Ben Ari of Thrive Global interviewed RNR Tire Express founder, Larry Sutton. Below is a part of their interview.
“Listen to your team members seeking their counsel on most decisions.
Work smart enough and delegate in order to take time for yourself and your family.
Don’t take yourself too seriously.
A great company is built by bringing the right people on board that believe in the mission.
Have a purpose that every team member can be proud to be associated with and believe in.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Larry Sutton, President/Founder of RNR Tire Express. He opened his first Rent-N-Roll store, the forerunner of RNR Tire Express & Custom Wheels, in September 2000. In 2006, he received the Association of Progressive Rental Organizations Lifetime Achievement Award. Larry has four children — two boys and two girls, and his brother, Steve, is a partner in the Ocala RNR store. Larry is an avid reader and partial to thrillers written by Brad Thor. He plays golf, likes to attend concerts, but his main interest is “RNR. I love visiting stores and strengthening our culture of valuing employees and serving and respecting customers better than anyone.”
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
After about 25 years of building a successful business in the traditional lease-purchase industry, I sold my business to a company going public in a rollup. I took a year off and literally played golf almost every day for the first year. As it turned out, I got tired of golf pretty quickly and actually, my handicap actually went up by seven shots.
So, I began the process of trying to find my next venture, and I had a five-year non-compete in place so I could not go back into traditional Lease Purchase. I attempted several things, including a Smoothie franchise and a check cash venture, but nothing seemed to catch my imagination. I had heard about someone in Texas experimenting with wheels and tires using a Lease Purchase option, so I hopped on a plane and flew to Texas to look into it. I liked what I saw, but did not like the way they were executing so I returned to Tampa and started researching vendors, came up with a concept and name, opened our first RNR Tire Express store in October of 2000, and have been at it ever since.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
I didn’t know anything about wheels and tires so I had a lot to learn to get ready to open our first store. It was basically a trial-and-error situation at every turn. I would work in the store all day and then go to my office at night to create the necessary forms, policies and procedures that would help us run the business. Since we were still spending a lot of time learning a whole new industry, we had no experience with the key vendors so it was also difficult to get the right credit lines in place for volume purchases
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
It is hard to pinpoint specifically, but I do remember growing up and dreaming that someday I wanted to make enough money to buy my mother a nice house. That was my earliest goal. My mom was a hardworking, single mother that had as many as three jobs at a time to make sure that we had enough to live on.
She did all of that and still found time to make every football and baseball game I played in. Even though we were basically poor, none of my siblings or myself felt poor because my mom made sure we had what we needed. I also spent summers at my grandparent’s farm and while there I worked every day doing things like picking and chopping cotton, bailing hay, slopping the pigs, feeding the cows, driving a tractor, so on and so forth. Farm work definitely gives you a perspective of the hard work required for success.
So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Things today are truly awesome. Certainly, there were dips and challenges along the way, but overall, I am extremely happy with where we are. After we decided to franchise RNR Tire Express, we had to learn how to be a franchisor. I have found the best way to succeed at anything is to listen to your associates, team members, other businessmen and businesswomen who have been down the same path, and of course, the customers.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
The funniest mistake I can think of was probably the first set of wheels I ordered for a customer. Once they came in and our team installed them, the car would not move because I had sold and ordered the wrong offset. That was embarrassing, but a valuable lesson at the same time. From there, we created online reference charts for every possible vehicle that clearly explained offsets, bolt patterns and more. As we’d find out, this information is readably accessible on almost all vendors’ websites.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We run our company with an upside-down ORG chart, meaning that information and ideas flow from the field because that’s the frontline and that’s where all decisions must begin. My managers understand that they are there to support their teams, not the other way around. We have a serve mentality as opposed to providing service, and it starts with leaders serving their team which translates to the team serving their customers. There is a huge difference in serve versus service.
For example, we had a young man apply for a job as a service tech by the name of Julio several years ago. At that time, he was homeless, without transportation and did not speak English very well. However, he did tell my store manager if he hired him, he would become the best employee he ever had. My manager believed in him and not only hired Julio, but he also gave him a money advance and found him a place to live nearby. Julio bought a bicycle with his advance and rode it to work every day. He was truly a masterful shop tech, as he had done that work in his native country. To make a long story short, today he is our National shop trainer, and is a homeowner, topped off with the fact that and bought his son his own car. Our motto is to be life changers and this is one example of what that means.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
You need to listen to your team members seeking their counsel on most decisions. It’s important to work smart enough and delegate in order to take time for yourself and your family. I also recommend they don’t take yourself too seriously. A great company is built by bringing the right people on board that believe in the mission, as well as having a purpose that every team member can be proud to be associated with and believe in.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My mother was without question the biggest influence on my life. Her perseverance and work ethic had a tremendous effect on my beliefs. Most importantly, she taught me that failure is a learning experience, and that forgiveness is for yourself, not the ones you forgive, so forgive everyone all the time and you will end up being happier as a result.
Additionally, my uncle hired me at a very young age and was my mentor in many ways in terms of what to do and what not to do. He held me accountable and everyone needs someone to hold them accountable.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Ultimately you would have to ask other people but I certainly hope and think so. We have donated millions of dollars to charitable causes, and changed the lives of many, including associates and customers.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Listen to your team members seeking their counsel on most decisions.
- Work smart enough and delegate in order to take time for yourself and your family.
- Don’t take yourself too seriously.
- A great company is built by bringing the right people on board that believe in the mission.
- Have a purpose that every team member can be proud to be associated with and believe in.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I have often wondered why there were not more programs to hire and train homeless individuals. I would love to see someone tackle this from a macro perspective.
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