LOS ANGELES (Aug. 18, 2003) — Selling big wheels to big wheels means big business.
Globe Tire & Motorsports, capitalizing on Los Angeles´ car-crazed culture and driver-friendly climate, generates up to a reported $1 million in sales a month in wheels, tires and accessories. But when we caught up with Arnie Sperling, Globe Tire´s owner, and asked him to confirm that eye-popping figure, he was coy. ``Can I just say, `No comment´?´´ Mr. Sperling asked jocularly after a thoughtful pause.
One thing we do know: Globe Tire´s growth was no fast and furious success. Mr. Sperling´s father, Al, opened the business in 1943 at the same West Los Angeles location it´s at today. As the City of Angels grew, so did Globe Tire, as it was known for years.
General manager Mike McFarlane said a key to Globe´s being at the top of its game is its clientele-which is uniquely ``L.A.´´ Customers include NBA superstars, major league baseball players, entertainment and industry heavyweights and doctors. ``NBA players all come to L.A. because they play the Lakers and the Clippers,´´ he said. ``A lot of the players train around here. We´ve also got UCLA and the summer league. The players are in and out of L.A. several times a year. ``
The maxim, ``You are what you drive,´´ is taken to new heights-or lows, if that´s what the automotive fashion police deem is cool this month-in this sun-kissed city of high-octane egos. From the days when chroming Mercedes-Benz wheels and 50-series Pirelli P7s were cutting edge, Globe has continued to carve out a strategic role in high-dollar customizing, sometimes called ``conversions.´´
Mr. McFarlane is only too happy to deliver a real-world-based lesson on what to do with vast amounts of discretionary income.
``A ball player will get a new Cadillac Escalade. He might buy it from a guy who caters to athletes and entertainers. Some of these guys happen to be a car broker, or maybe they run a stereo shop. Or the player will have an assistant do all the arranging,´´ Mr. McFarlane explained.
``They´ll take that Escalade, and because the factory only offers it in about five colors, the first thing they´ll do is paint it a different color-maybe a `horizon blue,´ a Mercedes color, or a dark, dark metallic color,´´ he said, keying in the price of a paint job. ``They´ll put two-tone leather inserts in the seat; maybe put a wood kit in the car-maybe a colored wood, like blue. They´ll either change or augment the carpeting. A suede headliner may go in.
``Then there´s the stereo system, which will have any number of speakers and audio/video components. Sometimes they put a supercharger on the motor. And they´ll do big brakes, like Brembos. They may lower the suspension slightly, tint the windows and chrome some pieces on the outside, like tow hooks. And of course they´ll do big wheels and tires.´´
By the time the whir of Mr. McFarlane´s adding machine stops, the tab for the Escalade´s extra goodies has escalated to $47,750 (without the supercharger)-on a $60,000 SUV.
Still, $100,000 for a flashy one-of-a-kind Escalade probably isn´t going to burden a professional hoops player when the average salary of an NBA player is just under $5 million.
Mr. McFarlane, who got into the tire business as a teenager in Tujunga, Calif., by pedaling his 10-speed to a tire store down the street and asking for a job, is quick to point out that Globe handles only some of the conversion work. In addition to wheels and accessories, which account for 55 percent of its sales, the nine-bay operation does suspension and brake installations, installs body kits and supercharging.
A team of eight salespeople, including Mr. McFarlane and Mr. Sperling, is backed by 30 employees who all believe in service.
``We try to treat people like you´d like to be treated,´´ Mr. McFarlane said. ``A lot of people like to say that, but sometimes it costs money to treat people that way. Within reason, if there´s any question about the work we did, we normally give our customers the benefit of a doubt.
``We have an advantage in that L.A. is a great car town. We don´t have any off-season. People are very automotive-oriented here,´´ he said. ``In New York and some of the other big cities, you can have a gazillion bucks and not care about cars. But you need a car to get around out here. It´s part of the culture. Here, the guy who´s successful normally has a pretty nice car. If a young guy here in L.A. has a Rolex and a Brioni suit, he´s probably driving an S Class.´´
But the stereotype isn´t a slam-dunk. ``There´s a handful of guys, like Earvin `Magic´ Johnson, who are not into cars,´´ Mr. McFarlane said. ``He bought a Mercedes S500 back when it first came out, and he had that thing for 10 years. He put AMGs and 18s on it and that´s it. But those guys are an exception. A lot of the ball players-Shaq, Kobe-have any number of really fancy cars. They´re really tricked up.´´
To be a successful dealership means everything from having high-end equipment, like Globe´s new $10,000 Hunter balancer, to high-quality products that are priced right, Mr. McFarlane said. Giovanna, Brabus, Lorinser and Collectizone are just a few of the wheel lines the company carries.
Ensuring the correct tires are on hand ``is a big commitment´´ since the most popular wheels can be sized from 17 to 24 inches. The 9,000-sq.-ft. store has 5,000 tires on hand and 4,000 more are warehoused.
``The 20-, 21-, 22-, 23- and 24-inch tires are so expensive. You have to make a commitment to bring in stock,´´ Mr. McFarlane said. ``You have to have some indication you´ll sell the damn things because they´re expensive. Smaller places just cannot afford to keep them in stock. You´re not going to buy large quantities of all those sizes to cover all those bases. That´s an advantage for us. We are a Michelin dealer, and we are part of a large group that makes us a Continental/Pirelli/Yokohama dealer. And we find that the Dunlop SP9000 line fits a ton of different stuff.´´
Mr. McFarlane advises tire dealers to be vigilant. ``The tire business is funny. You have to keep your head in the game, pay attention, be careful and not to pay too much for things.´´