When construction trumps location
It’s a great location. That store would make a better Starbucks than a tire store!”Dan Hennelly gets excited when he finds a primo location for one of his The Tire Choice & Total Car Care outlets. When he leased the property on the corner of Seminole Blvd. and Ulmerton Rd. in Largo, Fla., nearly three years ago, he realized he had something special.
Why would Starbucks have wanted it? Traffic. The Pinellas County Metropolitan Planning Organization estimates the average number of vehicles passing by the store every day ranges from 31,500 to 38,500.
The United States Census Bureau estimates the population of Largo is only 78,000 people.
“That’s why they’re widening the street — there’s so much traffic,” says Hennelly, chairman and CEO of Hennelly Tire & Auto Inc. “When you see streets getting expanded like that, there’s only one reason.”
Entering and exiting the store has become a problem because of the construction, however.
“It really financially hurts the store right now,” he says. “It’s hard to get into. People avoid the intersection.”
According to Kris Carson, spokesperson for the Florida Department of Transportation, the 775-day, $16.9 million project is expected to be completed by the end of the year.
“We’re overcoming the challenge of the construction one customer at a time,” says Store Manager Chuck Crosby. “It’s been a gradual process — taking care of people who come in, getting out in the community, letting people know we are here.
“Some days are worse than others. It was worse when a grader was parked directly in the intersection. You wonder how many people see the construction and say, ‘I’m not going to fight with that.’”
Faced with missed opportunities as a result of the construction, Crosby, with help from his region manager, Allan Jenkins, has tried to increase business. Store employees hand out flyers at Home Depot and Lowes at 7 a.m.; offer service discounts to local businesses (“unless they have a ‘no solicit’ policy,” he says); and re-deploy staff to busier stores.
“Our car count six to eight months ago averaged 15 to 16 a day, but it’s down to 12 to 13,” says Crosby. “But although the car count is down, the sales ticket per car is up.” The store’s sales record for a month is $150,000, which was achieved in 2011 when the “snowbirds” from up north were still in the area.
“When you’re winning, you try to keep doing the things that you’re doing,” says Hennelly. “When you’re struggling, you try to follow the best practices and grass roots practices we always talk about.”
Hennelly says the flipside to losing sales is reducing expenses. A struggling store may be able to juggle staff. If the downturn is company-wide, however, decreasing hours may be necessary.
“That’s what we did in December of ‘08,” he says. “Sales dropped 15% to 20% during the recession. We went to a six-day, six-hour-per-day work week. We just reduced everyone’s hours and tried to keep the people.”
The Largo location is not the company’s busiest. Hennelly estimates between 45,000 and 50,000 vehicles pass by his West Palm Beach store on Okeechobee Blvd. every day.
(To find out traffic count near your store, check with your local city or county traffic engineer.) ■
Baby boomer chooses Tire Choice
Dan Nolan came into The Tire Choice & Total Car Care store in Largo, Fla., needing new tires for his 2007 Hyundai Santa Fe. He was armed with information he had collected online and had a brand in mind.
“I shop everything online,” said Nolan, 57. “I look for local businesses. Then I compare deals.”
He had previously taken his business to a nearby Tire Kingdom. “But when I saw they were charging extra to mount the tires, I thought, no way.”
The construction didn’t deter him, although coming from the east, he had to make a U-turn to enter the parking lot (see “When construction trumps location,” page 83).
Service Manager Mark Gray ended up selling Nolan a different brand: BFGoodrich Long Trail T/A Touring tires, size 235/65R18. “I felt they were better for his car,” said Gray. The Tire Choice backed the purchase with free balancing and rotation for the life of the tires.
Nolan also had the tires aligned (“I’d noticed a lot of wear on my front tires”) and purchased a one-year alignment warranty.
Naples is strict when it comes to permits, says Store Manager Andrew Deaton. “We’re not allowed to do any advertising outside of the building without permit approval. So no banners, no flags, no balloons.”