Tire dealer Terry Franklin hesitated, almost abashedly, before answering the query: How's business been?
I know a lot of people don't want to hear this, but we've had a few really good years, said the owner of Franklin & Son Inc. in Stanton.
He said, half-jokingly, that he's had a hard time joining in on conversations at tire dealer gatherings where many business owners grumble about the impact of the recession while his nearly 50-year-old dealership has generated record-setting sales in the last three years.
Part of the success is due to his local market, where Franklin & Son operates three locations within 40 miles of each other, selling farm, commercial and consumer tires.
We're in the middle of an oil patch. We have a lot of oil fields, farm and ranch, and city business. The economy here has stayed up really good, Mr. Franklin said.
The sales growth also could be attributed to a major renovation at the dealership's Big Spring store about three years ago.
The circa 1953 building with an outside restroom was in dire need of a facelift. So the dealership installed an indoor restroom for customers; refreshed the showroom with new flooring, ceilings and walls; and redesigned the waiting area with new furniture, a flat-screen TV, better lighting and updated displays.
There's been a real positive response, said Bonnie Franklin, who manages the store and co-owns the dealership with her husband. Business has been up ever since. The company now is planning to paint the exterior.
Even though the dealership has owned the store since 1997, the Franklins were prompted to undertake the renovations after Bridgestone Americas introduced a program in 2006 to help its independent dealers in the U.S. and Canada remodel their showrooms with free design help and nationwide purchasing incentives for materials and services. The tire maker's redesign program covered every aspect of showroom design, from flooring and color schemes to product displays and effective use of space.
Bridgestone's encouragement and programs were the main reason we had the renovation done, and the support of our distributor, she said.
We have a more updated facility than our competitors and a different atmosphere, Ms. Franklin said, noting that the store caters to a lot of women and senior citizens. She has been managing the Big Spring location full time for the past five years after working for the dealership on a part-time basis while raising the couple's two children.
The Big Spring store sells mostly passenger, light truck and truck tires and offers basic undercar services, which account for about 35 percent of its retail sales, according to Ms. Franklin. The dealership mainly sells Bridgestone Americas and Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. tire lines along with numerous other tire brands.
The Stanton, Texas, store and the Rebethel Tire location in nearby Lamesa, which the dealership acquired in 1996, sell more farm tires due to their rural locations. Ag tires account for about 30 percent of Franklin's tire sales.
Recently the dealership began offering OTR tire section repairs. We found it was a niche that needed to be filled, Mr. Franklin said, noting that customers previously had to ship their tires to other locations for repairs, which involved a long turnaround time.
Being a family-run business with longevity has set the dealership apart from the competition, according to Mr. Franklin. It was started by my father based on his faith and being truthful to people. That's been passed on through our genes.
His father, the late Delbert Franklin, founded the dealership in 1961 in Stanton after working for a tire and fuel business. He retired in 1982, leaving the operation to his son, Terry, who had worked there summers and evenings throughout his youth. Mr. Franklin, now 60, plans to eventually pass the business on to his son, Reggie, who works for a tire distributor.
The family business' greatest challenge occurred between 2000 and 2005 when oil production bottomed out and a seven-year drought destroyed local crops.
We were hit hard, Mr. Franklin recalled. There were times we wondered if we would get through this.
The dealership survived by controlling expenses and finding ways to stay in business without laying off employees.
Then in 2008, the company had its best year ever, netting $13 million in sales. This year Mr. Franklin expects to generate about $10 million in sales, at least on par with last year. The farms are wetter than usual and oil production is up. Our business has been up, he said.
His biggest concern now is how the national economy will affect prices for oil, grains and cottonthe local staples.
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