Whenever Todd Oretsky chats with his former attorney colleagues, their reaction to his new employment is usually one of disbelief.
``Everyone who I speak with (says), `Now you're selling tires?''' Mr. Oretsky told Tire Business. ``They don't realize the type of business the tire business is and that it is a real business, it's a competitive business and it's a profitable business if you run it right.''
Their disbelief isn't entirely unfounded. Mr. Oretsky-whose grandfather founded a Goodyear dealership in upstate New York in 1937 that his father moved to Florida in 1985-forged his own path with an accounting degree from the University of Florida. His internship was at the then-prestigious Arthur Andersen accounting firm, which has since been brought down by the Enron scandal.
In 1996 he started at New York University's law school and graduated in 1999. On his first job out, he was making more than $170,000 at New York corporate law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom L.L.P.-where he said an average partner pulled in $1.6 million. In October 2002 he moved back to Florida for a job with another corporate firm, White & Case L.L.P.'s office in Miami, to test the waters for his next career move. Mr. Oretsky declined to give his last salary there.
Though he had remained connected to the family business as a consultant on legal or strategic plans, Mr. Oretsky dropped his six-figure career in December to be a vice president of seven-outlet Gold Coast Tire & Auto Centers, a Goodyear Gemini dealer.
Don't call him crazy just yet.
Mr. Oretsky's older brother, Josh, had worked in the family business for about 10 years since graduating college. And their father, Lloyd Oretsky, had been looking to step back from the day-to-day affairs. The brothers now are easing through this transition. Both are vice presidents and owners of the dealership, though their different personalities lend to different tasks: The more aggressive Todd deals with the sticky stuff while the more laid back Josh handles the daily affairs, Todd Oretsky said. ``It works really well.''
Plus, Todd Oretsky, 30, had his eye on his future, which was foreshadowed in his last deal at White & Case that involved several 3 a.m. conference calls with Brazilian businessmen.
``When you're thinking about your life and (you're) ready to settle down and have a family, the life of a corporate lawyer at the level I was at isn't very fun, regardless of the kind of money that you make as a partner,'' he said. ``...There's a good life in the tire business, it's a good career for a lot of people.''
That's exactly the message he's trying to get across to many of his employees. Gold Coast encourages its technicians to invest in tools and better themselves while forming a career at the company. ``I think it's important to think of it as a career, not another job,'' Mr. Oretsky said.
To stem turnover and the costs associated with it, Gold Coast pays to train its technicians and is working on in-house promotions if employees show interest in management. The dealership-which is over-hiring now to shore up staff for growth-currently is building its eighth location. ``We hope to open many more in the next few years,'' Mr. Oretsky said.
Gold Coast also doesn't have a pay scale set in stone; instead, the Oretsky brothers discuss each person individually to determine their value to the company.
Training is a central component. Employees go through Goodyear Gemini training programs as well as various in-house sessions, Mr. Oretsky said. Most of the technicians are ASE-certified. Gold Coast reimburses employees for this certification if the employee then stays on for at least a year. The practice is similar, Mr. Oretsky said, to law firms that will pay for a new lawyer's bar exam as a ``loan'' that will be forgiven after the attorney works for a certain amount of time.
``We don't want to be taken advantage of,'' he said. ``We want everyone to be here for a long time. We treat them right, and we expect them to treat us right.''
As most independent tire dealers can attest, competition-especially in the Florida market-can be difficult. But Mr. Oretsky believes the future of the tire dealer network is in the regional businesses. These concerns are large enough to have the buying power to compete with the huge chains-the ``category killers,'' as he calls them-but small enough to truly focus on customer service and have the feel of a small, family-run business.
``I don't want to be national,'' he said of plans for Gold Coast's future. ``In my market in South Florida I want to be the most well respected name.''
Mr. Oretsky believes regional tire businesses can prosper while the national names will eventually wither under their own pricing pressure. He said customers, who may not realize the impact of tires on their vehicles, will be tempted by the low prices then be upset when the cheap tires degrade the benefits of their $50,000 vehicle.
``You never want to compete strictly on price because that's how people go out of business,'' he told Tire Business.
Businesses like Gold Coast, he said, can compete on exceptional service and in turn charge a premium yet still be reasonable, thanks to their buying power. ``We don't have to be the cheapest around, but I do want...everyone to be on the up and up,'' he said. ``Everything has to be honest.... There's a much bigger picture than that one sale.''
When asked how large national companies would continue to prosper if they have a faulty model, Mr. Oretsky said he believes the consequences will play out over time. He said many industries have the same characteristics.
``As long as they're growing the numbers-especially when you're a public company-(they're) looking good because (their) revenues are drastically increasing through growth,'' he explained. ``But when the same-store sales start declining, that's when you run into a problem. And eventually the debt load that you have to incur to grow ends up coming back to haunt you.''
To keep Gold Coast from falling into that fate, Mr. Oretsky said the company plans to take out little if any debt and grow at a slow, deliberate pace.
``It really comes down to the people,'' he said, citing key staffers who have been with the business for several years and will train newcomers as the company grows.