Jeff Darrow's planning quite a grand event for his Certified Tire & Service Centers Inc.
Three years ago the Southern California dealership had five locations before growing to its current 12. But as of Nov. 1, it will jump to 19 when, in one fell swoop, he'll host a seven-store grand opening.
Long term, Mr. Darrow wants to have upwards of 50 stores. And why not? People in his neighborhood seem to prefer to drive their cars everywhere.
``They don't go to 7-Eleven here without taking their car,'' said Mr. Darrow, who estimates his 19 stores are within reasonable distance of 10 million to 12 million people. ``I'm in a lot of counties. I cover every county in Southern California.''
Of the seven new stores, one is being built from the ground up in Riverside, Calif. The other six were part of an acquisition from another Southern California dealership. Mr. Darrow said he could not divulge which dealership's stores he bought until the deal is consummated. He added that he did not buy all of that company's locations, but only stores that geographically fit his plans.
Mr. Darrow said the transaction took nearly six months to complete. Agreeing on a price-which also was not disclosed-was easy. But things like dealing with re-worked leases made the deal go a lot slower.
The newly acquired stores, Mr. Darrow said, have anywhere from six to 10 bays. Two are in areas in which Certified Tire already had locations; four others are in the San Diego area, where the company has been looking to grow.
The purchased stores have an available employee pool of 35 to 38, a number Mr. Darrow said will increase to 54. His company will have 187 employees in all once the stores are up and running. He said as many employees would be retained as possible from the purchased locations and that Certified managers would run the stores.
The purchased stores do most of their business in automotive service, Mr. Darrow said.
Certified is hardly done expanding. Another store is being built in Victorville, in the high desert region of California. That 10-bay shop, which will be the company's largest, will open next May. Mr. Darrow said other properties are being pursued and that he is close to purchasing land for three locations, which he plans to open six to nine months after the land is acquired. Nine additional projects are at the beginning stages, he said.
His goal always has been to have 25 stores by the end of 2004. ``I'm gonna hit it now,'' he said, adding that ``four or five irons are in the fire'' in terms of buying other companies out. However, he's found that it's tough to buy dealerships since fewer and fewer mom-and-pop-type stores are available.
That's why his six-store deal was such a surprise.
``I honestly believed I'd have to continue buying one or two at a time,'' he said. ``I've been in business for 41/2 years. With these 19 stores in 54 months, that's one store every 90 days. I have set no maximum.
``Do I see myself (at 50 or more stores eventually)? Yeah. To get there means I'm going to have to buy some bigger guys out.''