When Dan Hennelly, former president of Morgan Tire & Auto Inc., decided to get into the retail scene on his own earlier this year, he jumped in with both feet, opening five stores in one go and declaring his intention to open 30 more within five years.
Mr. Hennelly, 40, founded Hennelly Tire & Auto, which does business as Tire Choice & Total Car Care. He opened his first stores in the South Florida area in May. A sixth store is under construction that should open by Sept. 1.
Of the first five stores, one is new construction. He acquired the leases of the other four single-outlet locations. Plans call for six to seven more stores in the quarters ahead, Mr. Hennelly said.
While the numbers seem high for a new dealership, he said managing five stores is markedly different from overseeing 600 with Morgan Tire.
``I had great experience there, working at the Morgan Tire organization,'' he said. ``...That gave me an awful lot of exposure to acquisition (and) new store selection, which I was able to do for Larry (Morgan) and Morgan Tire.''
Mr. Hennelly worked at Morgan Tire from 1993 to 2003, leaving two years after Bridgestone/Firestone (BFS) disclosed its majority share ownership of Morgan Tire and intention to eventually acquire full ownership of the dealership .
After Mr. Hennelly left the company, he started a Tires Plus franchise of his own, buying a former Morgan Tire outlet and later acquiring three more stores. He said this business gave him a chance to test the waters for running his own business.
In April he sold those stores back to BFS and started his own company a month later with his wife Diane, the company's CFO. ``I really was looking for the complete freedom to expand where we wanted to go,'' he said.
Immediately he signed direct agreements to carry Michelin and Pirelli brands, which he said are sought by customers in his market. Mr. Hennelly also recently signed on with American Car Care Centers Inc. (ACCC) for that dealer marketing group's brands and national warranty.
``The (ACCC) nationwide warranty is extremely important,'' he said. ``You can...assure (customers) if they're across the state or across the country they're protected.''
Tire Choice carries primarily Michelin, Pirelli, BFGoodrich and Uniroyal brands plus ACCC products including the group's American Radial private label.
Calling his growth plans ``fairly conservative,'' Mr. Hennelly said a major key to success will be having the right people in place. ``Retail is-no matter what you sell-all driven on having a positive buying experience from the customers and that all revolves around having good, quality people in your stores,'' he said.
He said he will fall back on his own skills of hiring and retaining good people plus his reputation for supporting his dealership's growth while everyone else seems to be seeking those same qualified candidates.
``Our industry is so small, and your reputation is probably the most important thing you have,'' he added.
Another major goal for the fledgling dealership is to forge a brand image in the competitive Florida market. Mr. Hennelly said he plans direct mail campaigns focused on retaining customers plus other grassroots methods to attract new shoppers, such as passing out flyers and meeting with local contractors.
``Creating a new brand is not easy,'' he said. ``It's difficult, it's expensive, it's something (where) you have to be different than everybody else.''
One major part of that is a simple thank-you. Mr. Hennelly said his employees will call customers from each day to thank them for their patronage. He said it takes only a few seconds and the calls usually go to answering machines anyway, but they can make a big difference.
``As trivial as that may sound, in today's environment the big companies have forgotten about that personal touch,'' he said. ``Those are the things that will set us apart.''
But he acknowledged the challenge is to keep it all going as the company grows. ``It's so easy, when you start getting real busy, you lose focus of the things that have made you successful,'' he said. ``The successful companies stay focused on the things that made them a success in the early days.''
Besides tires, Tire Choice offers automotive services such as brakes, steering/suspension, heating/cooling, electrical and engine/transmission, according to the dealership's Web site.