PHOENIX-Over the past year, Fletcher's Tire & Auto Service Inc. has gone from 36 locations to 24, and counting. Counting back up, that is.
Saying the dealership wanted to move interests out of the city and take advantage of the suburban sprawl of metropolitan Phoenix, Kirk Stewart, Fletcher's vice president of retail operations, said the company is doing a bit of rearranging. But he added nothing should be read into the subtraction of one-third of its stories and that nothing is financially wrong with the two-dozen store chain.
``Absolutely not,'' he said. ``Financially we're doing quite well. We're just spinning out older stores and looking for newer opportunities.''
The company is looking for opportunities outside of Phoenix proper-the country's second-fastest growing region behind Las Vegas County in Nevada. Mr. Stewart said Fletcher's is due to open a store in the Phoenix area after the first of the year, another in the Chandler, Ariz., area in April, and plans to have up to 35 stores.
``Our goal is to close stores that are in areas of town that are starting to dwindle and open stores in the new growth markets,'' he said.
As for how a dealership with 36 stores as of a year ago was pared down so quickly, he declined to be specific, but said Fletcher's actually closed 14 stores over the period while opening new ones at the same time.
Last February, Advanced Auto Service and Tire Inc. in Mesa, Ariz., bought the assets and equipment of two Fletcher's stores and leased the facilities, and bought a third location outright.
``We had a chance to pick up a lot more than three,'' said Advanced Auto & Tire President and CEO Paul Couture, whose company now has 14 outlets. But some Fletcher's sites were fairly close to existing Advanced Auto stores or had ``prohibitively high'' rents, he said.
Among the other stores subtracted from Fletcher's stable, two were closed, Mr. Stewart said, because Fletcher's did not want to renew leases, and the outlets weren't in a ``good area'' of Phoenix.
Those were precisely the types of locations Advanced Auto was targeting. ``We had accomplished most of our growth in the outlying areas (of the Phoenix metro region),'' Mr. Couture said. ``We needed some inner-city sites to round up our expansion.''
Mr. Stewart said there were no job losses during the ongoing transactions at Fletcher's. All affected employees were either offered other opportunities within the company or were hired by the companies that purchased former Fletcher's locations.