FLEMINGTON, N.J.Dan Boni Sr. can't find much to gripe about these days.
Nearly two years ago, in December 2011, the owner and founder of Flemington-based Boni Auto Service Center relocated his then-12-year-old automotive service dealership from its previous locationa three-bay shop attached to a local Shell gas stationinto a converted former paint store.
With the additional space of his new six-bay outlet, Mr. Boni, 53, decided it was time to get into the tire business.
When I was at the gas station it was Boni Auto Service Center. At a gas station you don't sell many tires, he said. Now that I have all this room and I got all the equipment, I put 'Tire' into the name because I want to start selling tires to bring people in.
Since moving locations and adding tire sales to its business model, the new Boni Tire & Auto Service has been on the upswing.
It's better than I expected, Mr. Boni told Tire Business. I had set goals for myself, and I'm 40 percent over even those.... This year I'm going to do about $1.3 million. My first year I was hoping to do $700,000, and I did a little over $950,000. I was pleasantly surprised that I was actually getting a paycheck.
Boni Tire still gets about 80 percent of its business from the automotive service end, which includes routine maintenance, repair and diagnostic services. Mr. Boni said he believes the additional tire sales have helped, but he admitted he's still not selling as many as he'd like to.
The tire dealership primarily stocks Kumho-, Continental- and General-brand tires, but Mr. Boni said we pretty much sell every brand.
While he is a relative newcomer to owning a tire business, he's no stranger to working with tires. Mr. Boni began his career in the tire industry at age 15, working for Lawrenceville, N.J.-based STS Tire & Auto Service as a tire changer.
He gradually worked his way up to positions as a mechanic, assistant manager and finally store manager before leaving STS in 1991 to work for Vespia Tire Centers Inc. and open the dealership's outlet in Piscataway, N.J. Monro Muffler Brake Inc. acquired this location and 21 other Vespia Tire outlets in New Jersey in 2011.
Mr. Boni went into business for himself in 1999. Initially, there were some challenges, he acknowledged.
When I worked for STS and worked for Vespia, I always ran their bigger stores, so I was kind of used to it, he said. I guess being my own business owner, it's doing the office part of it as well as the shop part of it (that's challenging). As a store manager.... I never did any of the office aspect of it, and now I have to keep my eye on the office as well as the front counter.
Mr. Boni cited the Automotive Training Institute as especially valuable in terms of helping him figure out how to do profit margins, and how to buy right and things like that.
In addition, his time as an employee taught him how to treat his own employees and customers.
With STS, they were very up on how to treat employees and stuff like that, he said. I knew how to set up pay plans and bonuses and share the work with everybody and not give one guy all the good stuff and one guy all the bad stuff. There's a lot of employee interactionjust because I'm the boss doesn't mean do what I say, and that's it. We talk it out.
Vespia was kind of the other way around. You've got to get all the add-ons, you've got to really step up and make sure the ticket's right, take care of the customer.... I'm one of those people who likes to suck in and take in all the ideas and try new things. If I fail, I fail.
So far, he doesn't appear to have failed. Things have been good enough that Mr. Boni is looking to add locations.
The company is in talks with another local dealer to buy out his five-bay shop, but Mr. Boni said nothing is official yet. Within the next five years, he hopes to be operating at least three or four stores.
One of the biggest challenges to his expansion plansand also to the opening of his current storeis local government regulations, he said. Even now, the requirements can be frustrating.
They have questions like, 'What am I doing with my scrap tires? What am I doing with my waste oil? What am I doing with my garbage?'
I get paid for that stuff, I'm not throwing it away, you know? he said. They don't realize that the tire industry and automotive industry is very clean now because we do a lot of recycling.
Boni Tire has seven employees, including five technicians and two general service people. One member of the counter sales team is Mr. Boni's son, Dan Boni Jr., who is being groomed to eventually take over the business.
Mr. Boni's wife Lori helps out in the office and is my best networking advocate. Boy, she can talk to people, he said.
Most of the employees have worked for the company for years.
I've been fortunate, Mr. Boni said. I have five guys here I've known for a long time. They know what I want done.
His advice for others getting started in the tire business: Learn as much as you can from everyone you can. And even if it sounds hokey, it's probably working because they wouldn't be in business long if they didn't know what to do right.
To reach this reporter: [email protected]; 330-865-6148.