Sometimes fate plays a big role in a person's future.
Nearly three years ago, Reuben Ortiz was pinned between a forklift and a loading dock at the Winston Tire store he managed in Fresno, injuring him severely enough to be put on disability indefinitely, seemingly ending his 14-year career with Winston.
By the time Mr. Ortiz was healed well enough to consider going back to work, the Winston retail chain had gone belly up, eliminating his long-time employer as an option.
Rather than starting over with another dealership, the 51-year-old decided to look at starting his own business.
After considering the Big O Tires Inc. franchise route with a partner, Mr. Ortiz instead struck out on his own, founding GOT Tires and Auto Repair in Fresno in a former Goodyear company store that had been a Goodguys Tires & Auto Repair outlet for the past 13 years.
GOT Tires opened for business Jan. 15, about seven weeks later than Mr. Ortiz originally had hoped as he struggled with interior remodeling and getting all his equipment delivered and installed. That was nearly five months after signing a lease on the property in northern Fresno.
For Mr. Ortiz and his wife Alice, the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) trade show in Las Vegas last November was the quintessential working vacation-attending seven business seminars in three days and scouring the show floor for deals on tire changers, alignment equipment, showroom accouterments, etc.
Taking a suggestion from the tire dealers' business panel at the SEMA Show, Mr. Ortiz invited members of the Clovis, Calif., Chamber of Commerce to the dealership's grand opening, and he plans to invite the Fresno chamber to visit in the near future.
``It's great exposure for us to be involved with the local chambers of commerce,'' Mr. Ortiz told Tire Business. ``It's done wonders for us in terms of getting our name out.''
One specific deal that came out of that gathering is GOT Tires' television advertising, running on the local Fox and WB network affiliates, KPMH and KFRE. In return for air time, Mr. Ortiz is providing maintenance for the TV stations' vehicles.
Mr. Ortiz is promoting GOT Tires in the TV and radio ads as a dealership with ``Honesty, Integrity & 1st Class Service.'' The dealership's name derives from a simple question: ``Need tires? Got tires.''
GOT Tires is carrying a number of national brands, including Goodyear and Michelin, but is featuring Kumho. ``I struck a deal with Kumho because of the quality and value,'' he said. His ads point to Kumho as a brand offering ``lower cost without sacrificing safety.''
Mr. Ortiz also is carrying the Winston brand, but not without having to jump through hoops to get it. Initially, negotiations with American Tire Distributors (ATD) Inc. got bogged down over price and territory. But Mr. Ortiz said his local ATD warehouse contacts went to bat for him and worked out a deal that made it possible for him to carry the wholesaler's exclusive brand.
``I know the value of the brand,'' he said, ``and I think I can do well with it in Fresno.''
GOT Tires also is offering nitrogen inflation with all its tire sales, and Mr. Ortiz is offering a 30-day ride guarantee on tires he sells.
He opened for business with three full-time employees, all of whom he knew from his days at Winston-Sergio Alanis, general manager; Romero Muldonaldo, service manager; and Marcus Alanis, tire technician.
For now, each is handling his own responsibilities, but Mr. Ortiz said he has tasked them to hire more employees as the business grows.
``I want them to be involved in building the business,'' he said. ``We still have to work out some sort of incentive program for that, though.''
Mr. Ortiz estimates he has more than $200,000 invested in the leased six-bay, 4,995-sq.-ft. store, plus thousands more on his credit cards. Opening later than he expected left him cash poor, he said, forcing him to tap into some of his 401(k) savings.
To avoid getting even more cash-strapped, Mr. Ortiz decided to lease some of the shop's equipment, at least until he gets more established and sees more cash flow.
GOT Tires is offering a complete portfolio of automotive services along with the tire and wheel business, and Mr. Ortiz has committed to hiring only ASE-certified technicians.
The dealership has plenty of competition in Fresno, including Goodguys Tire with seven stores, counting a new outlet in Clovis just a mile away from the building Mr. Ortiz took over. The Yellow Pages lists 93 tire stores in Fresno proper and 200 within a 35-mile radius from central Fresno.
``Scott Shubin (vice president of Goodguys Tire) has been very good to me, helping me get started,'' said Mr. Ortiz, who can envision having three or four stores in a few years-``one for each of my kids.''
Reuben and Alice Ortiz found last year's Specialty Equipment Market Association trade show extremely helpful for finding equipment for their new tire store as well as practical information on how to successfully run a business.