ATLANTA — Logan Leslie didn't always plan on owning a Tire Pros automotive shop, let alone a few dozen of them, but the founder and CEO of Northern Rock (NR) is on track to do just that.
Leslie, 37, and his Georgia-based investment firm acquired about 22 automotive shops, with 15 more on deck, as of late February this year. Of those, around 12 at the time were Tire Pros locations, with plans to bring the others under the umbrella of the American Tire Distributors Inc. marketing arm.
"We're growing very quickly, but it's also been in just a really short window," Leslie told Tire Business at the Tire Pros annual National Business Conference and trade show, held Feb. 21-24 in San Diego.
Leslie joined the military at 17 right after high school graduation and spent eight years in active duty. He's currently an active command sergeant major in the Army National Guard. In his 20-year-long military career, he's spent 26 months in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He took advantage of the G.I. Bill to "explore and learn what was out there," he said, graduating Harvard University with his bachelor's degree, followed by Harvard Business School with his master's and Harvard Law School with a law degree.
In 2018, he founded Northern Rock.
"I was just drawn to entrepreneurship," Leslie said. "Really wanted to be focused on veteran hiring, because I think it's just an underutilized resource when it comes to management and entrepreneurship."
NR has always focused on acquiring companies. In its early years, NR focused on larger businesses in the infrastructure maintenance sector. It was a learning experience.
"We made a lot of mistakes and learned a lot of lessons," Leslie said.
After a brief break from the venture, Leslie revived NR in 2020.
"I wanted to go back and do what I initially wanted to do, but this time using the lessons from the first time. I wanted to be very, very focused," he said.
"Automotive, right off the rip, seemed like a very good fit. It's just a really cool industry," he added.
Leslie likes cars, but more importantly, likes the people in the automotive industry.
"I like deals. And I like getting my hands dirty, working with them in the real economy," Leslie said.
Harvard Business School graduates tend to gravitate to private equity or billion-dollar tech companies or industrial giants, he said.
"Not a lot of them play in the real economy, like the small businesses and blue-collar trades" that make up a majority of the U.S. economy, he said.
"It's fun. It's way more fun than tech," he said.
In early 2021, with a new strategy in hand, Leslie used an algorithm to find about 1,000 automotive shops in Georgia that fit the NR acquisition criteria.
He started cold calling and very quickly had success, he said, using a combination of Small Business Administration loans, a lien on Leslie's own property, and investors, to purchase the shops.
One of Northern Rock's first shops — Carver Tire Pros in McDonough, Ga. — was acquired in June 2021.
In late February, NR had about 220 people under its umbrella, including a strong corporate team. The business had 22 shops at the time — the vast majority in Georgia with a couple in Florida and Tennessee — with another 15 under contract to buy.
NR plans to stay in the Southeast region, but is also looking at the Carolinas, Alabama and Kentucky, areas with a strong car culture, Leslie said.
Leslie had no intentions of being part of a franchise or organization such as Tire Pros when he acquired Carver Tire Pros. He even planned to drop the Tire Pros connection, but soon after the purchase, Tire Pros executives met Northern Rock and gave its pitch.
"It seemed like a no-brainer after that. They offered a lot and didn't ask for a lot," he said.
Outside of the marketing and brand value, Tire Pros is very hands-on, Leslie said. "They're always around. I can call (Retail Field Support Director Scott Doles) about whatever I wanted to do, and he would support us. And that's pretty big."
Tire Pros felt like "a blank check of support," he said.
If NR needed someone to train a manager, for example, or had questions about best practices or other aspects of the business, Tire Pros can offer that, he said.
At the start, not all of NR's acquired shops sold tires. Now that NR has evolved its strategy, and because of the Tire Pros connection, the shops will become complete auto care and retail tire shops, and will join the Tire Pros network, he said.