When Mike Harris, co-owner of the former Evans Tire & Auto Service in Richmond, Ky., was asked why his dealership made the switch to a Big O Tires Inc. franchise early this year, his response was quick and easy.
``Warranty,'' he said, matter-of-factly, noting that having the backing of the tire retailing giant has made a difference thus far, though the changeover was a bit hectic.
``When you have to move out of your office and into the bays to get it going, it's pretty stressful,'' said Mr. Harris, adding that since the change his store is ``doing good.''
Although the switch to Big O took place at the first of the year, the store just recently had its grand-opening and ribbon-cutting festivities. The event featured a cookout, prize give-aways and guest appearances by civic leaders.
Mr. Harris said his store, a 3,500-sq.-ft., five-bay outlet, carries Michelin, BFGoodrich, Uniroyal and Dunlop tires, along with the Big O brand, which he hopes to eventually sell exclusively. The shop, which employs six, also sells custom wheels.
With his two Ross Tire & Service stores heading in opposite directions financially, owner David Ross needed a helping hand. When John Gamauf, Bridgestone/Firestone vice president of consumer tire sales, extended one, Mr. Ross gladly-and quickly-accepted.
At a recent meeting between BFS and regional dealers, Mr. Gamauf said: ```If anyone would like some help, we'd be glad to help,''' Mr. Ross recalled. ``I certainly don't know it all. I said, `Shoot, yeah, I'd be glad to get some help.'''
He got it in the form of a Firestone promotion in which legendary race car driver Mario Andretti visited participating Firestone dealers across the country. The recently dubbed ``Racecar Driver of the Century'' signed autographs, drawing crowds wherever he went.
And at Mr. Ross' New Iberia, La., store a crowd was sorely needed.
``The store in Lafayette (La.) was doing very well,'' Mr. Ross said of the larger of his two locations.
``We took a store over in New Iberia and it was kind of struggling and still is.''
That location was reeling despite an interior and exterior makeover, new signage, local TV advertisements and a host of other improvements.
Mr. Ross seemed to think the outlet's reputation (or lack thereof) from its prior ownership may have something to do with the lack of business. ``They had a bad experience,'' he said.
Sticking to a ``good old-fashioned service'' motto, he believed if he could get people in the store, they'd come back. He just needed the bait-which Mr. Andretti provided in dramatic fashion.
Mr. Ross estimated some 300 to 350 people-as many as normally come in during a several-month span-visited his New Iberia store during the racer's hour-plus visit. An appearance by Mr. Andretti at the Lafayette store drew a similar-sized crowd.
``For a town of 30,000, that's a lot,'' Mr. Ross said. ``We couldn't have handled a whole lot more than that. What they saw were clean, new, well-organized stores. Many said, `The next time I need tires, I'm going to come see you.' How much of that is hype, we'll see,'' Mr. Ross said.
In the three days following the event, Mr. Ross reported the stores were ``doing a lot better business than we did before. The day of an event like that we usually don't do zip, but we did twice what we usually do.''
Ross Tire's six-bay, 8,000-sq.-ft. New Iberia store employs five and features quick-lube and alignment bays. The nine-bay, 7,000-sq.-ft. Lafayette outlet has 12 employees.
The dealership sells Firestone, Bridgestone, Michelin, BF-Goodrich, Uniroyal and Seiberling brand tires.