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Big O Tires Franchise Review: Q&A with Bruce Cherry of California

Big O Tires franchise offers major marketing and logistical support, says franchisee

bruce-cherryBruce Cherry started his professional life knowing he wanted nothing to do with Big O Tires, a franchise his father owned. But Bruce eventually embraced his family legacy and, 32 years later, owns six stores in Northern California — Dublin, Newark, El Dorado Hills, Livermore, San Ramon and Danville.

What were you doing before Big O Tires?
My dad opened a Big O store in 1973. I went away to college, and then I graduated, and I looked around, and no one would hire me. I knew I would get an opportunity to be an owner. I worked at another store for a year and a half. When something opened up, I moved in.

How long have you been a franchisee?
Since 1981.

What do you like about the job?
I get to do a lot of different things; I wear a lot of different hats. It’s definitely not boring. I’ve progressed from starting out as a salesman to an assistant manager to a manager to an owner, and now that I have different stores I’m more responsible for administration.

What sets Big O apart?
It’s owner-operated, so it’s easy to take care of customers if there’s an issue, because we’re the final say. If an owner’s in the store, it’s easy for him convey his message to the employees. Big O, as a franchise, does give you a lot of independence.

Big O's branded line of tires are developed with input from franchisees to match customer needs and deliver both exceptional value and solid profit margins.

Big O’s branded line of tires are developed with input from franchisees to match customer needs and deliver both exceptional value and solid profit margins.

Who makes a good Big O Tires franchisee?
The better owner is a type-A personality, because they will have to wear many hats. It’s someone who will care about customers and employees, someone who is hard-working. It is a difficult business to run from the outside if you’ve never been in the business. It’s not as cookie-cutter day-to-day as, say, a McDonald’s, because there’s just a lot more going on, generally. We’re doing more volume, so your return is greater, apples to apples, one store to one store. Because the volume is greater, it’s more difficult to be an absentee owner if you’re new to the industry. It’s hard to instill the way Big O operates, how you want to treat your employees and customers, and all the challenges you have with fixing a vehicle — it’s difficult from a distance. That’s probably true of any industry you would go into.

Do you need a background in auto mechanics to own the franchise?
There’s no question it helps. The learning curve is less, although it’s not a prerequisite. You can definitely learn it, but you may not have to learn it depending on how you want to run the business.

How large is the opportunity?
It’s unlimited as far as how many you would want to have. That’s not a problem. The good part is Big O wants to grow; they just added incentives for you to grow. If you do grow, you’re going to get some added money. They just started that this year.

Who are your main customers, your best customers?
The best customers are the ones who feel comfortable with you the longer you’re there. If you treat them right, they’re going to keep coming back. It’s about trust. From the surveys that Big O did, that’s what they came up with — the team you trust. They surveyed existing customers; that was probably the biggest thing we got out of that exercise. That goes back to the majority of the stores having an owner/operator visible at the store.

What attracts customers to Big O rather than competitors?
We do a majority of automotive services, where our main competitor does not – they only do tires — so it’s a one-stop shop. I think the stores are clean and well-merchandised. And the personnel make a difference, too.

How many customers do you normally serve in a day?
It depends on the store. Mine are anywhere from 25 to 65 a day.

What does your typical day look like?
I’m usually here around 8 am, and I leave at 6:30 pm or 7 pm I probably work 50 hours a week. I don’t do a lot of traveling. I do a lot of different things in a day. Inventory, point of sale, the insurance quotes, writing checks for all the stores, we do the accounting for six stores. At one store I’m not a managing member, but I do accounting for all six. I’m responsible for making sure we pay everything on time — workman’s comp, insurance — I’m pretty much responsible for everything other than employees, customers and image.

What is a secret to your success?
Having good people surround me, accountability and being consistent. But mainly, good partners.

What does franchise ownership allow you to do that you couldn’t before?
I don’t do my own website, I don’t do my own point of sale. My computer system is customized for Big O on how we go to market, and we have input in that. It integrates with Quickbooks, pricing, tire procurement. Equipment purchases are national; uniforms are national as well. I do some extra advertising, but Big O does the majority of it, so I don’t have to worry about advertising, promotions and what tire lines to bring in. I also get delivery twice a day. I don’t have to deal with a manufacturer’s pricing. We also have our own business center, which is an online business portal that only Big O franchisees can see. They have all these tires they stock online, just push a button and it automatically goes to the warehouse. You also get camaraderie, advice from any other franchisee. Most are willing to help another franchisee out. We have a divisional vice president and area managers; they come by once a month. Any issue that you want help with, we have a customized peak performance indicator developed by Big O. We have a very good relationship with our Franchise Advisory Council, and they do listen to issues. Most groups have a local ad group, so every franchisee is able to give their input on what they’d like to see.

Would you recommend a Big O Tires franchise to someone else? Why?
Yes. If you’re on your own, you’re going to have to do all those things — you have to advertise on your own, do all your own pricing. Pricing is always big. In the marketplace, it changes — it seems like hourly. If you’re independent, you have to have your own website or pay someone to do it. We have pricing people who do pricing; their main task is to check the market. We have our own pricing analysis, so pricing is done for us. As an independent, you have to do it or pay someone to do it for you. The other things are marketing and the showroom. I don’t do that; Big O provides me with marketing material, a tire stand. We also have a very good credit card program. An independent can get that, but you’re going to be with all the other independents and your rates aren’t going to be as good.

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