New Owner of Fred's Tire Focuses on Continuous Improvement
Going from owning a lawn care company to operating an independent tire dealership is not a common transition. JR Boenker, the new owner of Fred’s Tire & Auto, a two-location dealership based in Wentzville, Mo., some 40 miles west of St. Louis, Mo., made the switch nearly four years ago. And he’s glad he did.
Boenker and his father, Dennis Boenker Sr., bought Fred’s Tire & Auto, which opened 28 years ago, in 2018. JR, who had owned a lawn care and landscaping company prior to the purchase, became sole proprietor of Fred’s Tire & Auto when Dennis Sr. retired this month.
The younger Boenker, 37, says he took to selling tires right away. “I like how the customer can walk in and talk to the owner or the general manager” at a tire dealership, he notes.
Scott Ray, Freds’ Tire & Auto’s general manager and longtime Boenker family friend, helps JR run the operation. “You can always find Scott and me at one of our shops - open to close,” says JR. “If there’s a problem, we take care of it. It’s not something that has to be drawn out.
“I also like that the tire industry is not seasonal. Wintertime slows us down a little bit, but there’s still business coming through the door.”
The tire and auto repair service industries’ higher cost of entry is another plus, according to JR.
“Anybody can buy a lawn mower and undercut you. But with the way cars are these days, there’s a lot involved.
JR says he and his father inherited an already-successful business when they acquired Fred’s Tire & Auto from original owners, Fred and Lori McGinley.
The elder Boenker had run a trucking company and “was looking for another business opportunity.
“We had been friends with Scott for a long time and he introduced us to Fred, who had built a very solid business and a very solid customer base.”
After taking over, the Boenkers spotted opportunities to tweak several processes at the dealership. The previous owners “did scheduling by writing appointments down in a daily planner,” says Ray, who took the lead on modernizing the dealership’s scheduling system by installing new shop management software.
“That had the biggest impact on productivity,” he says. “It increased our car count dramatically and increased our sales.”
Both of Fred’s Tire & Auto stores were already situated “in great areas and have a lot of visibility. Our Wentzville location is off of Highway 70,” near a well-traveled exit. “Our St. Charles, Mo., store is in an older historic district, near a community college.
"We get non-stop traffic going by. But you can’t take on more work if you can’t run more work through your shops.”
Working with Ray, the Boenkers also updated their showrooms and bought several vehicles - wrapped in Fred’s Tire & Auto branding - to shuttle customers.
They also “got a handle on” the operation’s tire and auto parts inventory by tracking incoming and outgoing stock more closely.
“We carry heavy movers for normal maintenance, but we don’t carry a wide range,” says Ray. “We don’t want to tie up that kind of money in inventory that will sometimes take months to move.”
One thing they avoided was changing the dealership’s name. “We wanted very little fanfare” when the McGinleys exited the business, says Ray. “We didn’t want to create nervousness with customers.
“I had worked for a company for more than 30 years and when the owners sold the business, the very first thing the new owners did was change the company’s name and sign. It had a negative effect. We didn’t want to do that at all.”
“We kept it low-key because the business already had a great reputation,” says JR. “A lot of people don’t even know that Fred is retired. They still call and ask if Fred’s around.”
Join the club
“We don’t have a large budget for advertising,” says JR. “We’re fortunate we don’t need that. We’re known as an honest, reputable company. When a customer comes in for an oil change, we don’t list another 20 things that need to be taken care of.
“If it’s a safety concern, of course, we’ll bring it to their attention. But we’re not here to push the extra stuff that’s not needed.”
Auto service makes up a signi cant portion of Fred’s Tire & Auto’s overall revenue. To increase that percentage, the Boenkers and Ray created Fred’s Car Care Club.
Customers pay a flat fee of $49.95 to join. They then receive a card that offers discounts on a variety of auto care services. Cards are non-transferable and must be presented at the time of purchase. And they aren’t traditional punch cards, says JR.
“We discovered that if a customer pays for a card, they’re more apt to take it seriously and use it.
“If a customer uses our card, it will save them several hundreds of dollars on services - brakes, alignments and more.”
The previous owners of Fred’s Tire & Auto offered “a little key chain that doubled as a punch card,” says Ray.
“You punched off five oil changes and got that sixth oil change for free. Well, we discovered that a lot of customers who used that (card) only came in for oil changes. You can juggle the numbers, but I can tell you that you won’t survive on oil changes alone.”
The club is expected to drive more revenue for the dealership, which may expand one of its stores in the near future. New locations also are possible, though JR cautions that “we’re not looking to add next week. But it’s something I’m considering. I’m not going anywhere anytime soon.”