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Tire Franchise Review: ‘I Need to Own One’ says Big O Tires Associate

Q&A with Greg Kimberlin, owner of two Big O Tires franchise stores in Kentucky

Greg and Tammy Kimberlin.

Greg and Tammy Kimberlin.

There are many different ways to gauge the quality of a franchise system, and here is one to add to the list:

Greg Kimberlin started with the Big O Tires franchise in 1990 working as an area manager for the home office. He soon realized that going from a corporate Associate to becoming a Big O franchisee could lead to even more opportunity for him.

As Greg helped Big O franchise owners as a roving trainer and support team member, he saw how much was possible for a tire franchise owner. So he bought his first Big O franchise in 1994, just a few years after joining the Big O team. Kimberlin now owns two locations in Kentucky — one in Shelbyville and the other in La Grange.

What were you doing before Big O Tires?
I’m a mechanic by trade and started my career running retail stores for a company in Indianapolis. But, I moved nine times in 10 years with them. When I got married and had a son, I knew moving around like that wasn’t for me. So I left the automotive industry for a few years. Then, Big O called. Bill Walker – a Big O franchise owner who worked with me when I first started as a mechanic – recommended me. Big O’s regional vice president at the time was insistent that I work for them, and it was the best move I ever made.

How actively involved are you at your stores?
I have two franchise locations — in La Grange and Shelbyville, KY. I’m physically in these stores five days a week, and when I’m not there I check-in through security systems and cameras. I’m never not connected to my shops.

Big O is not for someone who only wants a financial investment without the personal investment. A Big O franchise needs owner-attention every day. Nobody is going to run it like you do. I deal a lot with people who are thinking about starting a Big O. So I invite them to come in and work with me for a day or two to see it’s what they really want to do. This isn’t a part-time job. A franchise owner needs to be engaged and take care of customers to be successful.

What do you like about the job?
Once the tire dust gets in your blood, it’s really hard to get it out. I like working for myself and building a store. If I can help people, that’s all I need to be happy — helping a customer, or someone like the guy in my Shelbyville store who started as a part-timer in the Express Lane. He stuck with me, and is now in line to buy my store in Shelbyville when I am ready to sell it.

I enjoy seeing the business get better and grow. Big O takes the guesswork out of a lot of it. The point-of-sale system is a good example. It’s not something you can just buy and pull out of the box. Big O worked with our franchisee IT committee to build a system that gives us the numbers and data we need to be successful every day — showing us how our revenues, expenses, and profit margins are lining up. Big O is a franchise that works hard to help everyone succeed, and they give you the right tools.

You already have someone in mind to buy your Shelbyville store. Tell me about that.
The day you buy a franchise is the day you better start figuring out how you are going to sell it. Big O stores have done a great job of cultivating the people in your business so they grow. I’m always thinking about how my team can advance. Who is sharp? Who can I cultivate? Who can be a successful business person? And people respond to that kind of treatment — to know that they can learn and grow. The biggest issue I have at the La Grange store is I have so many guys who’ve stuck with me for such a long time, it can be hard to manage the vacation schedule! I have a lot of great employees who have helped me build what I have. I’m the least important person in either building. Without them, I’m nothing. I can do all of it, and I have done all of it — and I was out doing tires today — but, I sure can’t do it all by myself.

How do you inspire loyalty?
You take care of them. These guys know they’re not just employees. We’re watching their kids grow up. There are four or five guys here at the La Grange store who literally call us “mom and dad”. If they have a problem at home, I want to know because it affects them at work. My wife Tammy pays bills at both stores. She’s at the stores five days a week, too. They can come back and talk to one of us about anything. We’ll listen and we’ll give our advice. We watch them get married and go to weddings and birthdays parties and see their new babies. It’s just…it’s a family.

post01What sets Big O apart?
First off, the stores are locally owned and operated. For instance, a lot of other tire stores are owned by corporations that put a manager in the store and that’s it. If you have a problem, it will get taken care of, but you might have to make several calls and do some kicking and screaming to get the attention of the person authorized to fix your problem. At Big O, I’m in the store. If there’s a problem, I take care of it. I ask customers, ‘what can I do to get it fixed?’

Customers like knowing that the owner is right there and can help them. They also like that as business owners, not just managers, we’re here for the long haul. You can go anywhere and buy tires. You can’t go anywhere and get us. We build relationships with customers based on the fact that we look out for their best interests. When you come in, we may find 10 things wrong with your vehicle. A lot of places would try to convince you to fix all 10, no matter how much that would cost the customer. We tell them what we would fix if it was our car, and what we would put off, and let customers make the decision. There is no high-pressure selling. I don’t want to get the most out of customers every time they come in. I want them to know they’ve been treated well, so they’ll come back for years and will recommend us to everyone. I want generations. We are starting to deal with our third generation of customers now — we have the son, the parents, and the grandparents as customers, and that’s what we want. Go to a corporate-owned shop and they are worried about making budget, making their bonus. If at the end of the month, you need to sell an extra $3,000, they don’t care if you won’t get back. Well, I want people coming back for years. Aside from the money, in most cases we live in the communities where the stores are, so we don’t want a bad reputation. You don’t want to go to the grocery store and have someone see you as that guy who ripped them off.

How large is the opportunity?
It’s a great opportunity – with Big O, everyone needs oil changes, tires, and alignments. People need it, and as long as you treat them right, they’re going to come in to see you.

Do you need automotive experience to succeed?
No. What’s necessary is the ability to hire the right people who have the automotive experience. Automotive experience would put you a year ahead of the learning curve, but it isn’t necessary. Big O has a great system in place for people to learn, and if you let it work for you, you will do well. Big O’s system is very well-thought out and has a lot of parts. It’s sort of like the spokes on a bicycle wheel: as long as you do the suggested programs, you’re going to be successful, but if you start taking spokes out, all of a sudden that bicycle won’t roll too well.

You don’t have to be a genius, but you do need to be able to follow a plan. Big O was founded by a bunch of guys who didn’t have a high school education, and yet they are multi-millionaires today because they followed the system: how you meet people at the car, how you handle the cars, how you invoice people. We have a big spiral-bound blueprint for success.

Would you recommend a Big O Tires franchise to someone else? Why?
Without question. To be a good businessperson, you need to look around and see what else is out there and see if there is a better opportunity, and I haven’t found one! With the distribution systems, the product lines, the size of (parent companies) TBC Corporation and Sumitomo Corporation of America, there is nothing better out there.

Learn more about Big O Tires

To learn more, including about startup costs, financial performance, training and support, visit the research pages of www.bigofranchise.wpengine.com. You can also read the Big O Tires franchise blog for Q&As with existing franchisees. To start a conversation, either fill out a form and download our free franchise report or give us a call at 1-800-622-2446.

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