Great American Tire & Automotive Service Center may be a little behind on its plan to establish a chain of stores coast to coast, but with recent openings in the Atlanta, Phoenix, Seattle and Washington, D.C., metropolitan areas, the Denver-based company is moving steadily towards its goal.
Great American Tire, a full-service concept backed by the purveyors of Shell gas stations, originally wanted to have 35 stores operating by mid-2001 as the foundation for a nationwide chain of 300 to 350 stores.
For now, Great American is busy expanding upon its seven-store base of operations in the Denver area while identifying and procuring key real estate sites in the first-phase targeted cities of Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Phoenix, Seattle and Washington.
The most recent opening, in early March, was in Roswell, Ga., a town of 75,000 about 20 miles north of Atlanta. It will be the first of five stores in the Atlanta metro area, according to Chief Operating Officer Chuck Pecoraro, with one to two additional openings expected by the first quarter of 2003.
Great American targets new suburban neighborhoods and communities growing up around major metropolitan areas.
The new stores are either 10- or 14-bay designs-taking up 7,500 to 8,500 square feet-with up to three bays dedicated to the Shell Rapid Lube oil-lube business. The quick-lube service promises a 15-minute oil change, and offers other routine maintenance services as well, including transmission fluid and coolant flushing, serpentine belt and headlight replacement, etc., according to company data.
Inside, the stores offer customers an uncluttered look, hands-on computer terminal information stands, and open, side-by-side sales kiosks. The interior concept was drafted by Retail Group, a Seattle-based design studio credited with designing stores for Starbucks Corp., Blockbuster Inc. and RadioShack Corp.
The Great American chain's approach and store design appear to hit a chord with female buyers-nearly two-thirds of the firm's customers are women, Mr. Pecoraro said. Additionally, company stores regularly schedule car clinics for women and look for cooperative marketing opportunities with other businesses that cater to female buyers.
Earlier this year Great American opened stores in Sterling, Va., Auburn, Wash., and Phoenix, Mr. Pecoraro said, with additional stores under construction in Phoenix and Dallas. The company expects to break ground in August on a site in the Chicago area that should open during the first quarter of 2003, he added.
One reason for the slower-than-expected growth of stores is the real estate selection and development process, Mr. Pecoraro said, noting that the permit application processes in some communities takes longer than anticipated.
In addition, the existing stores will be undergoing a re-badging following a change at the project's backers, Equilon Enterprises L.L.C. and Motiva Enterprises L.L.C. As of March 1, these entities-which controlled the marketing of Texaco and Shell gasoline, respectively, throughout the country-began operating under the auspices of Shell Oil Products U.S.
The change means all the Great American stores will be coupled with Shell gasoline stations. Previously most of the stores were to be co-sited with Texaco stations.
Great American is a Michelin Americas Small Tires Alliance dealer-its stores feature the Michelin, BFGoodrich, Uniroyal and Cavalier brands-and carries a range of more than 150 custom wheel styles from 10 different manufacturers.
Separately, Great American named Janet Beaudry vice president of marketing and sales, responsible for sales, merchandising, branding, community outreach, advertising and public relations and development. Prior to joining Great American, Ms. Beaudry was active in the shopping center industry.
Mr. Pecoraro credited Ms. Beaudry with bringing a ``fresh perspective for branding Great American and raising the bar in the tire, fast lube and auto service industry.''