'Tires-and-Wheels-Only' Format Generates Big Returns
Gross Tire Topped $1 Million in Sales Last Year - Without Fixing a Single Car
Gross Tire Center Inc., a single-location dealership in the small city of Williamsport, Pa. - population 28,437 - generated $1.3 million in sales last year without performing a single oil change or brake job.
In fact, the dealership - which is celebrating its 89th year in business - doesn’t offer any auto repair or maintenance service beyond tire and wheel installation. And that’s how fourth-generation owner Kerry Gross likes it.
“When someone calls and asks what we do, I say, ‘Tires and wheels only,’” he says. “When I pull a car in, I’ll have two or three guys jump on it. We can knock a car out of here in 20 to 30 minutes. We just had a Toyota RAV4 in here. We had the car done in about 15 minutes. Of course, that was the perfect situation. The car had steel wheels. It was a quick, easy job.”
The dealership’s customers also prefer simplicity, says Gross, 50, who took the reins of the family business from his father, John Gross Jr., in 1999.
‘They depend on us’
Custom wheel sales are a big component of Gross Tire’s business, but not by design originally.
Selling wheels “kind of happened by accident,” says Gross. “We had remodeled our shop. And a friend of mine, who has a tire store, sent a couple of pictures of his showroom to me, after he had remodeled it.
“I remember seeing the chrome wheels hanging on his walls and said, ‘That looks sharp.’ So I ordered a few wheels to display and it grew from there.” The dealership’s wheel customers rely on Gross and his team of four full-timers and two part-time employees for advice.
“We’ll usually show them the catalogs we have. We also explain to customers, ‘If you buy wheels online, make sure it’s the correct bolt pattern and make sure you get the right lug nut kit.’ The average guy doesn’t know how to do all of that.”
At that point, most customers will hand the particulars off to Gross. “They depend on us to get it done right.”
Custom wheels for pickup trucks and SUVs are popular at the dealership, too. “I buy from four different wheel vendors and can have wheels shipped here in a couple of days,” he says. “For most people, buying a wheel package is a big undertaking. They’re not expecting it to be done in five minutes.”
Gross says he’s involved with nearly every aspect of his dealership’s operation. “I write up tickets. I answer the phone. I set up lifts. I take vehicles out for test drives.”
Nothing beats “working with the customer - taking time to help someone,” he notes.
“I’m completely independent. I buy from 11 different wholesalers. I go where the deals are. I can offer a brand name tire at the same price as a Chinese import.
“My first year in business, I sold 1,600 tires - all by myself. In an average year now, we’re doing 8,000 tires or better. When the fracking industry was in full swing, we did over 10,000 tires in one year.”
Fracking - the practice of injecting high-pressure water into rock to extract natural gas - was a booming industry in Pennsylvania, peaking there in 2011.
“It was enormous. We had a lot of (fracking) fleet accounts. We’d have a couple of trucks in here every day.”
Since then, legislation and market forces have combined to reduce fracking activity in Gross’ part of the state. (However, Pennsylvania still leads the United States in natural gas production.)
Gross Tire made up for lost fracking fleet revenue without straying from its “tires and wheels-only” model. Business has been so good that the dealership recently added 1,500 square feet to its service area, which created a second tire service bay.
“It’s 60 feet deep and 18 feet wide. We also doubled the size of our work area behind our original bay. We can get three vehicles inside now. We used to work outside, year-round, rain or shine. We’d jack cars up in the parking lot. We don’t have to do that anymore.”
Gross Tire was founded nearly 90 years ago by Harry Gross Sr. He sold gas “and also did oil changes and sold tires.
“Then my grandfather, John Sr., took over in the 1940s. By 1946, he had outgrown” the company’s original building “and moved to where we are now.”
John Gross Jr. took over in 1970.
“In junior high school, one of my first jobs was collecting cash for my dad from self-serve gas customers. I’d sit in the little window with my school books, doing my homework.”
Last month, the dealership held an open house event to celebrate its 89th anniversary. Hundreds of people attended the day-long gathering.
“I promoted the heck out of it on my personal Facebook page and my business Facebook page. “We gave away 200 hot dogs,” plus hundreds of shirts, hats and other items. A longtime customer won a drawing for a new set of Nexen passenger tires.
Each Gross Tire employee played a role.
“My son, Lucas, who is 17, and I were in the booth handing out goodies. My second-in-command, Jay Baboolal, was in the bay,” demonstrating tire service equipment.
“My brother, Keith, was running the grill. My future son-in-law, Drake Mankey, ran a cornhole game. My first officer, Eric Berger, was in the office, manning the phone.”
A local country music station, WILQFM, sent a DJ to broadcast from the dealership’s parking lot. “Every 20 minutes, he’d go live and say, ‘We’re checking in from Gross Tire. We’re giving away free prizes.’”
Looking ahead, Gross says a fifth generation of family ownership is a possibility. His son, Lucas, works at the dealership part-time.
“He comes in every day after school and he’s here every Saturday. He’s taking the automotive repair course at the local high school. He’s learning everything - from brakes to inspections.”
Until it’s time to step aside, Gross says he will “keep slinging tires and wheels. We have a nice formula right now. We stay busy all day long.”