TAMPA, Fla.—Custom wheel and tire “rent-to-own” franchisor SPF Management Inc. L.L.C. wants consumers everywhere to know that it's taking tires seriously.
While the firm's RNR Custom Wheels & Tire Express business has always sold tires to complement its wheel business, last year it shifted its primary focus to the tire market—going so far as to rename itself RNR Tire Express & Custom Wheels.
“We had to get our name to match the marketing message that we are a tire dealer primarily, and we do custom wheels,” RNR Vice President Vince Ficarotta told Tire Business.
What seems at first glance to be a minor change actually has made a significant impact for the business, Mr. Ficarotta said. In 2013, the firm changed its marketing to emphasize the tire business without even mentioning wheels, he said, but “it just didn't resonate deep enough” with consumers.
“One of our franchisees came to us and said, 'Can I just try RNR Tire Express?” Mr. Ficarotta said. “We agreed, and the store was very successful, and we realized it's not so silly to think that might have a tremendous impact. And we just finally got to the point where we made it official and said this is our name: RNR Tire Express & Custom Wheels.”
It's not the first name change for the Tampa-based firm. Company President Larry Sutton founded RNR in 2000 as Rent-N-Roll L.L.C., but the firm changed its name to RNR Custom Wheels in 2007 to pursue customers beyond the rent-to-own niche. It added “Tires Express” to the name in 2013.
The firm, which has 14 dealer members operating 74 stores, plans to convert all its members to the updated identity. For RNR, the change was a natural progression, Mr. Ficarotta said.
“If I were to back up to when we started the company in 2000, the first four or five years, that's when custom wheels were just going crazy,” he said. “The industry was bonkers with the expansion. New tire sizes were coming in to fulfill new wheel sizes.
“It seemed to be driving everything, and that just happened to be when we formed our company,” he continued. “...The emphasis seemed to be that's where the opportunity was, but the true opportunity has always been in tires, because there're just so many more people that just need a good set of tires than those that really want a cool set of custom wheels.”
In spite of the change, Mr. Ficarotta said the firm is still doing a “healthy amount” of custom wheel sales, though tires account for most of the business' volume.
“It was a shift that came at the right time to protect what we had,” he said. “I don't know if it increased revenues dramatically, but it certainly protected us from having any dip in revenue, and we continue to have year-over-year growth.”
Mr. Ficarotta didn't disclose RNR's annual sales figures.
Even more so than the wheel market—which Mr. Ficarotta said is driven largely by wants over necessity—the tire market is filled with consumers who can benefit from RNR's rent-to-own business model.
“There's a segment of the population that's pretty significant that lives paycheck to paycheck,” Mr. Ficarotta said. “There's study after study about folks that don't save enough for retirement, they don't save enough for the rainy day and they certainly don't save enough to say, 'Oh my gosh, I need new tires. I need $800 for a set of tires.'”
Many customers who can't afford to buy a set of new tires outright use the lease-purchase arrangement as a sort of installment ownership plan, Mr. Ficarotta said.
The firm also rents out and sells used tires and has one distinct advantage over many other businesses that play in the used tire market, he added. “The superior advantage our customers have is that we bought the tires.
“We know who had them, we know the mileage, so forth and so on, so it's not the environment where you might typically buy a used tire.
“Usually the vendor selling that tire has no idea where that tire came from, when it was purchased or how old it is,” he continued.
“They just don't know. But with our used tires, we have the complete history on them, and of course if they're not worth anything we destroy them.”
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