Nearly 10 years ago while working for BASF, Don Douglass watched as tires were loaded into the back of a international shipping container, along with a Ferrari. Although Douglass had no previous experience with tire retail, he became interested in the buying and selling of tires. After speaking with a friend in the industry, he was sold.
Fast forward to present day, and Douglass, owner of A Plus Tire Club in Santa Ana, Calif., is opening shipping containers of his own, filled with hundreds of tires imported directly from places like Thailand, Indonesia, and China; an experience Douglass describes as both intimidating and exciting.
“Being an independent tire dealer means a lot of long hours of paperwork and being your own accountant in the beginning. You look up at the clock and it’s 10:30 p.m. and you’re still at the office trying to figure things out,” says Douglass. “But I knew by making those sacrifices early on that growth was happening. I was managing the money so much that the growth was always there so it always kept me motivated to keep going.”
Douglass opened A Plus Tire Club in 2008 during a decline in the economy; a time when Douglass felt like everyone was cutting back and really holding onto their money.
“Starting a business during a recession may or may not be a wise move, for me it was an initial struggle of seeing how people were just trying to get by, but tires were kinda a necessary evil for them,” says Douglass. “We had a lot of families come in with things like wire showing through the tread, and that made it extremely heartbreaking for me, even though I was just trying to survive myself and work with them.”
From the start, Douglass said his shop developed a reputation of being a high-volume, low-cost supplier after deciding that providing customers with affordable options was more important than having higher margins. With that, the shop focused on helping as many customers as they could and growing their business through word of mouth.
With a stock of more than 10,000 tires, Douglass says the shop carries a wide range of tires for everything from exotic to everyday cars but they mainly focus on Michelin and Pirelli brands.
“We really focus on Pirelli and Michelin because they’re supportive of independent tire dealers through their retail programs and we found them to be the most beneficial to the shop,” says Douglass.
To mount and balance those tires and wheels, Douglass says his shop relies on Coats equipment because of the company’s attentive support system in Southern California for service and maintenance. Within a day, Douglass says the company has always been able to get a technician out to the shop if there’s an equipment issue.
What started as a two-bay shop in 2008 with a crew of three, has now grown to be a three-double-bay shop with 13 employees.
Douglass says he hopes to keep expanding. Currently, he is in the process of looking for ways to add more space or move to a different location after his customer base has expressed interest in the shop providing basic mechanical services such as alignments and brakes on top of their current wheel and tire services.
Douglass came into the business with little automotive and tire knowledge, but set out determined to learn as much as he could from industry veterans.
“I reached out to a lot of other tire shops and crew members that have been in the industry for 30-plus years and they mentored me and let me bounce ideas off of them,” says Douglass. “A lot of independent tire dealers were very receptive to saying what worked for them and went into running a shop. It really helped me in my endeavor to grow my own shop.”
That sense of community and support is one reason why Douglass said he is proud to be an independent tire dealer and part of the industry.
“It can be a day-to-day grind for some,” says Douglass, “but a lot of the satisfaction of doing this that makes it worth it, comes from that instant camaraderie between dealers and between customers.”