984, moved its headquarters to a newly constructed four-story facility in Campinas, which includes nearly 11,000 square feet of office space and a 32,500-sq.-ft. warehouse, and is adjacent to a Campneus retail outlet.
Ten years later, in 1994, with 20 commercial/retail outlets, Campneus sold more than 400,000 tires-70 percent commercial, including a large number of agricultural tires; 30 percent retail-with a value of about $50 million. Services are limited to mounting, balancing, alignment, suspension and brakes.
The company's stores are located throughout the state of SÃo Paolo and the neighboring state to the north, Minas Gerais.
Like most of the top tier of tire dealerships in Brazil, Campneus is closely identified with a single major brand-in this case Pirelli. And while Mr. Faria is generally very complimentary toward his supplier, a lack of supply-especially in truck and farm tires-has constrained his dealership's growth.
``Supply is a problem,'' he said through a translator. ``We haven't opened a new store in the past five years due to a lack of tires.''
But he is optimistic that problem will end in the near future and, with the return of a more stable economic climate to Brazil, he expects Campneus to resume its pattern of growth.
About eight years ago, with his dealership solidly established, Mr. Faria decided to return to his family's agrarian roots, purchasing a 70-year-old farm near Garca, a small city about 200 miles northwest of SÃo Paolo, in the interior of SÃo Paolo state.
He has proceeded to convert the 1,500-acre former cattle ranch to coffee production, planting rubber trees where the land was not well suited to coffee. About one-quarter of the farm is covered by natural tropical forest, which Mr. Faria intends to preserve.
He also has acquired four farms in Minas Gerais state, which average about 500 acres each, and has become one of the top 10 coffee producers in Brazil.
Mr. Faria has begun introducing modern farming methods and slowly mechanizing coffee production on his plantations, spacing crop rows to permit machinery to harvest the beans, though most still are picked by hand. He also is developing his own hybrid plants, and these methods are boosting crop yields 30 percent, he said.
In the eight years he has owned the farm, coffee production has more than quadrupled, he said, and his coffee sales are nearly at the level of his tire sales.
Mr. Faria is looking forward to beginning limited rubber production in another year or so-and to the possibility of selling natural rubber to Pirelli, thereby becoming a supplier to his supplier. ``It's the only way I can get my money back from Pirelli,'' he joked.
These days, Mr. Faria divides his time fairly evenly between his farms and his dealership. He said he likes the businesses equally-``as long as they're making money.''
Two of his three children are working their way up through the ranks in Campneus-a son in sales and a daughter in finance. (A second daughter is in school.)