TAMPA, Fla. — When Larry Sutton, founder and CEO of RNR Tire Express & Custom Wheels (RNR), speaks in his deep, smooth Southern drawl, he comes off more like a longtime friend than the leader of one of the fastest-growing tire and custom wheel franchise programs in the country.
His down-to-earth nature, according to his son and RNR Executive Vice President Adam Sutton, is his greatest attribute and an important key to the company's growth.
"One of the reasons we've had success is because he cares for the (employees and franchisees). It's always been a family environment," Adam Sutton said. "It's about empowering our people to rise."
RNR opened its first location in 2000 in Tampa under "Rent-n-Roll" signage. Mr. Sutton, who prior to that had a long career in the rent-to-own industry, looked to apply the same model to wheels, and eventually tires.
An acquaintance of Mr. Sutton's, Mike Kent, wanted to open a business using the same model.
"So, I said, 'Sure,' and I gave him the paperwork and materials to get going," Mr. Sutton said. "But he said, 'No, I don't want to do something like what you're doing. I want to do the exact same thing.' "
Mr. Sutton laughs when he talks about it. He was just happy to help out a friend. Instead, in 2003, Mr. Sutton's franchise program was born.
Today, there are 125 RNR locations operating in 24 states, with more on the way. Mr. Sutton said the goal is to have 25 units open a year.
"We've had rapid growth in the last three to five years," Adam Sutton said. He said he believes the pay-as-you-go model will continue to grow in popularity.
"If you think about the economy, not everyone can afford (new wheels and tires). We are literally the perfect solution."
"Family" is a word both men use often when talking about RNR. According to the company, more than half of the brand's franchisees are father-son business partnerships.