Big O Tires Franchise Review: Q&A with Tire Store Franchise Owner Rand Rogenes of California
Tire store franchise owner Rand Rogenes has bought and sold a string of Big O Tires stores, turning former employees into business owners
Rand Rogenes of Brea, Calif., left a career overseeing tire stores for other chains in order to buy his own business, a Big O Tires franchise that he purchased in Orange County in 1986. Since then, Rand has bought and sold a string of Big O franchises, owning as many as six at a time and selling them to his employees. As such, he has shared his success with many people he hired himself. At 71, Rand still owns three stores.
What were you doing before Big O Tires?
Right out of college, I got a job with Firestone, and I was with them for 14 years. Then I went to Winston Tire, a California chain of about 150 stores, where I worked for five years. I was in management with both of them. I was regional vice president in charge of stores at Winston, overseeing store supervisors and managers.
How did you find out about Big O? Why did you decide to buy a franchise?
There was a Big O in Brea. Big O was just starting to grow in Southern California — there were only four at the time, and one was company-owned. I had the chance to buy the store in Orange County, which was only two miles from my house. It needed some improvements, so I was able to get it at good price, and I thought my experience would help me build it up. Eventually, I started opening more stores and selling them to my managers. I’ve had as many as six stores at a time.
What do you like about the job?
I like the independence and the fact that I get to focus on employees and customers — all the marketing and advertising is done for you, and a lot of the vendors are also set up for you. Working on the corporate level for Firestone and Winston, I did a lot of the marketing, and I didn’t really have an interest in doing it when I went into business for myself. I liked the idea of the franchisor doing that, as well as the price negotiations. It frees you up to be able to put 200% of your concentration into your employees and customers.
What sets Big O apart from other tire stores?
You have the advantage of the marketing power and negotiating power of a major company, but since you own your store, you still have the ability to make immediate decisions on employee and customer concerns. You get to make your own decisions.
How large is the opportunity?
In Southern California, there are still quite a few areas where Big O can grow. I probably wouldn’t do it right now myself at this stage of my career, but someone in their 30s or 40s would have a lot of opportunities to grow.
I’m 71, and my stores right now almost run themselves. As I get older, I will probably relinquish management to one manager who would become a general manager and would have the opportunity to buy the business over time, or we’ll keep ownership in my family. My intent is to sell it to a qualified manager over a period of time. It’s worked great for me in the past, and it’s nice to see someone who started out with you years ago grow and be able to take over the business. In my three stores, one of my managers has been around for 21 years, another one has been with me for 20 years, and another one for eight. There has been very low turnover — practically zero.
Why do you think turnover has been so low?
It probably has to do with our basic philosophy that our customers and our employees are No. 1. If an employee has a problem, they get the benefit of the doubt. We want them to feel valued and respected, and they turn around and treat our customers the same way.
Tell me about your customers.
Everybody needs tires, whether they’re low-income, middle-income or wealthy. Tires make up about 60% of our sales, and service is the other 40% — transmission, fluids, radiator fluid exchanges, differential service, brakes, alignments, front-end repair.
Do you think automotive experience is essential for success with Big O?
I don’t think you have to have automotive experience. Actually, I think you might be better off with no experience. I think with less experience, I would have done better, because I wouldn’t have been oriented to think a certain way. Someone without a tire sales background has a fresh point of view and can adapt to Big O’s systems much quicker because they have no preconceived notions. If you hire an employee who’s been in the auto industry a long time, they can be harder to train because they’re slower to change.
The most important thing is personality, for the owner and the employees. Are they likeable? Do most people like them when they meet them? That’s 90% of it. The other 10% is having enough smarts to learn the rest. You don’t have to be a genius. My best employees are guys with about two years of college under their belt and a great personality and work ethic.
What attracts customers to Big O rather than competitors?
I think the stability of our employees – who they get to know well – the excellent service, and the fact that in California we’ve done a lot of promotions. We’re always running sales and taking steps to be competitive with others in the market. That includes changing our prices every day — sometimes dramatically — so that we always have competitive prices when people go shopping online. If someone is selling a Michelin tire at one price, we’ll match the price. We’re price-competitive, and once customers come in, it’s a nice experience. Our stores are much cleaner and more attractive, and customers like to deal with store people who they know and who have good personalities. Customers, particularly women and customers over 60, really like that type of service.
How many customers do you normally serve in a day?
It varies by store. Between all three, I serve about 70-90 cars a day.
What does your typical day look like?
Today at 7 am, I went into my Bermuda Dunes store and finished payroll with the manager, who I’m training to do payroll. I look at stuff around the store and display banners to make sure everything is current. I talk to the manager and employees. Then at 9 am, I go to the bank. Most of my time is spent out of the store on the computer, writing checks and doing financial statements. I used to work on a rotating schedule, spending time at one store each day. Now I mainly do the paperwork. My workweek now is mainly 25 to 30 hours a week. It wasn’t like that at first, but this type of business affords you the opportunity to do that if you have everything structured right. I’m not in any hurry to retire. If you don’t have to be someplace specific and you can take off whenever you feel like it, why retire? It keeps things kind of interesting.
What kind of person do you think would enjoy owning a Big O Tires franchise?
They have to be self-disciplined. They have to enjoy following proven systems. They shouldn’t be an entrepreneur; they should be an intrapreneur. If they want to do everything themselves, think they’re a great purchasing agent, and think they’re the best marketing person to ever come around, they need to hang up their own shingle and not be part of Big O. The right person is someone who wants to be in business, but not by themselves. It’s very important for Big O to get that type of person, because we work together to keep the brand consistent and strong.
A key factor for success is for them to be a hands-on person. If they can’t get something done, they do it themselves. They will clean the bathroom and sweep the floor. They have to be willing to work at the business to build relationships with customers and instill the right attitude. If they have five stores, they should be working at one of them. If a guy is dedicated to working hard and putting in the hours, he is going to succeed. There were times I worked 70 to 80 hours a week, but you get a better grasp of the retail business that way because you see the customers. When I would meet with absentee owners, I would hear people who didn’t seem to understand the customers. Keeping the pulse of the business is difficult if you’re not in the store.
What does franchise ownership allow you to do that you couldn’t before?
I used to have to do a lot of traveling, and now I don’t. I used to be on the plane all the time. And owning your own business, you have a real good sense of security. You know that you control your own destiny. You don’t have to rely on anyone else to make sure you’re financially successful. It gives you tremendous peace of mind. You don’t have to rely on a boss, and you’re not going to lay yourself off.
Businesses do fail, and there are some industries that become challenging. You may own an ice cream store, and people stop buying ice cream. But people aren’t going to stop buying tires.
Would you recommend a Big O Tires franchise to someone else?
Yeah, if you have the energy and personality and want to have the peace of mind. Especially now. It’s easier to run the business now than it was years ago thanks to the computer systems we have. It’s incredible. You could run 20 stores with no office staff. When the month ends, I can normally have all my financial statements done by 8 pm that same night and pay all the bills for the next month. Handling the weekly payroll is a slam dunk — it’s really simple to do because Big O has our system integrated with QuickBooks, which is a great program. On QuickBooks I can do payroll, make my tax deposits. It’s really a great system.