Owners View Pandemic as Strategic Time to Refuel and Recharge Growing Footprint
Hemet, CA…September 30, 2020… Husband and wife owners of Southern California-based Integrity Tire Auto Service Centers, Chris and Rebekah Moll, have seized opportunities over the past few years to grow the family’s independent tire and auto service chain. Their formulas for success have driven their ambitions to continue adding area stores to their growing footprint in Riverside County, San Bernardino County, Orange County, and the city of Hesperia.
Originally a single-site business founded in Hemet, CA by Chris Moll’s father Steve Moll in 2000, by 2015 it had grown to three stores. In 2015, Chris made the transition to Integrity Tire after working for other independent powerhouses, Certified Tire and Express Tire. His first year with Integrity, he drove annual sales almost 60% increase year over year. In 2020, Chris purchased the company and has opened three stores since, with the latest being in Temecula, CA.
Chris Moll recently shared his insights, opinions, and business strategies. “My goal in 2015 was to open five more stores by 2020…one store per year. But fast-forward five years to this month and I’ve been able to surpass that goal with the fifteenth store just acquired. Although we initially reduced some working hours at the beginning of the pandemic in March and April, after about two months we decided to get everyone back to work and let everyone in the community know, mostly by an on-line presence, that we’re open for business. That included providing discounts for emergency medical personnel and first-responders,” he said.
Chris continued, “In the pursuit of operational excellence and highest customer satisfaction, we opted to not reduce staff in proportion to reduced customers, but rather to maintain our staffing levels to ensure that when customers were ready to come back for service, their expectations could be met. The Paycheck Protection Program loans provided a means of keeping our 145 workers on the payroll.”
He also said, “I believe in setting lofty goals and for me it’s the ownership of one hundred stores in California. Aside from those future plans, my wife Rebekah keeps me grounded in the everyday business challenges everyone experiences.”
Chris noted, “The expansion of our business has inspired many of our employees to give their very best because they also see possible merit-based promotions and management opportunities for themselves in addition to bonus programs currently in place. In fact, if I could share one secret of our success, it would be that enhancing the professional mentality of our employees results in substantial financial rewards for the business. For instance, in some of the stores we have acquired, we made significant investments in the business, including facility upgrades, equipment, tools, sufficiently stocked inventories, computer and telephone systems, and new paint on the walls. We strove to keep every employee of each store we acquired and the boost to their morale by the workplace improvements was palpable. Thanks to that and to following procedures for providing customers with the utmost care and advice so they can make informed decisions, we have been rewarded with double, triple, and quadruple month-over-month increases as compared to prior years. That kind of success has also attracted the best talent to come and work for us. Our business ratio is 70% repair and maintenance service to 30% tires. Customers putting their trust in us for all their auto service needs has become the hallmark of our business.”
Automotive aftermarket-specific business broker Art Blumenthal managed the sale of all four stores of The Tire Guys, owned by Jim and Sue Ferguson, to Integrity Tire. Jim and Sue founded their business in 1984 after returning to California from living in South America for ten years, where they had been Peace Corps volunteers as newlyweds 47 years ago.
Sue Ferguson was recently interviewed at home enjoying life. “We don’t call it retirement…it’s really a new chapter of fun,” she said. Meanwhile, her husband Jim had taken his bike, dog, and hiking gear to Lake Tahoe to visit one of their three daughters.
Sue continued, “Jim and I have never talked about retirement…but our desire to travel more, possibly living in another country again eventually. We are not people who sit still. We want to be productive. We envision an active lifestyle. We always said that if it’s doable financially, we need to sell the business while we are still youthful and healthy enough to enjoy the physical activities we like as well as giving back to our community. About three years ago we started discussing plans for our future, what that would look like, and when and to whom we would sell the business. We attended one of Art Blumenthal’s webinars entitled ‘Business Succession Planning for Aftermarket Shop Owners.’ After due diligence and ongoing conversations with him, we decided that he was the best choice as business broker for The Tire Guys.
“It took us a lot of time to prepare our businesses for sale because accomplishing that while continuing to operate successfully is a task. In addition, I often say that my husband Jim is the ‘brake’ to my ‘accelerator.’ If I’m impulsive or moving forward too quickly, he analyzes and checks and slows things down to a more manageable speed. Art has the skill and experience to have us objectively analyze our business and financials to determine its market value. We were delighted when he brought Integrity Tire to the negotiating table and we realized what a good fit it would be. Steve Moll and his dynamic son, Chris purchased the first three stores as a catalyst to their plans for establishing a chain and then the final store was purchased by Chris. We felt a level of comfort with them that didn’t exist with other potential buyers. Art was a skillful negotiator in assuring that each side was being satisfied, even when unexpected legal, leasing, and financial hurdles occurred…including a worldwide pandemic.”
When Jim Ferguson was interviewed, he said, “We learned so much during the sales process. There are many baby-boomer store owners out there and at some point most of them will not want to continue working. Having an end goal in sight, evaluating when you want to stop working, and establishing a timeline is important to a successful conclusion. Getting good, long-term leases with options and favorable terms will be important to the buyer. An unreasonable landlord can ruin a deal. Because a buyer is really buying your customer base, taking care of your customers better than ever so they will still be there for the buyer is critical. Art assisted tremendously in establishing realistic market values for our stores, as well as guiding us in the creation of operating statements in formats banks would accept. A key component of selling a business for the highest price is the profitability over the past three years.”
Sue noted, “COVID-19 was a punch to the gut starting in March when we had the last store for sale and realized that we were one positive case away from having to shut the doors. We created a strict protocol of sanitation and hygiene to keep customers coming in and discovered that after decades of being honest with them, they trusted us during this worst of times. As an essential business, we found that the customers wanted their vehicles maintained during this and knew that we would not overprice our services. Jim was working seven days a week because he did not want any of his personnel exposed more than he was. In the midst of all that, Chris Moll approached about purchasing the final store. We had seen how well he managed the other three stores and how the sales had increased under his direction. We had known that was possible, but when you are store owners in your mid-sixties and contemplating the next stage of life, the desire to make large financial investments seems less imperative.”
Sue concluded, “As business owners, we always thought of ourselves and our personnel as ‘The Tire Guys Family.’ So we were not going to just walk away from them; and the transition to Integrity Tire was smooth and simple for them. We are confident that our legacy is in good hands.”
Art Blumenthal said, “I believe that, for tire and auto service shop owners who have been negatively impacted by COVID-19 and are considering a transition out of the business in the next 1-3 years, the sooner the better! With the growth strategies of Integrity Tire as an example, there are still buyers out there looking at business opportunities and many of them perceive auto repair as recession-resistant, compared to other types of businesses.”