SANTA ROSA -- McLea's Tire & Automotive Service plans to open its fifth location this spring as the family-owned company tries to capture more Sonoma County commercial and retail business as well as increase its purchasing power.

[caption id="attachment_70208" align="alignleft" width="403"] McLea's Tire & Automotive Centers plans to overhaul this former car lot in south Santa Rosa into a store with six service bays. (image credit: Jeff Quackenbush)[/caption]

The 34-year-old company (707-542-0363, mcleastire.com) on Feb. 11 paid $925,000 for a nearly one-acre used-car lot at the Santa Rosa Avenue-Baker Avenue northbound offramp from and onramp to Highway 101 in southern Santa Rosa, a location 27,000 vehicles pass daily. The goal is to open a store and six-bay service shop there in May or June after tuning up and modernizing the 4,600-square-foot building, according to President Les McLea, 53.

Being half-way between the 12-bay headquarters store off Piner Road on the north side of Santa Rosa and the 10-bay store in Cotati, the 106 Baker Ave. location will help relieve the backlog at Piner and fills in a perceived "dead zone" of market coverage between Rohnert Park and the Highway 12 interchange in Santa Rosa, according to Mr. McLea.

[caption id="attachment_70209" align="alignleft" width="288"] Les and Rick McLea[/caption]

With a 10-bay store in Petaluma and a six-bay shop in Sonoma, McLea's would be positioned to cover the Highway 101 corridor. Expansion options northward are being considered.

Also, purchasing tires, automotive accessories and parts for a fifth store increases McLea's clout with suppliers.

"You have to deal with manufacturers directly to be competitive," said Mr. McLea. "You can get bigger or get run over. We decided to get bigger."

McLea's business has been growing 7 percent to 10 percent a year following the 2009 economic slump that hit most businesses. Seventy percent of sales are for tires and service on personal automobiles and small fleets, and the rest comes from work on large fleets and big trucks. The company has 11 service trucks for big-rig work.

The trend in the economy toward retaining vehicles longer by keeping them serviced and repaired has helped business, as has the incremental business from acquiring a former muffler shop in Sonoma four years ago.

The majority owners of the business are Les McLea and his brother Rick, 51. Together with their father, Bill, who retired 15 years ago, they started the business at the Piner location in 1979 with 10 employees. The company now has 74 employees and likely will add eight to 10 more with the fifth store.

The first expansion came in 2000 with the acquisition of a shop in Petaluma. To fill in the gap between the two locations, a shop in Cotati was acquired in 2004.

"We're very conservative and methodical," Les McLea said. The family has taken a pay-as-you-go approach to expansion.

The third generation is entering the business, starting with Les McLea's three children. Darren, 30, manages the Petaluma store, while 26-year-old Danielle works with customer service and dispatch of service trucks from Santa Rosa and Petaluma. His youngest, Brandon, works with customers in Cotati.

In the Baker Avenue property purchase, Shawn Johnson of Keegan & Coppin represented seller Deborah Freibert Trust.