CLEVELAND—David H. Sullivan aims to make a liar out of George Bernard Shaw, who ever so delicately noted that ``those who can, do; those who can't, teach.'' After more than a decade of consulting with and training businesses in how to run and improve their automotive service operations, Mr. Sullivan is jumping into the action steel-toed shoe first. On Oct. 1, the 51-year-old aftermarket entrepreneur and a small group of East Coast investors bought the BP ProCare chain of auto repair shops, which also sell tires, from London-based BP Amoco P.L.C.
The buyout gives Sullivan Acquisition L.L.C. of Guilford, Conn., 104 BP ProCare service shops—including all their related real estate, equipment and assets—in Ohio, western Pennsylvania and Charlotte, N.C. Terms were not disclosed.
The operation, which will be based in Cleveland, was promptly renamed ProCare Automotive Service Solutions L.L.C.
The group picks up a business with an annual sales volume of almost $100 million. ProCare facilities average six service bays per site, are located in high-traffic areas, and employ more than 1,000 workers—with more than half of them ASE-certified automotive technicians. No jobs will be lost in the transition.
In fact, since he stepped into the enterprise, the only new hire hand-picked by Mr. Sullivan is John K. McCurry, 48. Named the new company's president and COO, he is a former senior executive and 21-year veteran with Midas International Corp.
Mr. Sullivan, ProCare's chairman and CEO, has lofty plans to grow the operation to between 500 and 600 locations within two to three years. It would expand throughout the country's northeast quadrant—stretching from Toledo, Ohio, to Washington, D.C., and up through New York and New Jersey to Portland, Maine. That area, he said, accounts for 42 percent of all U.S. car registrations.
His two partners are New York investment banker Thomas Tuttle, ProCare's new CFO, and Connecticut investor Frederick Mancheski, retired chairman and CEO of Echlin Inc., which he built from a $20 million business to $4 billion when it was acquired by Dana Corp.
Mr. Sullivan told Tire Business he hopes to accomplish expansion mainly through buying existing auto repair chains, tire dealerships, and even small, independent shops that meet ProCare's profile of having busy locations with at least six bays.
``We're talking right now with some very large chains—auto service as well as tire dealerships,'' he said.
For several years his Sullivan Group has consulted with all the major oil companies in America on service and retail strategies. Most are abandoning auto service and going with a ``more simple approach of convenience stores and car washes as ancillary profit centers to their gasoline marketing strategy,'' he said.
His company, through its ``Profit Coach'' training system, has been helping repair businesses—BP ProCare included—perform better in the areas of management, customer service and customer satisfaction. It has done more than 3,000 needs assessments at service centers.
``Now, here's a chance to own our own and apply what we've been teaching to other companies,'' he said.
BP Amoco shed the ProCare repair chain because, according to a spokeswoman for the oil company, it ``was not an adequate fit to our global strategy.'' BP already had been looking for ``other opportunities for ProCare,'' she added, before its announced merger with Amoco Corp. of Chicago in August 1998.
In hiring Mr. McCurry, Mr. Sullivan hailed him as ``the best operator around,'' adding, ``It's all about the employees, not us. We made the investment, but the employees are going to be empowered to grow the business.''
ProCare's teeming cadre of certified technicians is ``unheard of in this business,'' he said. ``That's what I'm excited about. We just have such a high-caliber-quality of people on site.''
Mr. McCurry concurred, calling ProCare the ``opportunity of a lifetime. It has a wonderful reputation for great customer relations."
ProCare outlets—most on busy corners with car counts of at least 20,000 daily—offer a full range of automotive services, from quick lubes to complete engine replacement. They are open seven days a week, with weekday hours until 9 p.m., and customers do not have to make appointments.
Tires—most major brands, with Michelin its principal offering—currently account for about 20 percent of ProCare's overall business.
Mr. Sullivan also plans to continue what he believes is one of the industry's ``most unique'' warranty programs: ProCare guarantees repairs for 24 months or 24,000 miles—whichever comes last.
To take advantage of the name recognition of the ProCare brand, the company also is going to launch a ``ProCare Express'' concept in major markets where its outlets have fewer than six bays, he said. Most oil company service stations have two or three bays and can't handle ``generalist repairs, which require more space for equipment and employees. By default, they have to be specialists.
``So we may also license our concept to two- and three-bay operations. It would be very clear to the consumer what specialty services would be offered.''
Mr. Sullivan said most of ProCare's competition, ``including Goodyear, Firestone, Midas and Meineke shops, are specialized. They do undercar, brakes, shocks and exhaust work. But very few perform one-stop shopping from start to finish, as we do.''
Capitalizing on that repair niche, he said ProCare will focus on preventive motor vehicle inspections and will use a 22-point checklist—a vehicle "physical"—to identify existing and potential problems.
Another area in which ProCare intends to become an industry leader is information technology. The firm is developing a ``distance learning'' program for employees that will, for example, allow technicians to train on site via the Internet.
Expected to be operational within 12 to 18 months, the system also will be used to show customers an interactive computer module, with three-dimensional diagrams, to explain a needed part or repair.
``We will be on the leading edge in all aspects of the automotive aftermarket—in training, point-of-sale and database management,'' Mr. McCurry predicted.
There is, Mr. Sullivan admitted, both good and bad associated with the BP name: good gasoline, but a perception by some that BP is high-priced and, thus, so is ProCare.
ProCare will be competitively priced, he promised, and will aggressively pursue fleet accounts as well as look to ``partner'' with original equipment manufacturers such as Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Corp.
Mr. Sullivan said he bought ProCare because it complements his three Connecticut-based businesses: The Sullivan Group, a consulting and training firm; Distribution Concept Inc., which makes steel brake lines; and Endeavor Tool LLC, which manufactures auto repair tools.
While he said tire sales will remain a ``convenience'' for ProCare customers, Mr. Sullivan thinks that business will grow proportionally as the company expands.
He expects ProCare will spend about $1 million to build the chain's brand recognition and switch over to a red, white and blue color scheme instead of the familiar BP green and yellow.
And he did not discount the possibility ProCare might go nationwide. ``It depends on the right acquisition—a critical-mass acquisition—in the right market....It's not out of the question.''