Larry Sutton sold his rent-to-own furniture and appliance company, Champion Rent-to-Own, to a larger firm in 1997. After working for the new company for a year, he decided to retire.
Then, he discovered, ``I just didn't care much for retirement.''
It was this discovery that eventually led Mr. Sutton to become founder and president of a rent-to-own tire and wheel business, Rent-n-Roll Custom Wheels and Tires, in October 2000. From a single store in Tampa, Rent-n-Roll has grown to four company-owned and 19 franchised stores, according to Mr. Sutton. Twelve more are slated to open in 2005, and that number could grow easily, he added, as the franchise agreements the company has signed put Rent-n-Roll in position to grow exponentially over the next few years.
The spark for Mr. Sutton was when he heard about a man who owned a rent-to-own tire and wheel store in Texas. He traveled from Tampa to Texas to check it out for himself.
``I found it was not so much a tire business as a wheel business,'' he said. ``What was driving the tire business was that everyone was upgrading.
``Of course, when you're an entrepreneur, you never see an operation without thinking you could do it better,'' he said, laughing.
For Mr. Sutton, the first six months of Rent-n-Roll were the toughest. ``At the time, we couldn't spell `tire,''' he said. ``I worked in the store all day, then came back to the office at night.... It was just a matter of building our program.''
What really caused the company to take off, however, was when interested parties approached Mr. Sutton about opening Rent-n-Roll stores in Miami. He sold them a license to do just that-the first step toward Rent-n-Roll's decision in late 2003 to start franchising the business.
The key to Rent-n-Roll's expansion, Mr. Sutton told Tire Business, is that when it franchises, it franchises big. ``We do market development agreements with major developers,'' he said. ``There's no franchisee that contracts for only one store.''
The minimum deal for a Rent-n-Roll franchise is four stores, with the largest franchise so far calling for the opening of 30 stores in Texas over the next five years. John Spangle, owner of the Texas franchise, has just opened his first store, in Houston, Mr. Sutton said.
There are now four Rent-n-Roll franchised stores in Miami, two in Atlanta, one in South Carolina and one in Mississippi, with stores slated for Mobile, Ala., New Orleans and Baton Rouge, La., Mr. Sutton said. Other recent franchise agreements signed cover: southern Ohio/southeastern Indiana/northern Kentucky; South Carolina and parts of Tennessee; Cleveland and Youngstown, Ohio; and North Carolina. The firm also is negotiating a franchise covering all of Canada, he said.
``Our success has surprised even us,'' he said. ``We had to bring in more people to serve all our franchisees. But we're getting better every year.''
Rent-n-Roll has two company-owned stores in Tampa, and two more in the nearby towns of Pinellas Park and Bradenton, Fla. The company plans to expand the number of company-owned stores to 12, most of them in the Tampa Bay area, Mr. Sutton said.
The company has retail as well as rent-to-own operations, he added, and sells just about every major brand of wheel and tire available in this country. It advertises frequently on TV and radio but, oddly enough, has never had to market its franchises. It has exhibited in the rental industry's major trade show the past couple of years, and most of its franchisees have signed on there.
``I enjoy a very good reputation in the traditional, furniture and appliance rent-to-own industry, and most of our franchisees come from that industry,'' he said.
Rent-n-Roll locations offer up to 25 wheel and six tire brands, according to the firm's Web site.