CITY OF COMMERCE, Calif.-Drive by the corner of Imperial Highway and Bellflower in Downey, Calif., and you're not likely to be overly impressed with AKH Co. Inc.'s Discount Tire Center sitting there. The red, white and yellow, concrete building needs repainting, the store manager comments. The brick flower beds need replanting.
Still, business is good. Six cars are lifted high above the shop floor. Others are waiting outside for their turn.
You'd probably be hard pressed to find something overly unique about the appearance of this shop.
But it is unique.
This is where Discount Tire Centers was founded 20 years ago when Andy Andonian opened this store.
To celebrate the dealership's 20th birthday, Discount Tire Centers is giving away a Dodge RAM 1500 truck. The dealership's advertising this year has included the slogan: ``It's our 20th Anniversary and the Presents are for You.''
Today, his company owns 109 outlets and franchises 12 others in California, Washington, Utah and Oregon under the Discount Tire Centers, Evans Tire & Service and David Early Tires signs.
The company's massive growth came largely within the past 10 years-growing from 35 outlets in 1985-because of the way AKH treats its customers, according to Andy Andonian's brother and company President John Andonian.
``Over 95 percent of our customers had a satisfying experience,'' he said during an interview over breakfast at a Glendale, Calif., hotel. ``They said they would come back.''
The dealership's staple is offering discounts on name-brand tires-primarily Dunlop, Michelin, Bridgestone, Firestone and Star. But it is the employee training programs and customer focus-not low prices-that keeps customers coming back, he asserted.
Each outlet proudly pins competitors' newspaper ad clippings to a bulletin board in the waiting room-challenging customers to find better prices.
``We do the shopping so you don't have to,'' states a Discount Tire Centers ad also posted on the cork board at an outlet in Pasadena, Calif., that, coincidentally, shows another hallmark of Discount Tire Centers locations: creative use of shop space.
The Pasadena location is housed in a former Greyhound Bus Lines station, allowing technicians to work on cars throughout a spacious L-shaped work area that doubles as a mini-warehouse.
Another outlet, located in Glendale, sacrifices a spacious waiting area and check-out counter to make space for five bays in a small under-5,000-sq.-ft. building.
The dealership has learned over the past 20 years, Mr. Andonian said, that it is important to put a premium on bay space in order to serve customers quickly.
Times have been tough lately, however, Mr. Andonian noted. The notoriously weak California economy of late has chipped away at dealership sales figures. Retail sales in 1994 settled in at $88 million, down more than 9 percent from 1993.
Sales this year are expected to remain on par with 1994, Mr. Andonian predicted.
``To us, the integrity of our name is everything. So it was just natural for us to invest in an extensive training program and monitor our people for customer satisfaction,'' Mr. Andonian said. `` We believe that this has helped us weather the California recession and position us very well for growth when the economy rebounds.''
That rebound should occur near the end of next year, Mr. Andonian added.
Although the company's sales have stagnated and its growth rate has slowed, AKH will continue to expand in its existing markets.
The retailer also is looking at expanding its list of automotive services to include more than the brake, alignment, oil change and belt/hose repair jobs it currently performs.