AKRON-The relationship between a franchiser and its franchisees is a lot like a marriage: Communication is essential, and both parties have to agree-and work at-upholding their ends of the agreement. When it's good, it can be very good. But when it's bad. . . well, it's the ``Big D''-divorce city.
Franchisees opt out of their contracts for any number of reasons, from outright business failure, to simply realizing that being a part of a larger, tightly-structured organization constricts their freedom.
TIRE BUSINESS spoke with both present and former franchisees to find out what they like-or didn't like-about franchising.
For Bob Berfield, general manager of Syatt Corp., doing business as The Auto Service Center Inc., the biggest problem the Mansfield, Mass.-based tire and auto service outlet had back in 1992 was getting product delivered in time. The dealership, at the time a so-called ``alternative store'' with Tire Warehouse Central (TWC) in Keene, N.H., was an almost six-hour round trip from TWC's distribution facility.
Due to the distance, ``We were unable to promise product to customers on a timely basis,'' Mr. Berfield said, and TWC's delivery system ``at the time was not very good. It just didn't fit our needs.''
TWC eventually corrected its delivery problems, but lost Syatt after only about eight months.
Mr. Berfield sees both positives and negatives for dealers considering a franchise program.
The pluses: advertising and product support.
The biggest minus: ``I'd be concerned about giving up control of my business,'' he said.
``You have to abide by how (the franchiser) does things. And to me, a local guy wants to run an independent shop, make his own business decisions. I wouldn't think he'd want to give up all that control.''
It's the control that appeals to Robert Howard, owner of Robsue Companies, based in Newport, Minn.
He opened his first Tires Plus franchise outlet in 1987 in Cottage Grove, Minn., and a second one two years ago in Hudson, Wis. He also operates Amoco-and Texaco-franchised gas stations.
``Overall, I think franchising is good for independent tire dealers-it's a great concept,'' Mr. Howard said. He likes that Burnsville, Minn.-based Tires Plus Groupe Ltd. is ``company-oriented.''
``Everything is computerized. And the company handles all the pricing, does all the training for the managers and assistant managers. Every month they go to class for a day,'' he said.
He also praised the company's advertising efforts, saying ``they're out there advertising all the time. . . they really get the name out.''
Still, he said ``sometimes they have too much control over you. They want you to do this and do that. And the royalties are a little stiff.'' And it ``seems like the company takes some of the better locations'' in larger markets for corporate stores. However, he's opening his third Tires Plus franchise this fall in a town of about 60,000-``so I can't complain.''
Unlike with Tires Plus, he pays no franchise royalty fees to Texaco or Amoco. But, in the case of Amoco, he has to buy all his gas through that company. ``They tell me what they're going to sell it to me for. There's no other options other than buy their product at their cost. And they control my rent and everything else.
``That's the bad part-there's no negotiating with oil companies. It's their way or the highway!''
On the other hand, with Tires Plus he can buy product from outside the system. ``But Tires Plus has the best price and best program, so why should I have to go out and look for other people to buy from?''
``Franchising's just not for me,'' stated David la Flamme, owner/president of la Flamme Service Center Inc. in Littleton, N.H., a town of less than 5,000.
He left TWC's program last year after about a year and a half, saying he ``didn't have the control over it that I thought I would. I prefer being more independent than being involved in a franchise.''
As far as a franchiser's ``buying clout,'' Mr. la Flamme noted that through the wholesaler he currently deals with, ``I can buy tires at about the same price I was buying them through TWC.'' However, rather than continue to follow TWC's multibranded approach, he now sells mainly Cooper tires.
``We were carrying so many lines of tires (through TWC), you could buy one brand of tire one week, and if you tried to match it the next time, there was a good possibility they wouldn't have it in stock. Then I'd have to special order it, which took time.
``I find it better carrying one brand than a dozen different ones. That gets pretty confusing.''
He's also quite happy with the Cooper Tire & Rubber Co.'s co-operative advertising program. ``They pick up 80 percent of my ad budget, and I'm responsible for the other 20 percent, which is good.''
Mr. la Flamme believes tire dealers ``lose their independence'' when they join a franchise, ``and that's not worth it to me.''