Being part of the local community is always a consideration for a small business looking to open a new outlet, but few business owners can compare their situation with that of Doug Bolt, owner of Florida Tire Inc.
Mr. Bolt, a native of New Jersey, moved to Florida 19 years ago and built Florida Tire into a respected dealership in central Florida. He was shocked and pleased three years ago when he got a call from Uni-Corp National Development Co., inquiring whether he'd be interested in opening an outlet in Celebration.
Why is that so unusual?
Celebration is a planned community near Orlando that was the vision of Walt Disney when he was developing Walt Disney World in the late 1960s. An unincorporated community since 1994, Celebration has grown to a town of about 10,000, and until recently there wasn't a single auto service outlet in the city limits, Mr. Bolt said.
``A lot of dealers looked at Celebration and wondered what it would take to get in there,'' he said.
For Mr. Bolt it was a matter of...dumb luck.
``One day I was at a picnic and I met my daughter's boyfriend's mother, who happened to work for the town of Celebration and mentioned the town council was looking for someone to set up an auto repair shop there. I told her I'd be more than interested, and a few days later I got a call from Uni-Corp.''
After the initial obligatory series of meetings, the parties agreed to proceed.
The Celebration store took longer from conception to fruition than most projects, Mr. Bolt said, because there were many cooks in the kitchen.
``We had to deal not only with Uni-Corp and Cooper Robertson (a New York architectural firm) but also with Celebration and Osceola County officials and Goodyear as well, since the store uses a lot of Goodyear vintage signage,'' Mr. Bolt said.
Initially the outlet was to resemble a 1930s' style gas station, Mr. Bolt said, but that subsequently was switched to a style resembling a Kentucky horse stable, complete with a tin roof, cupolas, barn doors and gooseneck-style lighting.
``At first the Celebration people wanted the building to be red and white, but considering my ties with Goodyear, that simply wouldn't fly,'' he said.
Mr. Bolt worked closely with Cooper Roberston and Goodyear, his primary tire supplier, to incorporate vintage Goodyear signage into the design and capped the whole project with a signature roof-topper-a 1/14th scale replica of the Goodyear blimp built to withstand hurricane-force winds.
The result of all the work is Florida Tire's biggest outlet-8,100 square feet and 10 service bays. The cost ultimately wasn't that much more than setting up a new outlet elsewhere, Mr. Bolt said, but that's partly because he doesn't own the land. Instead he has a 35-year lease on the land.
Business thus far hasn't lived up to projections, Mr. Bolt said. Part of that can be laid to the closing of an adjacent tenant-Celebration's only grocery store-shortly after the outlet opened. That cut down considerably on the amount of drive-through traffic, he said.
The Celebration outlet obviously is a break in architectural style from Florida Tire's other eight stores, which mostly are one of two basic Goodyear store designs-a rectangular or L-shaped layout in either white stucco or brick with a blue roof. Three of Florida Tire's outlets are former Goodyear company stores.
Adding the scale replica of the Goodyear blimp put Florida Tire in constant contact with Goodyear officials in Akron and resulted in a blimp flyover in January for the store's opening, Mr. Bolt said.
Florida Tire is not stopping at Celebration. It is readying another outlet, its 10th, for opening in August in Eustis, about 45 minutes north of Orlando. This also will be a 10-bay store, Mr. Bolt said, in a rapidly growing community that was mostly rural only five years ago.
All Florida Tire stores are Goodyear Gemini service outlets.
Mr. Bolt's career in the vehicle industry dates back to 1973 when he won first place in New Jersey in the ``Plymouth Trouble Shooting Contest.'' After graduating from Bergen Tech Vocational School in Hackensack, N.J., he worked as an auto technician at his uncle's service station before moving on to a different service station where he was promoted to assistant shop manager after seven years.
In 1979, he purchased his first business, a small service station in New Jersey with two bays that soon developed a reputation for top quality auto service and repairs.
In 1987 he moved his family to Florida and, with Goodyear's help, opened the first Florida Tire outlet in Orlando.
The Celebration outlet's design also helped land Florida Tire a role in a new reality-type television series, ``NASCAR Angels,'' in which NASCAR underwrites the repair of the vehicle of a worthy individual. The series' initial scenario, to be aired this fall, took place recently at the Celebration outlet.