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Bye, bye, rat race: Andonian moves to San Diego to grow Evans Tire

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Bye, bye, rat race: Andonian moves to San Diego to grow Evans Tire

The watershed event in Evans Tire & Service Centers Inc.'s history occurred in January 2000, when John Andonian purchased the nine-store dealership -- from himself.

Evans Tire, based in Escondido, Calif., was owned by AKH Co. Inc., which was owned and operated by Andonian and his brothers. AKH also does business as Discount Tire Center in California.

But Andonian, who was CEO and president of AKH, was looking for a change. When AKH began to downsize and focus on licensing its store format, he saw his opportunity.

"Los Angeles was getting too cluttered and difficult to raise kids in," he says "Those nine Evans Tire locations were in transition to be sold. When that fell through, I saw the opportunity to buy those locations and move out of Los Angeles."

Since then, Evans Tire has grown 44%, from nine to 13 stores, all in the San Diego area, making it one of the top 100 independent tire dealerships in the country. (Andonian, pictured on an Alaskan cruise sponsored by Falken Tire Corp., also sells Goodyear, Dunlop, Star, Pirelli, Michelin and BFGoodrich tires at his 13 Evans Tire locations.)

At least 20 stores

Andonian, 46, was raised in Los Angeles. "I love the retail business," he says. "Retail is my forte -- I love marketing, I love challenges. Another challenge was to take these stores and grow them."

He is in the negotiation stages of opening at least two more stores. "I want to... stay in San Diego County. The potential here is somewhere between 20 and 25 locations -- at that level, you're covering the market very well."

He says when expanding, square mileage between stores isn't as important as where the cities and growth areas are. His demographic reports break down number of households, number of cars per household, and money spent on automotive repairs.

Andonian projects sales of $17 million this year, a 68% increase over 2002's sales. Same-store sales grew 20% in 2002 and are up 29% in 2003.

Great expectations

Andonian describes customer service as performing "beyond customer expectations."

"I say to my guys, 'We're not in the tire business, we're in the service business.'" Tire sales make up 60% of his business.

As a G-3 Goodyear dealer, Andonian offers Goodyear brands, which make up the majority of his sales. But he also offers Pirelli, Michelin, BFGoodrich and Falken. Andonian says he's also started to carry Falken wheels.

As a California dealership, Evans Tire is in the tuner business "by default," according to Andonian. But it's not a big part of his business. He sells American Racing, Enkei, BBS, Axis and Rial wheels, and inventories them at two of his stores.

Marketing muscle

With much fanfare, Andonian opened four stores in Encinitas, Clairmont Mesa, National City and Vista/Oceanside recently. "Public relations are part of the marketing package that makes (Evans Tire) a successful company," he says. The new stores feature a purple and yellow color scheme.

His newspaper ads feature tire pricing and selection to show what each store has to offer. They run on Thursdays because "normally Thursday helps the weekend business." The pricing is not all-inclusive; balancing and valve stems are extra.

The company also advertises on cable television and runs some radio spots. Andonian says he pushes free alignments with select tires to get people in the door.

Fight for customers

Andonian certainly is getting the challenge he craves. The San Diego market is very competitive; Costco Wholesale, Pep Boys and Firestone Tire & Auto stores all have a strong presence (surprisingly, Sears, Roebuck and Co., with either its Sears Auto Centers or NTB stores, doesn't). However, it is the independents such as Discount Tire Co. (based out of Scottsdale, Ariz.), Express Tire, Big O Tires, Tire Express and Certified Tire (which purchased four Winston Tire stores in San Diego a year ago) that he considers his prime competition.

"There are projections that 10 years from now, there will be an influx of (maybe) one-half million to a million people in the San Diego area," he says. "I'm not sure the county can handle it, not with the way the freeway system is. But they're working on it."

Andonian remains a shareholder in AKH. However, his move to San Diego with his wife, Cynthia, son Alex, 17 ("he knows more about cars than I'll ever know"), and daughters Nicole, 12, and Ariana, 8, seems to have paid off. "I feel a lot more relaxed," he says.

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