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Tire Business Review: Q&A with Big O Tires Franchise Owner

Big O Tires owner Sandy Otteni’s tire business is a family affair

Big O Tires franchises offer automotive service and diagnostics as well as tire sales.

Big O Tires franchises offer automotive service and diagnostics as well as tire sales.

Sandy Otteni has been in the tire business since she was a kid. Today, 40 years later, she is running a strong family business that includes two Big O Tires franchises in Yuma, AZ. Her husband, sister, a daughter, a nephew, and a son-in-law each play a role at the family’s two Big O Tires locations in Yuma.

This is Sandy’s story:

How did you get into the tire business? I started in 1972. I was a 17-year-old high schooler, taking a class in court stenography. I was encouraged to get a job, so I took a part-time position helping in the office at the auto shop. It was going to be temporary — but it got into my blood! I started selling tires, then took over doing the books for the former owner, and got more and more involved in the business. I learned to do everything, including how to mount and demount tires and balance them. The owners were a husband and wife, and they eventually sold it to me and my husband as well as two other people. Before they sold it to us, they said we had to prove that we could turn it into a million-dollar store. We pulled that off in 1989, and they sold it to us the next year. We bought out our partners and took full ownership in 2000.

How is Big O Tires different? When I first started, the store was affiliated with US Royal, then Uniroyal, then Michelin, before joining the Big O franchise in 1985. Big O offers much stronger support. TBC helps with managing inventory, provides a great point-of-sale system and offers a lot of systems to help you run your business. Also, you’ve got a group of dealers you can talk with and get ideas from. We have been very fortunate with our group of dealers. There is one particular dealer — Tony Williams — who does a phenomenal job training his people, and he is more than willing to have other dealers’ employees come and go through his training program. Our dealers are also willing to have people come and see how they run their stores. Our dealers are very open with one another. It’s been very nice.

We also have Franchise Business Consultants. Garry Fox, our FBC, is right here to help us every step of the way whenever we need it. The support you receive from the people in Big O is terrific.

Big O Tires franchisees regularly gather to share ideas and learn new ways to grow their businesses.

Big O Tires franchisees regularly gather to share ideas and learn new ways to grow their businesses.

What do you like about the business? Customers. You meet a lot of interesting people, and you get to help them and take care of them. I have several customers that we have been serving for a very long time — the types of customers who will come in and give you a hug.

How large is the opportunity to grow? It is a wonderful opportunity. We brought our daughter and son-in-law into the business in 2006. They’re up-and-comers, and they are part owners now, with 10% of the business each. We wouldn’t have brought them in if we didn’t think it was a wonderful business to get into. I have a sister (Tammy) who works for us, a nephew (Jeffrey) who works for us, and another son-in-law who worked for us at one point.

Tell us about your daughter and son-in-law who are part owners.
Her name is Chancey Schreiber, and her husband is Josh. Josh manages one of the stores. Chancey works in the office with me and helps at the front counters and does a lot of the behind-the-scenes work.

Chancey and Josh both met at College of the Ozarks in Missouri. After school, Josh did PR for the college and Chancey did social work for a year and a half, then managed a restaurant before they decided to come here and come into the family business. Josh is a great people person — he loves to talk with people and he’s really good at it. Chancey has great analytical skills and an eye for managing the business. They are both very level-headed. It’s going to be a good thing when they take over the business.

Is your husband very involved in the business? Yes. It’s very much a family business. He designed our buildings and helps maintain our equipment. We actually got to know one another at the store. He worked for Big O in the 1970s before taking a job with the post office. We got married in 1978.

How important is previous automotive experience for a Big O owner? You don’t have to have automotive experience. Even though I started out at a very young age and learned the business from the bottom up, my husband, despite working for Big O for a few years, is really a retired postal worker. My daughter and son-in-law were in completely different fields and have come in and done a phenomenal job. It just depends how hard-working you are and what you want to accomplish.

Automotive knowledge can help, but it can also be a detriment if you think that because you know cars, you know how to run a business. Bad habits die hard, and it can be better to start with a clean slate and grow from there. We see that when we hire — some of our best employees have been people who knew nothing about tires or cars and we trained them.

How do you find good employees? I look for a good attitude. They have to want to work, and they have to be a go-getter. I look for people who can think things through — they don’t have to be told everything they need to do.

We have a manager at one of our stores that came to us in 1999 and started as a tire technician, and he worked his way up to where he has been managing the store for eight years. We try to take care of our employees. Of course, you are going to have turnover, but most of our employees have been with us for several years.

What attracts customers to Big O rather than competitors? We give really good customer service. We take care of them. In a town like ours, word-of-mouth is everything, and if you take care of customers, they come back and tell their friends.

Would you recommend a Big O Tires franchise to someone else? Why? Yes I would. I think it’s a good opportunity for anybody who wants a business of their own, and who has the drive and willingness to be in the business on a daily basis to really make it run. I think Big O is a really great business to be in. I really do.

Over the last 40 years, we’ve put in a lot in our stores, between my husband and I, and my daughter and son-in-law, all our employees and our managers. We’ve put in a lot of hard work, and it’s been a great business to be in.

Want to learn more about starting a great tire business?

Franchisees like Sandy have helped Big O Tires grow for 50 years, and we offer a lot of support 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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