At 5 foot 2 and 105 pounds, Rosa Varela doesn't fit the image many may have of a radiator and air-conditioning parts business owner who daily deals with burly mechanics and big-name auto parts retailers.
Varela, the 28-year-old owner of a 1-800-Radiator auto parts distribution franchise in Largo, says it doesn't bother her that some people don't take her seriously. Most have been willing to give her a chance, she says, and business is growing.
In fact, her landlord is about to win a $600 bet. Some of his buddies bet him that Varela couldn't stay in business six months. On Tuesday, he gets to collect.
Varela is used to being in male-dominated business. For the past nine years, she has been the manager of the 400-boat Anclote Harbor Marina in Tarpon Springs. Also, she owns and rents six homes in Holiday and New Port Richey.
Why did you decide to buy a business?
I wanted to own a business I could operate with just a few people and involve my family members. My father, Alberto Varela, and brother, Alberto Jr., handle the receiving and delivery. (Alberto Jr.) is the office manager. Joe Ortman, a customer at the marina for about seven years and a retired Chicago businessman, works with me as a salesman. I have one other driver.
Is it difficult to deal with customers because you aren't the typical owner?
It's a little bit challenging. I get people who are averse to working with a woman, but once we show we have good products and great service, there's no problems. It all boils down to quality products and good service. We deliver our products as soon as we receive them and often after hours.
How do you compete with the larger auto parts businesses?
We have the buying power of a large corporation, competitive pricing, fast delivery time and the personal service of a local owner.
What did it cost to start the business and what area does your franchise cover?
My franchise fee was $45,000. I rent a 3,000-square-foot warehouse space and my inventory totals about $200,000. My franchise territory covers Pinellas County from Curlew Road south to St. Petersburg.
1-800-Radiator is based in the San Francisco Bay area and has been in business for more than 20 years.
What do you sell, besides radiators and radiator parts?
We have a complete line of air-conditioning parts, such as compressors, condensers and heater cores. Basically, we sell everything to cool American and foreign cars to trucks, SUVs and vans. We're starting to get into the hybrids.
Who are your customers?
We appeal to mechanics, body shops, parts stores, repair shops, gas stations, new and used car dealers.
Christina K. Cosdon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4154.