Tips From The Top: One On One With Larry Sutton

I spoke to Larry Sutton, founder and CEO of RNR Tire Express, about his journey and best advice

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Adam: What is the one thing that would surprise most people? 

Larry: One thing about me that would surprise most people is that I dropped out of college after 3 months and never returned. Hands on experiences were where I saw most value, and decided that was the route I was going to take, rather than being in the classroom.

Adam: How did you get here? What failures, setbacks or challenges have been most instrumental to your growth?

Larry: When I was young, my mother moved us from Oklahoma to Florida so we could help her brother run his small retail TV and appliance business. I started on a delivery truck at 14 years old. At 17, I moved into the sales department and quickly began learning how to be a professional salesman. By the time I graduated high school, I had sold every teacher at least one appliance from my uncle’s Television store. At 20 years of age, I talked my Uncle into supporting me in a small business doing the same thing in Ocala, Florida. While I had become a very good salesman at that time, I had no experience running a business. This led to my first major setback, which quickly failed within two years. I was hired by a national Television manufacturer and ultimately became sales manager for the state of Florida. This company provided me with business education courses which helped me realize why my first business failed. 

Down the road, one of my largest customers asked me to partner with him on a new business model that utilized the ‘lease to purchase’ method that allowed low credit customers acquire items they needed for their home. We opened our first store in Lakeland, Fl in 1980. Over time, the company grew to over 150 stores in multiple states and we sold the company in 1997. I spent the next year working for the company who we sold our business to. During my time there, I found out very quickly I was not a great fit for corporate America. I was able to negotiate out of my contract and took the next year off to play golf. In 1998, I played golf a total of 297 days. 

It was not long before I realized I was missing a sense of purpose. I worked with several other businesses, including a well-known smoothie franchise, however nothing seemed to fit perfectly. In 2000, I founded RNR Tire Express using the rent-to-own purchase model for wheels and tires.

Business was booming, and many old friends from previous business ventures wanted in on the opportunity. This led to our decision to begin franchising in 2003. Today, we have over 120 locations in 26 states and a five-year plan to double that number. We were proud to be named the 17th largest tire dealer in the US in 2018. 

Of course, there have been many failures and mistakes throughout this journey. Each failure became a learning experience and made me a better leader, businessman, and person as a whole. Through my failures and successes, I discovered that in order to thrive, you must do something you are truly passionate about. 

Adam: In your experience, what are the defining qualities of an effective leader?    

Larry: To be an effective leader, it’s important to listen to your team and consider their thoughts and opinions when decision making. Being caring, motivating and providing mentorship to those on your team will lead to a safe and successful business environment. There is something to be learned from every member of your team, at any level. 

In order to take your leadership skills to the next level, ask for feedback from those who you lead. This can give you great insight into what you can improve on, and how your team works best. Additionally, I’m often reading past and present concepts on leadership, from leaders that I admire and have learned from. This helps me continue to learn, even as I enter the 20th year with RNR Tire Express.

Adam: What are your three best tips applicable to entrepreneurs, executives and civic leaders? 

Larry: Here are three tips applicable to entrepreneurs, executives and civic leaders:

  1. Don’t get caught up in thinking you accomplished your successes alone – with no help from others, or your creator. 
  2. Know the difference between being confident and being conceited. 
  3. Make sure everyone is having fun while getting better at what they do.

Adam: What is the single best piece of advice you have ever received? 

Larry: The single best piece of advice I have ever received is to listen more than you are speaking. You can learn an unmeasurable amount by just listening to what those around you have to say. I believe that you can learn something from everyone, no matter who they are.

Adam: What is one thing everyone should be doing to pay it forward? 

Larry: I believe paying it forward is incredibly important for everyone and every business to take part in. Aside from the normal charitable initiatives that every business should be doing for their communities, make sure to find a way to make a positive difference in every life you touch. This can be done by simply being kind to others. 

Adam: What are your hobbies and how have they shaped you? 

Larry: Traveling around the world has made me incredibly thankful for the opportunities and experiences living in America has given me. Seeing other countries that aren’t as strong as the United States pushes me to work harder to give back to those who are struggling. Spending time with friends and doing activities you enjoy, such as playing golf, is essential to living a balanced life and helps make sure you aren’t taking yourself too seriously. 

Adam: Is there anything else you would like to share?

Larry: I truly believe that success is ultimately measured by how many lives you have influenced and changed for better along your journey. 

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