James Chen has always been a wheel guy with an entrepreneurial mindset.
At 16, he started importing and selling wheels from Japan – paying for them with his mother’s credit card.
He soon worked his way through neighborhood shops and held various positions at companies in the wheel industry. He was the first CEO at Claus Ettensberger Corp., a Los Angeles-based importer of German tires and wheels.
Then, he became a wholesale manager at Wheel Warehouse, and later, the general manager of import wheels for Dezz Motorsports.
Finally at 28, he started his own business: Axis Sport Tuning, a retail store in Anaheim. A year later, he launched his own wheel brand. And when his wheels were featured in “The Fast and The Furious” movies, business exploded.
“When a movie franchise solidified our (wheel) industry, it was no longer a hobby for people. It was legit,” he says. “We had good placement and good marketing on several cars in the movie, and we skyrocketed from there.”
The company grew out of its small warehouse, but around 2010, the wheel industry changed and OEMs started providing better looking wheels on cars. So, Chen’s business morphed into making wheels for OEMs and private labels, where it makes its profits today.
But you can’t have wheels without tires. And Chen saw a need in the tire industry for more convenient service.
He develop the idea for ASAP Tire, a mobile tire service, while on a flight for a family vacation, wishing he could get his tires replaced while away to save time. Then, after seeing a mobile dog wash van, Chen combined the two concepts and came up with a mobile tire shop and a plan to retrofit all service equipment into a single self-contained operation. He also partnered with Cie Digital Labs to create the user interface for consumers to have a seamless experience.
In 2015, ASAP Tire rolled out its first van. Since then, its fleet has grown to 10 vans across three metro areas including two in the Washington D.C. area.
“Consumer trends are changing right now,” Chen says. “I believe that mobile tire installation is going to have a big impact on the way we buy and install tires in the future. Once upon a time, you’d go to a tire shop and buy tires, but now, we get tires shipped to us, and they can be installed right there. There’s convenience, freedom and we’re empowering the customer. We’re giving them a choice.”
In 10 years, Chen says he thinks the industry will reach 50% mobile installation. His goal is to build a first-class company in this sector.
“Because I’ve been doing this for so long, I know customer satisfaction is key… it’s hiring the best talent, being professional and really caring about the customer experience.”
Fun Fact: Chen’s personal motto is “Leave the planet in a better place than I found it. Contribute something to society and solve problems.”