Jim Enger has big plans for Enger Auto Service & Tire Inc., the Goodyear independent dealership he founded in 1995.
The former Goodyear tire store auto mechanic, who worked his way into retail store management during a 14-year career with the tire maker, recently expanded to 12 outlets by buying five locations. He's set his sights on acquiring eight more by the middle of next year.
That would give the Euclid, Ohio-based dealership 20 locations primarily in northeastern Ohio.
He's not stopping there. Within five years, the 41-year-old entrepreneur aspires to have as many as 50 stores in the state operating under the Enger Tire umbrella.
Mr. Enger, who spends most of his day searching for the next acquisition, said he is eyeing locations throughout Ohio and is looking at both single outlets as well as established, multiple-location chains.
``It's a fun business,'' Mr. Enger said recently during an interview in Mentor at one of four Lou's Tire Mart outlets he purchased in a deal that closed July 1. ``We have a lot of passion. We have great employees who've been with us a long time, and we're really excited about the future.''
The dealership employs 95 and generates sales in excess of $10 million annually.
The Lou's Tire Mart deal is one of two acquisitions for Mr. Enger this year. The first took place April 11, when he purchased the former Franz Auto Service & Tire Center, a Firestone dealership in Painesville, Ohio, from owner Mike Preziouso, who since has gone into the mobile home business. Franz Firestone, established in 1928, is a single-location dealership, with nine employees and 10 service bays.
The dealership, which continues to fly the Franz Firestone banner, is heavy into auto service, Mr. Enger said, and sells Bridgestone, Firestone and Dayton tires, and now Goodyear.
This summer Mr. Enger also purchased the four-outlet Lou's Tire Mart chain-with locations in Mentor, Chesterland, Painesville and Ashtabula, Ohio-from owner Bob Wigton, who had owned the 67-year old dealership since 1969. Lou's Tire, which will continue to operate under its same name, was a direct Kelly and Michelin dealership and has since added the Goodyear line.
Lou's Tire generally did little in auto service but sold lots of tires, Mr. Enger said. He intends to increase the service end of the business at Lou's, taking cues from Enger Tire, which focuses heavily on auto service. At the same time, he intends to learn from Lou's strengths in tire sales and business relationships and apply those techniques to his other stores.
``Lou's has always been known for great value, great products and great service,'' Mr. Enger said.
With the purchase of Lou's Tire, Mr. Enger also wants to tap deeper into the tuner market by offering a full line of tires from Kumho, Nitto, Dunlop, Bridgestone, Firestone, Michelin, Kelly and Goodyear.
To help with that effort, Mr. Enger hosted a Hot Import Nights roundup at the Mentor store a week prior to the sport compact car show's stop in Cleveland. He then participated in the event, working out of the Dunlop booth at the show.
Vision Entertainment, which owns Hot Import Nights, and Goodyear's Dunlop brand sponsored the Saturday afternoon car show, which attracted more than 45 tuner cars and lots of onlookers to Mr. Enger's outlet.
The dealership advertised the event, which included free food, a DJ playing loud music, and a tent sale promoted in the newspaper, at local car shows and through Dunlop's Internet site.
While Lou's sold nearly 250 tires and several sets of wheels-including a set of 22-inchers-that wasn't necessarily the goal, Mr. Enger said.
Instead, he wanted to build a connection with those in the local tuner market.
``Today is a family day. Bring your cars and you can look at them,'' Mr. Enger said. ``By having the people already here and the hype, it translates into sales.
``But we're not out there, the sales force, selling these tuner guys. They know where to get it and where the best price is and as long as they have fun and get to know you, they're going to be your customer.''
Besides tires and wheels, Lou's Mentor store, in a high-income central location east of Cleveland, services the tuner market's needs by providing aftermarket installation and high-performance parts such as air intakes, exhaust, suspension and brake upgrades and modifications.
Dunlop began sponsoring roundups prior to Hot Import Night events for the first time this year to help generate excitement for the show and to boost tire sales at the host dealerships, a Dunlop spokesman said.
``We're taking it to a new level to provide more exposure to the brand and to the dealer and to help dealers sell more tires.
``Lots of dealers don't know how to sell to this market,'' he continued. ``We need to train dealers on how to sell to the tuner market. It's a difficult market to reach. Tuners are not victims of the traditional marketing effort. They believe in tried-and-true experts.''