No Typical Dealer
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College Plan Leads Dayton’s Schardt to Success
For the past two years, Tire Review has brought you Dealer Diary, a monthly series that focuses on typical tire dealers and the ins and outs of their business.
This year, we’re going to turn the tables a bit and profile a dealer whose main focus isn’t tires – although they’re just as important to his business. Dave Schardt, president of The Wheel Source in Dayton, Ohio, has made custom wheels his primary focus, through both a retail store in Dayton and wholesale operations around the country. Tires are still a big part of The Wheel Source’s business, but they specialize in custom wheels and other performance products.
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Tire dealers sell wheels. Most of them do, anyway. It’s a great add-on sale that can really help the bottom line.
According to Tire Review’s recent Tire Dealer Profile Study, 77% of dealers offer custom wheels, earning an average sale price of just over $121 for each wheel sold.
But what about a wheel dealer who sells tires? It sounds the same, but really isn’t. However, that’s exactly what Dave Schardt does. Schardt is the president of The Wheel Source, a wholesale wheel distributor in Dayton, Ohio.
The Wheel Source has a three-bay location that employs 17 people, including two mechanics, two tire techs and three retail sales associates. The Dayton location also serves as the distribution point of performance products for the company’s locations in Chicago and Atlanta.
Along with wholesale, retail sales are a staple for The Wheel Source in Dayton. The shop is lined with rack after rack of wheels – all of different size, make and design. Performance accessories also abound, with anything from highly stylized steering wheels and gearshift knobs to custom exhaust and suspension systems.
And just for a little extra advertisement, Schardt keeps high performance cars parked out front, symbolizing the type of work that’s being done inside. His speed yellow Porsche Carrera 4. Tom Myers’, vice president, 1998 Lexus GS300 with an Eibach lowering kit, Momo 18-inch wheels with Toyo T1-s tires, and a HKS exhaust. And a red 1995 Porsche 968 with 19-inch Speedline wheels with Yokohama AVS Sports that belongs to Doug Cole, the Chicago warehouse manager.
"We really don’t do the typical work that a tire dealer does. We stick to upgrade performance work," Schardt said. "If a customer is coming in for exhaust work, they want to upgrade the system they already have. That’s what we’re all about here. We’re not out to do the typical oil changes."
Schardt’s people have become efficient at what they do. The average wheel and tire job takes around one hour to complete, with a spring and shock job taking four hours. And the overall average bill for completed work is in the $1,500 range.
But Schardt’s entry into the wheel/tire business is a little different than most. He wasn’t groomed to take over a family business. He didn’t start as a tech who built up enough courage and money to go it alone.
But he has spent much of his life around cars, working throughout high school and college at a Dayton Wire Wheel location that his father purchased in 1970. "I’ve worked in just about every position at Dayton Wheel. I could build a wire wheel in my sleep," Schardt said. "My father also raced sports cars while I was growing up, so I’ve been around cars just about all my life. Before I got my license, I bought a 1971 Mercury Capri for $200 and fixed it up myself, including bodywork and paint, and sold it two years later for $2,500. That gave me the ‘bug.’"
But for all intents and purposes, Schardt’s journey began as a homework assignment.
"In college I took an entrepreneurship class in which I made a business plan for a wheel distributorship that was based in Atlanta," said Schardt, who spent two years at Miami (Ohio) University before graduating from Wright State University with a B.S. in business management with a psychology minor. Sounds innocent enough, but it proved to be just the beginning.
"After college, I became a manager for Tire Discounters in Cincinnati," Schardt said. "For a tire store, we sold a lot of wheels. But that was a problem, because except for American Racing wheels, we had to order all our wheels from California. They usually took over a week to get, and service was typically poor."
Most dealers will complain about the service they get from their manufacturers from time to time. But Schardt decided to do something about it.
"After a while, I asked a couple of manufacturers if they were interested in distributors in the southern Ohio/northern Kentucky area, and of course they were," he said. "Most of them consigned me inventory. I had taken my business plan from college, switched the location data to Dayton, and The Wheel Source was born.
"My feelings about starting the business were naturally apprehensive. However, I have a very strong support group in my family and friends that gave me the courage to take the plunge."
But it wasn’t as grand as all that in the beginning. Schardt began 1991 with just two employees. In his second year, an on-road salesman was hired, and that’s when the wholesale business took off.
"After a year, sales were going well in surrounding cities like Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Columbus, and Louisville, but not in Dayton," Schardt remembered. "The local tire stores said our products were too expensive and nobody in Dayton wanted that kind of stuff."
If he couldn’t get others to bite, Schardt figured he might as well take on an added challenge. That’s when the idea came to open a retail location. Show the local customers what was up for sale, what could be done with their vehicles.
"We needed a bigger location, so we found a great location with large showroom and decided to open up a retail store of our own," Schardt said. "The tire stores in the area were very wrong.
"Dayton proved to be ready for a performance, high-end wheel and tire store, and our sales were extraordinary right from the start. Over the past eight years, we’ve developed the market in the city of Dayton, and now our wholesale business is quite good, as well."
But that success just didn’t happen. Like every dealer, Schardt works long hours to make sure his business continues to flourish.
"I spend on the average 50 to 60 hours a week at work," he said. "That doesn’t include work I do at home in the evening, like responding to e-mails and writing letters.
"I spend almost 24 hours a day thinking about work. I come up with ideas at all different times of the day and night, and I’m always trying to think of ways to do things better and more efficiently."
But even with his successes, there’s one thing Schardt has learned that would have made the his journey easier right from the start. "If I had to do it all over again, I would do one thing differently," he said. "I would’ve started with only name brand high-end products from the beginning.
"When I started, I had several cheap lines which I thought would sell because of their price. They did sell, but the resulting problems associated them were absolutely not worth it. I learned quickly that although the more expensive stuff is harder to sell, in the end it is worth the extra effort."