John Kauffman admits he acted somewhat on impulse 20 years ago when deciding to gamble on selling industrial tires in the Atlanta area, far from his native Ohio and his family's established tire business there. Mr. Kauffman said he never liked the frigid winters of the ``Buckeye State.''
When cold weather hit, he would envision warmer climes. Eventually, he discovered the comforts of mild winters in Florida and Georgia.
But the young Ohioan also found an opportunity too good to pass up.
While traveling in the Atlanta area, he saw the chance for a business venture that would allow him to operate on his own and escape the North's cold winters.
Responding to that opportunity has since proved a significant move for Kauffman Tire Service, which today is based in College Park, an Atlanta suburb and boasts 17 retail stores and five warehouses, a truck tire center and a retread shop.
The dealership now operates in Georgia, Florida and Ohio, and employs about 300 people. Four more retail stores and two more warehouses are set to open this year in the Atlanta and Tampa, Fla., areas.
Mr. Kauffman said the business dates to 1938, when his father, Harry Kauffman, started selling Goodyear tires at a gasoline station in Wooster, Ohio.
By the early 1960s, the company no longer sold gasoline but was concentrating on tires instead.
John Kauffman, meanwhile, had graduated from Ohio State University and joined his father at the dealership.
``I just grew up in (the tire business) and didn't know any better,'' he laughed.
Harry Kauffman started the firm on a shoestring, his son said. But he built a strong business filling the need for car and truck tires in Wooster, located some 25 miles southwest of Akron.
In 1968, the family stepped up business in farm and industrial tires by opening its wholesale division.
The financial strength of the Ohio store's tire sales and retreading operations made it possible for John Kauffman to develop the company's industrial tire business in the Atlanta area.
``We started from scratch,'' he said of the Atlanta venture. ``It's something I don't recommend anyone doing now.''
Mr. Kauffman said he had no client lists or existing business to use as a base when setting up shop in Atlanta. He joined with company employee Mike Knapp to establish the operations in 1972. The two worked plenty of long hours, he now recalls.
In 1975, Mr. Kauffman moved his family to Atlanta. The city was booming in the 1970s and the longer the Kauffmans stayed, the more they liked the area.
They had expected to live in the area for about a year while the business was being launched, but stayed on. ``Atlanta's a great place to be,'' Mr. Kauffman explained.
He credits much of the company's success to niche marketing, specifically in farm and specialty industrial tires. ``It's been an important part of our growth,'' he said.
The company's warehouses are packed with specialty tires other dealers might need. Kauffman Tire will buy whole production runs and hold on to them-sometimes for up to 18 months.
``We really just provide a service for people who need these things,'' Mr. Kauffman said. ``That helps us generate other business.''
From warehouses in Ohio, Georgia and Florida, Kauffman Tire distributes tires everywhere in the U.S. and even does business in Europe and Asia.
The company remains a major supplier of Goodyear tires, but also carries the Toyo, Falken and Cooper's Mastercraft brands. Product lines include passenger, truck, farm, off-road and specialty tires, along with industrial.
To keep track of inventory, Mr. Kauffman relies on a computer network. very night at the company's corporate offices at College Park, the computer system tallies up information on stock in each Kauffman Tire warehouse and store.
Using computers to find tires in the warehouses helps Kauffman Tire fill orders quickly.
The introduction of computers into business operations ranks as the big-gest change John Kauffman said he has seen since starting in the business more than 30 years ago.
``We make sure they service us,'' Mr. Kauffman said of his company's com-puter service suppliers.
A system that needs constant attention isn't of much use, he explained.
Using the retail passenger and truck tire business started by his father to establish the industrial tire operation in Georgia and Florida was a key change that Mr. Kauffman believes he had to make in order to keep thefamily business growing.
Maintaining a willingness to change and striving to grow are as important as hard work when it comes to developing a successful business, he said.
``If we had not been willing to change (into new markets) we could have been in trouble,'' he said.
Mr. Kauffman said he's never considered selling the business. His father turned the operation over to him, and now he plans to pass it along to his son, Mark, who already works for the company. ``I have someone to fall back on,'' he said of Mark's interest in the dealership.
The business has been profitable through the years, Mr. Kauffman said, but more important is the satisfaction he's received from hard work, growth and success.
But there are some things that don't change. ``Selling tires is pretty much a nuts-and-bolts business,'' he said. ``It always has been.''