Larry Sutton of RNR Tire Express: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During…

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Larry Sutton of RNR Tire Express: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Uncertain & Turbulent Times

Stay positive! Regardless of how you feel, what’s going on around you, or the concerns you have. Positivity is infectious, giving your team the opportunity to follow in suit, remaining steadfast and fulfilled in the work they’re doing and the health of general day-to-day operations.

As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Larry Sutton.

Larry Sutton is a lifelong entrepreneur and a veteran of the rent-to-own industry, responsible for having founded and built up one of the nation’s leading tire and wheel retail brands, RNR Tire Express, to 170+ locations across 27 states. He attributes his success to his people-first mentality and work to provide the brands services to an expanding and underrepresented segment of the American population.

Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Well, that’s kind of a funny story. When I sold my first business back in 1997, I had agreed to a three-year contract to run the Southeast division of the company that bought us. For the first six months it was a dream, as we were able to open up over 20 stores. Then all of sudden, I started getting calls from members of the corporate team, people I had never met before, asking me for various reports, data, etc. Normally, I would decline to do so, as I was busy hiring and training new associates, which in my mind was far more important than sitting in an office creating reports. In short, I wasn’t a good corporate citizen, and I determined that I knew best how to spend my time. Thankfully, an old friend bought that company and let me out of my contract.

So I bought a home in a local golf community and spent an entire year enjoying myself and doing nothing by play golf. Even still, my game got worse. And what’s more, I missed the business environment, primarily the interactions and learning experiences that came with it.

Since I was in a NO COMPETE agreement, I couldn’t open stores affiliated with my old business. So I tried several different businesses, including a smoothie franchise, a check cashing store, as well as a few additional concepts. But none of them seemed to excite me.

That’s when I got word of a lease-to-own tire and wheel operation out in Texas. An idea that made me curious enough to fly out and take a look for myself. While I was visiting stores out there, I began looking into the custom wheel industry, examining its growth prospects and mulling over the idea of what could make the sector even better.

I returned to Tampa, did some more research, and opened my very first RNR store in September of 2000. I was learning again and it made me happy! We began franchising in 2003 and have built the brand up to 172 locations in 28 states, with projections to exceed 200 locations by the end of 2023.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

When the very first set of wheels I ordered for a customer came in, they look great! But after we installed them, the car wouldn’t go. It turns out I had ordered the wrong offset! An avalanche effect ensued, because one week from there we had a catalog of all car manufacturers, complete with their offset and bolt patterns that read completely incorrect. We even had software on every computer that supplied that improper information. As usual, you learn more from your mistakes than your successes

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?

I was raised by a single mother who worked three separate jobs just to keep food on the table and a roof over our heads. Her actions and devotion demonstrated the important of working hard and sticking with whatever it is you set your mind to.

My Uncle Slats was undoubtedly another huge influence in my early life. Perhaps the most impactful, even. I went to work for him when I was only 14 and learned lessons on sales and personal accountability that have remained integral in my professional life to this very day.

One of my favorite stories actually takes place back when I was working for him. I call it “The Ice Cream Story”. My uncle owned a TV and Appliance store. He would always get frustrated with the customers that insisted on shopping around before they made a purchase, if they bought anything at all. He arrived at the store one day with a lot of gallons of ice cream, which he promptly put in one of the freezers we had on the sales floor. Then he gathered us all together and said if a customer does not make a purchase, be sure you give them a free gallon of ice cream. Confused, we all stood there until one of the salesmen asked why? He said, “Because, dummy, they will have to drive straight home and put the ice cream in the freezer, so it doesn’t melt on them and/or in their car. No more shopping around!”

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your organization started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

Both are the same today as they were back then! The vision was to become the best tire and wheel concept in America. The purpose is to change the lives of our team members and our customers.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?

When the pandemic first arrived, we were uncertain if RNR Tire Express was going to be declared an essential business. One can only imagine the stress that put on RNR team members, not only at our HQ, but around the country. On the corporate side, we made the decision to send every associate $500, along with our promise that they would all be paid, whether we were permitted to remain open or not. The moral of the story; when you’re loyal to your team, they’re loyal to you.

Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?

I don’t remember ever feeling like giving up. It just wasn’t an option I would ever entertain. My Mom had never given up, so why would I?

I’m an author and I believe that books have the power to change lives. Do you have a book in your life that impacted you and inspired you to be an effective leader? Can you share a story?

The One Minute Manager and the Seven Habits of Highly successful people were two books that made me change some styles of managing others. Especially as I began to scale RNR in its early days, planting roots in more communities and bringing more men and women under the umbrella of our brand, their lessons in leadership and forward-thinking principles were invaluable in my having to oversee more people than I ever had before.

What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?

Don’t go it alone. Listen to and rely on your team. They’re your most resourceful asset, and you’re all strongest together!

When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?

Confidence is most often conveyed from the top down. In order to most effectively boost morale, you need to have boots on the ground acting as the company’s head cheerleader, improving communication, calling team members and sending emails with positive affirmations and uplifting words. You need to make everyone a true believer in the shared mission you’re all pursuing!

What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?

In person, if possible, and with empathy, if required. No two situations will ever truly be the same, but so long as you approach difficult news in an authoritative manner and with a people-first mentality, navigating such waters will never seem impossible.

How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?

History repeats itself constantly. Remember that and know that this too shall pass. If you don’t allow yourself to remain consistent and focused on the future, you’ll quickly fall behind and likely never catch up. The future is fickle, and navigating its unpredictable nature is part of the job, not a hindrance. Keep that in mind and your potential is limitless.

Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?

Stay positive! Regardless of how you feel, what’s going on around you, or the concerns you have. Positivity is infectious, giving your team the opportunity to follow in suit, remaining steadfast and fulfilled in the work they’re doing and the health of general day-to-day operations.

Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?

Cutting Staff — You will never retrieve the loyalty of remaining team members after the fact. People are the priority, and it’s the job of leadership to ensure the positions and livelihoods of their team remain the primary concern, no matter how tumultuous times may become.

Reducing Advertising — All of the dollars spent building namesake amongst the general public will fade fast, leaving you to spend twice as much just to get it back.

Feeling Defeated — The moment you indulge the feeling of defeat, you have lost. Good times will come and go, but maintaining composure, both physically and mentally, will help you weather the inevitable storms that every business encounters eventually.

Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.

Convey Purpose — Leaders need to ensure that every member of the team, from the top down, fully understands and believes in the purpose of the company they’re working for. The mission is the motivation, and is what will keep everyone fighting through even the toughest times.

Provide a Roadmap — Don’t leave team members guessing day in and day out as to what’s going on around them. They deserve to know the proactive measures being taken by leadership in turbulent times to right the ship and come out steady on the other side. A roadmap to normalcy, if you will.

Be Transparent — Safeguarding information on a “need to know” basis during crises is very ill-advised. If team members feel like they’re out of the loop, they’re more likely to succumb to the pressures of uncertainty and jump ship. Leadership must be open and honest about the good, the bad, and the ugly. Few things have the ability to make people feel more invested in a company.

People over Profits — Your team is your greatest resource. In many cases, turbulent points in time can affect them personally just as much as professionally. It’s vital that leaders prioritize listening to and understanding ALL of their hardships, whether they relate to business or not.

Open Door Policy — The best ideas come from all places, and in uncertain times, it’s important to have an open door and an open mind that invites unique and original ideas capable of helping the team and aiding the company on weathering tough times.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Ordinary people can accomplish extraordinary things when they possess a sense of purpose.

This has been the story of my life. I’m just an ordinary guy who grew up with a single mom, not much money, and didn’t attend more than three months of college. Yet, I’ve grown to become a nationally recognized entrepreneur, multi-millionaire, and leading franchisor. More importantly, I have four grown children who are all successful in their choice of career and happy in the lives they’ve built for themselves.

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

Larry Sutton of RNR Tire Express: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.