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Big O Tires Franchise Review: Q&A with Jerry Tidwell

Former store manager buys his first store in Phoenix

Jerry Tidwell has seen Big O from both sides of the coin. For nearly seven years, Jerry oversaw corporately owned Big O shops in Las Vegas, Nevada, and Phoenix, Arizona. This year, he took the leap of buying his own store in Phoenix and began his career as a franchise owner on July 14.

What were you doing before Big O Tires?
I started out working for Goodyear. I joined Big O about seven years ago as a store manager in the Las Vegas market. I did that for five years then was promoted to regional manager of both the Vegas and Phoenix markets, overseeing the corporate-owned stores in those two markets. Then Big O started to convert the corporate-owned stores over to franchisee-owned, and I had always dreamt of owning my own automotive shop. So … I decided to go for it. I was initially looking at the Vegas market, as I have two kids who go to college at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. But the Phoenix market was a better opportunity, and it’s just a one-hour flight from Vegas.

What do you like about it?
Right now I’m still so new at it, there’s a lot to learn. I’m good at working with customers and running the day-to-day retail operation, I’ve done that for years, but I’m still learning the back-office stuff and getting my processes in place.

What I like about the Phoenix market is we have a really tight franchising group. In a 100-mile circle there are 38 franchisees operating over 50 stores, and there’s a real camaraderie there. They’ve been very welcoming and very willing to help me however I need it.

What sets Big O apart?
I would say No. 1 is that the Big O brand has been around for a long time. There’s a cult following as far as the customer base. Many of our customers buy Big O because their parents bought Big O tires and their grandparents bought Big O. The main thing is the warranty we offer. On our own brand of tires, we include a limited lifetime warranty that includes 24-hour-a-day, 7-days a week roadside assistance. And on other new tire brands sold by Big O Tires, the company offers a basic warranty that includes free rotation and flat tire repair. No matter where you go in the country, if you have an issue or problem, we’ll stand by our work.

How large is the opportunity?
The opportunity is huge! To be able to have products and services to sell that people have to have makes it a great opportunity. There are not many recession-proof businesses, but I believe auto care is one of them. You have to get your oil changed, you have to fix your brakes.

Are there any customer service incidents that stand out in your memory where Big O was able to do something great for a customer?
Big O has a consumer relations department that’s dynamite. All of us have one goal in mind, and that’s taking care of each customer. I remember cases where a customer had an issue and was out of warranty, and instead of giving them just a black-and-white “no” answer, we had the ability to make a phone call and say, “I want to take care of this person.” And Big O partnered with us to resolve the issue. The franchise group really works together, honoring each other’s warranties. There are systems in place so it doesn’t hurt us financially and ultimately it keeps the Big O name and reputation stellar.

How important is previous automotive experience for a Big O owner?
I have found it is definitely a plus. But it’s not mandatory. I have an automotive background, but I know other franchise owners who don’t and they are hugely successful. It’s more about finding the right people. Someone with a business background is good, but Big O gives you the training you need. All franchise owners need to go through a two-week training program. Big O wants you to succeed, and they will work with you to give you all the tools you need.

What attracts customers to Big O rather than competitors?
I think it’s the fact that we’re a full service shop. Some places are just an oil changing shop. Others just do tires. But customers know if they come in for an oil change and we discover their brakes need new discs, we can alert them to that. If they go to a tire place and get all new tires, then the next week their brakes start to grind, it’s going to cost them a lot more. We can say, we have all your wheels off, let us do the brake discs now, and it will be cheaper. And our no-hassle warranty is a big thing. Customers have told me that they’ve gone elsewhere and paid extra for coverage and then when they pop a tire it’s like pulling teeth to get a replacement. We make it easy.

What does your typical day look like?
I’m the opener, so I come in early and go over paperwork and check the business from the day before. I help the first customers in the morning, I make the coffee and I mop the bathrooms. People say, “You’re the owner and you mop the floor?” But I don’t mind, because they are my bathrooms and I want them to look nice. Most days I’m able to leave the shop at around 5 p.m., but I’m on call 24/7.

What are your goals for your business?
Ultimately I want to have more stores. My long-term goal is to have three stores and have managing partners in each store. That way I can do the back-office piece and oversee the day-to-day through their eyes.

What is a secret to success at Big O?
I think it’s the people. We’re all about happy customers here. And we’re not afraid to say to customers: “We want you smiling and we’re going to do whatever it takes to keep you happy. We want to make your visit as painless as possible.” We want them coming back, and we want them coming back five years from now.

Besides happy customers, it’s about happy employees. We have a saying, “There’s no broken stores, just broken store managers.” If your employees are looking for jobs on their day off, that’s not their problem, it’s the manager’s problem.

What kind of person do you think would enjoy owning a Big O Tires franchise?
I think anyone who has dreamt of being a business owner would be a good fit. Anyone who has that desire, this would be a great opportunity for them. I recommend Big O over any other franchise, over fast food or retail.

What does Big O bring to the table on behalf of its franchisees? How do they help you succeed?
I think it’s just an unbelievable support knowing the company that stands behind us is massive. TBC Corporation, which owns the Big O franchise system, has thousands of automotive business locations nationwide, and there’s a huge support team behind us. There’s an advertising and marketing team in Florida that is there just for us. Anything and everything I need to know, I can find out from this support team — right down to what tires I should be stocking; corporate had all this research about what had sold in this market. With this kind of support, I don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Big O has a proven successful system and we all benefit from that.

What does franchise ownership allow you to do that you couldn’t before?
It will give me the freedom to take time off. I’m just a few months into it, but I know I’ll be able to put systems in place so I can do that. And I want to be able to build for retirement. In training they talk about developing an exit strategy, and that’s something I know I can do, build a business that’s marketable and attractive.

Would you recommend a Big O Tires franchise to someone else?
Yes, I would recommend it because of the branding and the support. The fact is, you don’t feel like you’re on your own. That’s a great feeling.

Want to join the Big O Tires family?

Franchisees have helped Big O Tires grow for 50 years, and we offer a tremendous amount of support, resources and systems to make it easier for them to run a successful business. To learn more about Big O Tires — including startup costs, financial performance, training and support — fill out a form to download our free franchise report to start a conversation or call 1-800-622-2446. We look forward to talking with you!


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