PALM DESERT, Calif.—Ron Asher, 62, has spent half of his life extolling the virtues of owning a Big O Tires Inc. franchise. And he's been pretty successful at convincing others of this, too. He's brought dozens into the Big O family as franchisees or partners. After 31 years with Big O, Mr. Asher still exudes enthusiasm about the company that has allowed him ``through hard work to build a sizable worth.''
In February, Big O inducted him into its Hall of Fame during the company's annual dealer convention in Anaheim, Calif. Mr. Asher is only the sixth person to be so honored by the Englewood, Colo.-based franchiser.
Mr. Asher still is building stores and recruiting employees who someday may own their own Big O stores.
So, what's Mr. Asher's sales pitch? ``If you're willing to work hard and you're willing to put the time and effort in, you can make some money and you can create a retirement for yourself,'' he said.
But Mr. Asher is hardly ready to quit. He's still in partnership with his 33-year-old son, Todd, and his son's lifelong friend, Darren Dolle, also 33. They are about to open their 12th Big O store, in Sacramento, Calif., and plan to add one or two more stores per year for the next 10 years.
In 1968, Mr. Asher was co-owner of a liquor store in the Oakland, Calif., area when he first met one of Big O's pioneers: Bill Thomas. Mr. Thomas had taken over the fledgling chain's operations in northern California and was setting up a Big O dealership up the street from Mr. Asher's store.
``During the afternoon and evenings, he would come down and get a cold drink, and we started to talk,'' Mr. Asher said. Mr. Asher said he realized there would be more opportunity with Big O, so he sold his share of the liquor store to his partner's son.
Mr. Thomas introduced Mr. Asher to another prospective Big O franchisee, Gordon Walker. Messrs. Asher and Walker became partners in a Big O store in Oakland. Mr. Asher—whose father was a contractor—said he scouted locations and supervised construction of new stores, while Mr. Walker handled business operations.
Over the next five years, these partners opened about a dozen locations. ``We attracted good people,'' said Mr. Asher. Eventually, he and Mr. Walker sold a part or all of these franchises to their managers through Big O's Incentive Management Program.
Mr. Asher estimates he's brought about 80 dealers either directly or indirectly into Big O over the years.
In 1973, Mr. Walker decided to move to Sacramento to be closer to his family and sold his share of the stores to an employee, Chris Phillips.
``That's really when we started to grow,'' Mr. Asher said.
Messrs. Phillips and Asher built several locations together in northern California, and when Mr. Phillips moved to Southern California, the partners acquired some stores there.
During the 1970s and '80s the partnership expanded rapidly and the two men controlled 31 stores together. ``We were the largest single franchisee in the Big O operation,'' Mr. Asher said.
Mr. Asher said he and Mr. Phillips divided the stores between them, with Mr. Asher taking the stores in northern California, and Mr. Phillips those in the southern part of the state.
In explaining the franchises' appeal, Mr. Asher said, ``Big O's a great company, and we offer an awful lot to an aspiring entrepreneur.'' He attributes his success to innovation and service.
``We're the Nordstroms of the tire business,'' he said, comparing his Big O stores with the Seattle-based department store chain which has a national reputation for its high level of customer service.
``Why not bowl people over with service?'' he said. His salespeople are trained to go out to greet drivers when they enter the parking lot and try to meet their needs.
Big O dealerships can't compete with national discount chains and warehouse clubs solely on tire prices, Mr. Asher said. But, by replacing damaged tires for free and shuttling customers to and from work, school or home, he said repeat business is almost assured and satisfied customers tell friends.
Mr. Asher thinks the acquisition of Big O by Memphis, Tenn.-based TBC Corp. in 1996 has been ``a good thing'' overall. He said TBC's plans to double the number of Big O outlets in the next five years ``will be very beneficial to all the dealers.''
``We will have better buying power through our suppliers. We will have the advantages of advertising,'' he added.
But the longtime tire dealer attributed much of his success to the support of his wife of 40 years, Andria. ``That makes a big difference.''