The goal is for sales to switch from 95-percent auto service to a ratio of 75-percent auto services and 25-percent tire sales/services. The company is testing the tire-related format by market, beginning with Florida in the second quarter, he said.
“Tires are brand new. This dealership never sold any. They were very specific to brakes only. This is a real evolution and change for them,” he said.
For now the chain sells only private tire brands from a local distributor and has not forged any alliances with tire makers.
The Dallas-based company was founded in 1980 as a single brakes-only operation. In 2011 the growing retail chain added other services to handle scheduled maintenance work based on auto makers' recommendations, including alignments, suspension service, oil and fluid changes, fuel system cleaning, etc.
The dealership grew to more than 130 outlets in eight states before Mr. Ihnken, a former TBC Corp. executive, and three private equity firms acquired the operation in December 2013.
“When we made the purchase, the company didn't have healthcare. We made a significant investment in healthcare that's affordable for the employees,” he said.
“We put in more than $2 million in inventory in the stores. They didn't have inventory prior to that. We did change to a total car care concept…. We're looking for a relationship with the customer, not to be transactional. We want to be their total car care provider.
“So we've had a huge focus on transitioning into total car care, but the primary focus has been the whole customer visit.”
Mr. Ihnken said the dealership has made “a comprehensive change” to its employment strategy to recruit techs who can handle a variety of automotive services.
“While we still have our core group of technicians that we are training to do that, by changing that comp plan, we were able to (offer) something that is more applicable to the industry…. Being able to recruit those already certified technicians is a big step for us because in the past, we took a lower-level tech and we trained them how to do brakes. That's what the old company did.”
Since coming under new ownership the dealership has expanded to 136 locations with the opening of four stores — in Dallas and White Settlement, Texas; and Hobe Sound and Fort Pierce, Fla.