WALES, Maine (Aug. 20, 2002) - For more than 30 years, Thomas J. Auger worked side by side with his father at VIP Discount Auto Center in Lewiston, Maine, assuming that eventually he would take over the business.
But that changed when the Augers received an offer they couldn't refuse from John Quirk, owner of Quirk Tire & Service Corp., and sold their 49-store dealership to him. Mr. Auger then expected to stay on with VIP as vice president of merchandising, but left in January. He realized that letting go of something he had known all his life wasn't as easy as he first thought.
“I think that when you work for yourself all your life, it's hard to work for someone else,” Mr. Auger told Tire Business. “It was a major change. We went from having no meetings to having meetings almost every day. It was just a totally different structure from what we were used to. We were gunslingers; we shot from the hip and did what we wanted to do all the time.”
VIP was founded by Mr. Auger's father Thomas O. Auger, who now is retired. Mr. Quirk purchased majority interest in VIP in September 2001. The dealership operates stores in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. At the time of the acquisition, VIP had revenues of approximately $94 million.
Today, the younger Mr. Auger still sits on VIP's board of directors and executive board committee and said he gets along well with Mr. Quirk. But he concentrates most of his time on some apple orchards and commercial properties that he owns and currently is in the process of buying a Christmas tree farm.
He's “having fun” with his new business ventures—Apple Mountain L.L.C., which he fully owns, and Blackstone Properties, of which he is half-owner. He said he knew VIP had outgrown the Augers' management style and needed a fresh direction, but he still misses the tire business, particularly the days in which VIP was a one-shop company.
“I often dream of having one store again,” he said. “I think back through my life and I think I was happiest when I had one or two stores and waited on the customers myself and had control of everything.”
If the opportunity ever opened up, he said he would consider getting back into the automotive industry, either by starting his own business or working as a manager for someone else at the end of a five-year non-compete agreement he signed with Mr. Quirk.
“I did it all my life. I did it since I was 10 years old,” Mr. Auger said. “My father did it even longer than that. He was in the business for 43 years, I believe. I was in it 30-something (years). That's all I ever did.”
Worries about the “devastating” amount of estate taxes the family would have to pay upon the elder Mr. Auger's death, the litigious nature of today's society and the clash of personalities between father and son were some of the reasons cited by Mr. Auger, 46, for why the Augers sold. He acknowledged that even up to the sale of VIP, his dad, now in his 70s, retained control of the business and its operations.
“My father never would have retired,” he said. “I'm sure of that even if he was still in the business, he would definitely stay there. It was his baby. He enjoyed people and was a people person.
“When we sold the company, he gave a couple million bucks worth of cash to (some employees). A lot of people got $20,000 tax-free gifts. It was dozens, maybe even 100 people who got money because they had been there for so many years.”
Speaking to young tire dealers now rising up the ranks in their fathers' dealerships, Mr. Auger said he doesn't think his father was ever ready to walk away from the business he loved. So his son had to learn not to let his ego get in the way of running the business and to respect his father's opinions.
“At the end of the day, your family's going to be there for you,” he said. “For a son who's anxious to spread his wings, he's gotta be patient.”