Tires 23: Passionate About Tires

Billy Lau - former performance enthusiast turned tire entrepreneur.

Billy Lau – former performance enthusiast turned tire entrepreneur.

Performance enthusiasts turn their passion for racing into a successful and thriving tire business.

Some of the most successful businesses are those that were started by individuals with a passion for a certain product or service. They understand the product or service in question from a customer’s point of view and it’s this deep insight that gives them an edge in the market.

Ten years ago, Jacky Ngai, Martin Ng and Billy Lau opened up a small tire shop in Mississauga, Ontario. Known as Tires 23, the entire facility was no larger than 1,750 sq. ft.

None of the partners knew a great deal about running a tire shop, but they were all avid consumers of tires. As Tires 23 President, Billy Lau says, “I used a lot of tires myself, because I spent a lot of time at the track.”

Like many younger drivers and women, Lau and his partners were the proud owners of modified vehicles, and they spent quite a bit of time at car shows and at the track, showing off their creations. They also enjoyed putting their vehicles through their paces, pitting them fender-to-grille with the souped up vehicles of other performance enthusiasts.

It’s this passion for performance that got the trio interested in getting into the car business. Although selling performance parts and modifying cars may have seemed like a natural translation of their interests and abilities, the business partners decided instead to sell and install tires… and for a very simple, yet logical, reason.

“Everyone needs tires,” Lau explains, adding that a tire shop made more sense to them than a speed shop. “We did not have a business plan at all at the time, we just decided to give it a try.”

Virtual retailer

At first, Tires 23 was an online store. Lau and his partners decided to promote and sell tires strictly in the virtual world. “But then things started picking up…” Lau states, “We opened up a shop. We needed to do installation, people needed to see displays, online was no longer enough.”

Since Lau and his business partners were part of the performance community, Tires 23 naturally attracted the modified car crowd, along with other performance enthusiasts. “We worked with various car clubs,” Lau explains, “And we sold them a lot of tires.”

Over time, word spread and Tires 23 started attracting customers with higher-end vehicles. Lau and his partners weren’t simply selling tires. They were offering a level of service and expertise people wanted. “They found out about us mostly through word-of-mouth,” Lau adds.

And since owners of performance vehicles also own “regular” family vehicles, Tires 23 attracted that end of the market as well. In fact, today, although they still cater to the performance crowd, Lau says most of his business comes from “regular” consumers driving “regular” vehicles.

Rims have been a large part of Tire 23’s overall business strategy since the company opened its doors a decade ago.

Rims have been a large part of Tire 23’s overall business strategy since the company opened its doors a decade ago.

Back to school

In order to stay ahead of the competition, Lau requires all his counter staff to stay on top of developments in the tire industry. Besides online training, provided by tire manufacturers, Lau has his staff regularly attend Atlas Tire University, a program organized and hosted by Atlas Tire Wholesale.

Twice a year, Atlas Tire Wholesale sends tire techs “back to school” for either a spring/summer or fall session of Atlas Tire University. The spring/summer session covers performance tires, while the fall session covers winter tires. It’s a great way for Lau and his team to stay up-to-date with changes in the tire industry.

“Atlas Tire has been our supplier right from the beginning,” Lau says. “One of my friends told me about them. He said they were one of the best companies out there, and they were right.”

At the track

Ten years after getting into the tire business, Lau and his partners still spend time at the track. Not only do they enjoy racing their own vehicles, but it’s also a great way to drum up business.

“I bring my trailer, and my own car,” Lau says. “We go to drive and have fun. I’m part of the community and other enthusiasts often come over to talk and ask about tires.”

Naturally, Lau’s racing trailer advertises Tires 23, assuring that everyone at the track knows that Lau’s shop is the place to go for their tire needs. “We also sell slicks,” he adds. “Some of our customers drag race, and they go through several sets of tires a year.”

Lau’s trailer is also a mainstay at many local car shows. Whether it’s a corporate event like Subaru’s annual car show at their head office in Toronto, or something organized by a local car club, Tires 23 is there offering advice, both answering question and attracting business.

Expansion plans

Business is good, and Tires 23 continues to grow. What was once an online only store, and then a small 1,750 sq. ft. shop, has grown into a 15,000 sq. ft. operation, with plans to add another 15,000 sq. ft. in the near future.

And while the performance crowd will always be attracted to Tires 23, Lau says he sees his business growing mostly from regular customers looking for quality, service…plus some solid advice. In just over 10 years, Lau and his partners have managed to turn a passion for performance into a passion for customer service.

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