Current Issue

A game of mathematics

Comments Email
ALEXANDRIA, Va.—Wiygul Automotive Clinic has more than doubled its size to nine stores with the acquisition earlier this year of Sullivan's Goodyear Tire Center's five locations in Maryland.

The 38-year-old Wiygul Automotive is owned by brothers Zack and Bill “W.D.” Wiygul and their father Bill Wiygul Sr. and uncle Oscar Wiygul Jr.

Since its founding in Alexandria as a single-store operation in 1976 by the senior Oscar and Sue Wiy-gul, the dealership has grown by doubling its size with each subsequent acquisition. In the 1980s, when the couple's two sons became involved in the business, the dealership bought another store in Alexandria to accommodate the growing sales and capacity.

Then in 2006, when Zack Wiygul joined the company, the dealership doubled again with the purchase of two Goodyear dealerships in the area—a decision he described as a “huge undertaking.”

“That is what has made us a success today is taking those sorts of risks and working like hell at it.... These opportunities are presented to us all the time...,” Zack Wiygul said.

“Success breeds success. The more successful we are, the more opportunities arise for us as far as people coming to us wanting to sell their business. We absolutely do not jump at every opportunity.”

The latest doubling in size occurred earlier this year with the acquisition of five Sullivan's Good-year Tire locations in Maryland—in Clinton, Fort Washington, North Waldorf, South Waldorf and La Plata.

Wiygul Automotive declined to reveal the purchase price or the stores' annual combined revenue, but Mr. Wiygul said the dealership bought the chain from majority owner Clark Crawford, who was an absentee owner and didn't advertise. John Sullivan opened the dealership in the early 1980s, he said.

“We absolutely saw room for improvement, otherwise we wouldn't have bought it. We think we can build on what they had,” Mr. Wiygul said.

“My brother and I are ambitious and we are eager to build this company,” Mr. Wiygul said. “Unlike some of our competitors who have grown maybe a little too quick, we are interested in sustainable growth. We own the real estate at almost all of our locations. We are not for sale. We've been doing this for decades and we are interested in doing it another 40 years at least. So we are here to stay....

“I think we just keep using our model of doubling in size, don't bite off more than we think we can swallow. That's really the difference. We are engaged in the business every day. It really does create a good work atmosphere for customers and employees when they hear from us that we're not for sale; that we're not going anywhere. We're here to stay. We're here to continue to build the right way, with sustainable growth, and it really does make for a pleasant work environment.”

Mr. Wiygul described the Virginia stores as successful, high-capacity operations—three stores have 16 bays and one has 13 bays.

“We certainly didn't build those stores to the level they're at over-night. And we don't expect to have these Maryland stores to the Virginia stores' level overnight. But that is the goal,” he said.

The dealership reopened the new stores under the Wiygul Automotive Clinic name in March, but the company is still working on posting permanent signs on the buildings.

“We're trying to standardize our logo and image for all nine of our locations. So we are re-signing eight out of the nine,” he said.

The Herndon, Va., store underwent a $3 million renovation in 2012 with updated signage that is serving as a prototype for the other stores. However, the remodeling of the new stores will not be as extensive as the Herndon store project, he said.

“We are remodeling all the five stores in Maryland. We've already remodeled the showrooms of our Virginia stores. So we got the idea of what we want to do.

“As for the outside, a lot of these facilities, like our facilities in Virginia, are in good shape. They just need some new signage.”

The dealership also had to update the service equipment and significantly increase the tire inventories at the Maryland stores, he said.

Wiygul Automotive sent email blasts to existing customers of both dealerships to announce the name change at the Sullivan's stores and provide background on the Wiygul family and business.

“So we got the message out as far as with our current (Sullivan's) customers because we actually have a pretty good email rate. We probably have 50 percent of all the customers in all nine stores' database email addresses.

“We've been telling our story to every customer that comes in the door as well,” Mr. Wiygul said.

“We spend a ton of money on promotion (and) advertising, especially for a company of our size. And that helps significantly. So that's why we've needed more help, we've brought people on, we've had plenty of guys from Virginia come over and help.”

The stores in Maryland are all within a 15-minute drive from each other and from Virginia in separate markets, he said.

Mr. Wiygul also attributes the dealership's success to its customer service strategy with more than 100 employees.

“The ownership and everyone who's not a technician is considered management. So we are a really flat company and when a customer has a problem, my brother and I know about it right away and we step in and do everything we can to make it right.... It's not 'if' we're going to make a mistake, it's 'when' and when we do it's how we exceed expectations. Our philosophy is that we want to deliver fair prices to the customer and exceed expectations,” he said.

Mr. Wiygul claims his dealership is one of largest locally owned chains in its market, where it faces competition from the likes of TBC Corp.'s National Tire & Battery (NTB) and Monro Muffler Inc.'s Mr. Tire retail chains.

“That's how we make a living, we differentiate our product and we do not try to be too big. We think the customer gets a much better retail experience with us as opposed to the big chains,” he said.

It seems to be working. The dealership enjoyed its most successful sales year in 2013, he said, declining to provide figures.

“Obviously it afforded us the ability to expand,” he said, adding that the dealership “absolutely” plans to acquire more stores in the future.

“We have already been approached by a half-dozen people as far as expansion opportunities. We move at a snail's pace. We look at everything and we analyze the heck out of it and sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn't. We try not to grow too quickly. We want sustainable growth because we're not going anywhere.”

Wiygul Automotive advertises the availability of more than 30 tire brands, but is predominantly a Goodyear dealer. It's also a member of the Goodyear Tire & Service Network, according to its website.



To reach this reporter: kmccarron@crain.com; 330-865-6127. Twitter: @kmccarr.
More Polls>

TB Reader Poll

Previous | Published March 18, 2019

Where can you expect to see the most growth in 2019?

Tire sales
45% (34 votes)
General automotive service
15% (11 votes)
Brakes, shocks and other undercar services
7% (5 votes)
Add-on business
15% (11 votes)
Anywhere we can get it.
19% (14 votes)
Total votes: 75
More Polls »