``Leaving Las Vegas,'' the movie, won an Oscar for Nicolas Cage. Leaving Las Vegas for real gave Mountain View Tire & Service Inc. the wherewithal to open five new stores in its home markets in California, with golden opportunities for future growth.
Mountain View opted out a year early from its five-year contract with Goodyear and TBC Corp. as owner-manager of the Superior Tire stores in the Las Vegas area, according to Chris Mitsos, Mountain View vice president. Tire Kingdom took over the management of the 16 remaining Superior Tire stores (Mountain View had closed one outlet) in mid-January, though Mountain View continued to handle the accounts receivable and payable until April.
Having to oversee Superior Tire was proving to be a drag on Mountain View, Mr. Mitsos said. ``Mountain View is very, very successful, but it was stagnating. We were up against some things at Superior Tire that we couldn't deal with without moving to Las Vegas full time, and we didn't want to do that.
``It was time to refocus on Mountain View.''
The big problem at Superior Tire, he said, was labor. ``There are 6,000 workers a month moving into Las Vegas, but what they don't tell you is that there are also 4,000 workers moving out every month. The casinos pay $11 an hour to empty ashtrays. We had to compete with that when we placed ads for non-skilled jobs at Superior Tire.''
Easy access to alcohol and drugs also played havoc with the available work force in Las Vegas, he said.
``It would be wrong to say that most of our Las Vegas employees had a problem, but there was a persistent 10 percent who were alcoholics and drug abusers,'' he said. ``We had nine or 10 solidly managed, solidly performing stores, but the other six hit bottom because we just didn't have enough qualified help.''
The Mitsos family-Chris, brothers Mike and Paul, and father Nick, who founded Mountain View in 1987 and continues as its president-now devotes full time to the operation of the original dealership. The five new stores are all in Southern California-La Quinta, Norco, Fontana, Camarillo, and Rancho Cucamonga, near the company's flagship operation. Their opening will bring the total of Mountain View outlets to 31, according to Chris Mitsos.
``We have the infrastructure set up for 41 stores,'' he said, though he added there are no immediate plans to establish any other outlets after the five new stores are opened.
``The five new stores are being built from the ground up, so they'll all take a long time from beginning to end. If opportunities come up to acquire existing stores, we'll be open to that.''
Because of the sale of Superior Tire, Mountain View's actual dollar sales fell about one-third in 2002, to $33.3 million from $51.5 million. Projected 2003 sales are $34.3 million.
Mountain View-so named for the magnificent view of the San Gabriel Mountains from the dealership's first store in Rancho Cucamonga-is a 100-percent retail operation, earning 45 percent of its sales from tires and wheels. Auto service accounts for the rest, and recently the dealership added transmission flushes and a ``Good, Better, Best'' oil change menu as further revenue enhancements.
The company offers most major auto services at its stores, including alignments, brakes, air conditioning, shocks and struts, tune-ups, transmission work and lube and oil.
Mountain View is a member of the Goodyear G110 national buying group and Gemini Automotive Care program and has been a Goodyear dealer since its inception. In the past year, however, it added Goodyear's Republic associate brand tires to its continuing stock of Goodyear and Dunlop tires.
The company did that for the bigger profit margins, according to Chris Mitsos. ``We can buy a Republic tire for $25 and sell it for $35, as opposed to buying a Goodyear or Dunlop tire for $25 and selling it for $29.'' Mountain View's tire sales are 65 percent Goodyear, 20 percent Republic and 15 percent Dunlop, he said.