Entrepreneur Fills Gap in Tire Market, Explosive Growth Ensues
Helping everyday people afford good quality tires for their vehicles has led to massive success for one Tampa, FL franchise.
President and owner of RNR Tire Express & Custom Wheels Larry Sutton started the company in 2000, and the first franchise opened shortly after in 2003. Currently, RNR has 15 franchisees operating 83 stores across 23 states, mainly in the south.
RNR is a tire and custom wheel company that offers brand name quality tires and wheels on payment programs. Sutton said he realized just how much of a need there was for a business like RNR after he saw how quickly the initial store took off.
“We found out early there was a real need for what we were trying to do,” Sutton explained during an interview from Franklin, Indiana, where he was helping a new franchisee with his store opening. “When we first started, it was really more oriented toward the custom wheel industry as opposed to the passenger tire industry. We were thinking of it as a custom wheel business.”
In fact, even before the doors opened to the first store in Tampa and the team were getting the store ready, potential customers were stopping by, peering through the windows and knocking on the door anxious to find out when they would open.
When the store finally did open Sutton described it like a rocket ship taking off and he knew immediately that he had found the right niche.
“It was quite an eye-opening experience,” the company founder said.
Considering what has happened to the price of tires over the last several years, though, it now makes perfect sense to Sutton that people would be clamoring for a business like RNR.
Years ago, Sutton said, you could get a quality set of tires for around $300. Today, that price tag is more like $700 – $1,000 and with so many people living paycheck to paycheck, it can be difficult for them to find the money for a new set of tires.
That has led to the proliferation of used tire stores, the business owner explained, which in turn led to people only buying one tire at a time and having mismatched sets of previously discarded tires on their vehicles.
This situation created the perfect storm in the United States for RNR to fill the need for a business centered on selling tires on a payment program. A top performing RNR store generates an average annual total revenue of $1,809,389.
And Sutton was the perfect entrepreneur to fill this gap in the market. He got his start in his uncle’s television and appliance store at 16 and after opening his own appliance store at 21 and running it for a few years, he made his way into the rent-to-own sphere. He and a friend started Champion Rent-to-Own, growing that business to over 150 stores and then selling it in 1997.
After selling Champion, Sutton tried out a few other businesses, but chose to start RNR once he realized how many people he could help by selling tires on a payment program. Getting started wasn’t an easy task, though.
When he first got into the tire business, Sutton and his team didn’t know much about tires and wheels.
“There was a lot to learn in regard to picking the right wheels and the right tires for each car,” Sutton recalled. “It was a lot of trial and error at first. We relied a lot on our local vendors to help us with the learning curve.”
The Right Fit
Now that RNR is rolling, Sutton is putting out the call for other entrepreneurs to join the growing business. Although the business owner doesn’t have a specific profile in mind for potential franchisees, anyone with an interest in automotive and a passion for helping people would be a great candidate, he said.
“We can teach people about tires and wheels,” Sutton said, “we can teach people about the transactions, but we can’t teach passion and desire.”
Potential franchisees should also be entrepreneurial in spirit and, of course, have the financial wherewithal to invest in an RNR. Most RNR franchisees are multi-unit operators, he added, but the company does work with single unit owners.
Open to Ideas
Along with planning advertising and promotions for franchisees and offering them media buying opportunities, RNR also provides them with comprehensive in-store training in either Tampa or Arkansas.
New franchisees are also heavily assisted during the process of getting started and throughout their grand opening. After that, they are audited regularly to make sure they’re on the right track.
One of the unique things about RNR, the owner said, is a willingness to listen to franchisees and use their ideas to improve.
“We have a really open ear to our franchisee’s concepts and ideas,” he noted.
For example, the company was originally branded as Rent-N-Roll, then later to RNR Custom Wheels and Performance Tires. Sutton was looking for a way to increase their passenger tire penetration. David Harrison, a multi-unit franchisee and the company’s first area developer, suggested changing the brand name to, RNR Tire Express. Along with some other changes to the operating model, the Tire Express concept was rolled out about five years ago and has proven to be the most successful branding in the short history of the franchise, Sutton said. “Had I not been open to listening to my franchisee, we may have missed out on a tremendous growth opportunity.”
With opportunities available right across the country, RNR is the perfect fit for anyone with an interest in the automotive industry, but who also has a passion for helping people.