SAN ANTONIO — The jam-packed three days that was this year's Big O Annual Convention boiled down to one word: Yes.
Or as Brant Wilson, president and chief operating officer, franchise group, TBC Corp., said, "A Big O yes, right here, right now."
Saying "yes" to customers was the theme franchisees heard repeatedly during Big O L.L.C.'s annual event, held April 24-27 in San Antonio. Nearly 700 invitees, including franchisees, vendors, guests and corporate staff, attended the event, which included a general session, several breakout sessions, an awards dinner/show and a "hootenanny," otherwise known as rodeo.
"We have a new way of doing business," John Kairys, vice president and general manager of Big O Tires, told the group of franchisees. "It revolves around one word: Yes."
Kim McBee, vice president of marketing and advertising for Big O, told the crowd, "It's a tremendous opportunity. We must embrace it, and we must be committed to believe in the power of yes."
Mr. Wilson said the most profitable way for franchisees to grow their business is to say yes to customers who come to you, whether they call, stop in or make an online appointment.
"When people call up, we may be very cordial, but we may not be selling them the visit, selling that appointment, even when customers want us to sell it to them," Mr. Wilson said.
Saying yes was just one of several ongoing components of Big O's 2018 initiatives that its management team discussed with franchisees.
Some of the others include:
Store count grows
In 2017, Big O franchisees opened 57 stores, expanding the Big O network to 449 stores. The new store total includes 44 NTB Tire & Service Center locations that Big O Tires franchisee Mark Rhee acquired in late 2017 and converted to Big O signage.
Big O is now in 23 states, adding franchisees in Minnesota, Ohio, Tennessee and Virginia, in 2017. TBC also has NTB Tire stores in Ohio and Virginia.
The target this year, Mr. Wilson said, is 25 stores, while renewing 90 percent of the 28 franchise agreements up for renewal.
"That might be a little conservative." Mr. Wilson said of the growth plans. "It's a target, and I think it will be a success for us. Growing 25 stores would be a good win for us and a good win for our franchisees."
Mr. Wilson said Big O is well on its way to accomplishing that goal — he said 14 or 15 stores "were already in the pipeline," despite the fact the fiscal year started in April.
It isn't so much about finding more partners, Mr. Wilson said. Instead, it's about finding the right partners in the right markets.
"You don't know if you're going to find the right franchisee partner that can open one to 15 shops," Mr. Wilson said.
"We definitely concentrate on infilling our existing markets to keep market share," he said. "In the new markets, we're just looking for the best partner. We pass on many that we don't think can introduce new brands into new areas because the big brand has momentum right now.
"There are more folks knocking on our door, and we have to be sure it's the right partnership in the marketplace....As we expand, we look toward the right partner, with the right culture and as well the right capabilities to add new stores to the market."
He said the new joint wholesale venture involving Michelin North America Inc. (MNA) and Sumitomo Corp. of Americas (SCOA), called National Tire Wholesale (NTW), has opened new regions for expansion.
"It's all about the right partner, for the franchisee, and the best fit where we feel our brand can extend to, and then best fit for distribution," he said. "That's a key component."
In five years, Mr. Wilson said he'd like to see Big O grow to 600 to 700 stores and expand to at least five more states.
More credit sales
Big O spent much of the program selling dealers on the benefits not only of the Big O credit card — which it said increased this past year — but also of secondary credit lenders.
According to the company, the percentage of credit sales to overall sales was 7.9 percent last year, while the target is 15 percent. The importance of credit is magnified by this statistic: The average Big O ticket is $219, while the average ticket on credit is $519.
Big O said 28 stores reported their sales involving credit exceeded 15 percent of total sales.
"(Credit) allows folks who can't necessarily pay right here, right now, to spread their payments over time," Mr. Wilson said. "That is a big deal to a large market population that we trying to satisfy."
Revenue up 3.5%
Big O said network-wide sales revenue grew 3.5 percent last year, but 68 stores reported growth of more than 10 percent and a dozen had growth exceeding 25 percent.
In 2017, Mr. Kairys said the Big O management team spent an inordinate amount of time preparing some of the new stores, leaving little time to visit and help existing locations.
"We were so focused on one massive project that we lost sight of so many faces," he said. "For that I apologize and want you to know the buck stops here."
Big O said on average its franchisees achieved tire market shares of 6.1 percent in the 69 markets they serve.
While Big O's national market share has declined over the past few years, Ms. McBee said it has increased in a number of key metropolitan areas, such as Phoenix, Louisville, Salt Lake City, New Mexico, and in some Midwest markets.
Those markets, she said, have grown nearly a third faster than the rest of the U.S. From 2010-17, Ms. McBee said, more than 5.7 million people moved to areas served by Big O stores.
"That's millions of people that need tires and services in our specific markets," she said. "Now if that's not an opportunity, I don't know what is."
The company has set $800 million as the Big O network's sales target for 2018, an increase of 3.5 percent.
Eyeing fleet business
Big O is encouraging its franchisees, big and small, to pursue the growing fleet market. Big O wants to increase annual sales of national fleet accounts by 25 percent to more than $13 million.
"In order to do that, we have to convince our franchisees to go after this business," Mr. Kairys said.
According to Mr. Wilson, it is estimated that 40 percent of all invoices in an aftermarket auto shop will be from a fleet company by 2026.
"(The fleet market) definitely is accelerating, and we're well ahead of the game," Mr. Wilson said. "TBC has been positioning itself for the last two years, and Big O is going to be a big part of that. That is one area where we are investing and leveraging our presence."
Big O rolled out a tool during the conference that helps to bridge the gap for a tire shop and fleet management companies. TBC retail stores already have the tool available, Mr. Wilson said, and it soon will become available for Big O and Midas shops.
Better phone skills
Evaluating and improving phone skills, if necessary, was a hot topic. Big O has a phone analytic tool in place, from Marchex Inc., that it said can help dealers educate and coach their staff on what they did correctly on a given phone call, and what they might have done better.
"Until you hear it yourself, you don't know how the consumer receives what you are saying," Ms. McBee said. "Are you clear? Are you mumbling? Consumers are not thrilled about calling you to begin with. Good phone skills are paramount to your success."
Push toward online
Big O said it continues to increase its digital spending, and Mr. Wilson said it is working well: The number of appointments made online has doubled year over year.
In fact, Mr. Wilson said if a Big O dealer contacts a consumer within 30 minutes of receiving a request for an appointment, there's an 85-percent chance the sale will be consummated.
Meanwhile, Big O will update its website this summer with more user-friendly features.
"If we could become the best at saying yes, when consumers come in, we would dominate," Mr. Wilson said.
"That's easier said than done, but we have a lot of consumers that want to come to Big O, who are still shopping around. If we're able to say yes at that moment in time, we're going to outperform the market in a big way."