To buy or to build? That’s a question all business owners ask themselves as they ponder strategies for growth. This year’s Modern Tire Dealer 100 is replete with examples of each as some dealers are opting for growth through acquisition and others are choosing to grow by building new stores.
One company’s decision to buy led to a shake-up at the very top of the Modern Tire Dealer 100. In August 2015, the dealer in the number five spot, Mavis Tire Supply Corp., purchased the sixth-ranked dealer, Somerset Tire Inc.
The acquisition of Bridgewater, N.J.-based Somerset added 155 outlets to the Mavis network, which operates in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. The company, owned by Stephen and David Sorbaro, does business under the Mavis Discount Tire, STS Tire & Auto, Suburban Tire, Weldon Tire and Mavis Discount Tire/Cole Muffler & Brake banners.
Mavis rebranded its Cole Muffler outlets to tire stores this past year, according to David Sorbaro: “All Cole stores except for three are now co-branded with one of our tire formats. That puts our retail tire store count at 332.” He says the company plans on opening more stores in 2016.
Mavis’ purchase of Somerset Tire bumped Express Oil Change LLC up one spot to No. 6. The Birmingham-based company added 10 stores this year for a total of 146 outlets. Seven of the stores were acquisitions (six Skid Marks Tire Pros stores in Baton Rouge, La., and Davis Tire in Clinton, Miss.). The other new stores are Express Oil Change and Tire Engineers locations the company built or acquired from its franchisees. Founded as an oil change provider in 1981, the company entered the tire business just three years ago when it purchased seven Tire Engineers LLC stores.
Monro Muffler Brake Inc. continued to expand by acquiring other dealers, including former list maker McGee Tire Stores Inc.’s 29 outlets in Florida. The McGee stores currently maintain their original brand identity, but may be rebranded in the future as Monro is “evaluating the name,” according to Joel Zaleski, vice president of acquisition and operations support.
In all, Monro added 58 locations for a total of 548 stores to land in the No. 3 spot. In a May 2016, earnings call, the company said it plans to “acquire competitors cheaply” and open 20 to 40 stores per year in existing markets.
Monro CEO John Van Heel told investors the company plans to use McGee’s five combination commercial/retail stores and one retread shop to enter the commercial tire market. “As we look ahead we plan to grow this component of McGee’s business in Florida as we believe it is complementary to our retail business, and when combined with our overall scale will lead to significant savings on material costs in that business,” said Van Heel.
Monro will evaluate opportunities to expand its commercial business in other states, according to Van Heel. He said he “expects fiscal year 2017 to be a good year for acquisitions” as challenging business conditions may prompt more independent tire dealers to retire.
The expectation more dealers will retire is part of the reason behind the Raben family’s decision to sell an equity interest in Raben Tire Co. Inc. to Palladium Equity Partners LLC, a middle market private equity firm, in December 2014. The company said its goal is to accelerate growth by expanding Raben Tire’s footprint while also providing an opportunity for independent dealers who are seeking a transition or exit for their business.
Raben acquired Coogle Tire Service in Otterbein, Ind., which sells and services mainly agricultural and commercial tires, in July 2015. The store serves central and northern Indiana and central Illinois. In August 2015, Raben bought Shelby’s Wheel and Tire Inc. in Paducah, Ky., which sells and services passenger and light truck tires. Shelby’s serves consumers in Paducah and far west portions of Kentucky. With 28 outlets, Raben is tied for No. 39 in the Modern Tire Dealer 100, up from a 41st place tie last year.In California, Rent A Wheel/Rent A Tire LP added eight retail stores for a total of 124 retail stores and No. 7 in the Modern Tire Dealer 100 ranking, up one spot from last year. The growth was all organic, according to President Matt Seaburn.
“We did not acquire anybody over the last 13 months. The big difference here is we hired a new head of real estate. He brought in all of his brokers, and we started growing really fast. It’s been an exciting year.” The Los Angeles-based company also has 14 franchisees.
Also in California, La Mirada-based ATV Inc., which does business as American Tire Depot, added nine stores. Most of the stores were acquisitions and all are in California, according to Avo Kamberian, vice president of marketing for ATV.
He says every acquired store is renovated and the company plans to increase its store count in the coming year. ATV moved up three spots in the rankings to break into the top 10 for the first time with 91 outlets. ATV tied with Town Fair Tire Centers Inc. for the No. 10 spot.
Town Fair Tire Centers opened four stores in Falmouth, Mass.; Cranston, R.I.; Dayville, Conn.; and Rutland, Vt. The new stores gave the dealership a total of 91 outlets and moved it up one spot in the rankings. Town Fair Tire Centers plans to open four stores in the coming year, according to Mike Barbaro, senior vice president.
Reinalt-Thomas Corp. held on to the top spot with 917 Discount Tire/America’s Tire stores, up from 900 a year ago. The company acquired property, not dealerships, and built new stores (see “Discount Tire/America’s Tire latest stores” for a roundup of openings over the past year).
TBC Corp. maintained its No. 2 spot in the ranking with 759 Tire Kingdom, Merchant’s Tire & Auto Centers, and NTB Tire & Service Centers retail outlets. Although it is operating 10 fewer retail stores than a year ago, TBC says it closed stores and opened new ones throughout the year.
More new stores are in TBC’s pipeline. The company is planning to open 15 to 20 outlets over the next 12 months, but declined to specify their locations or other details.
Finding the right opportunities
Graham Tire Co. renovated two buildings and built a new one. The company opened its fourth retail location in Sioux Falls, S.D., and its first outlet, a commercial store, in Fremont, Neb. In both cases, the company purchased and renovated existing buildings.
Graham Tire also built a two-bay drive-through commercial truck center in Lincoln, Neb., which opened in May 2016. The building is a block away from the smaller truck center it replaced. Graham Tire also has a retail store in Lincoln.
Graham Tire’s 35 outlets place it at No. 31 on the Modern Tire Dealer 100, up three spots from last year. The company’s strategy is to look for the right growth opportunities, according to David Mickelson, vice president.
“We’ve looked at lots of potential deals in the last couple years, and we had two that came together at the right time that made sense for us. One further solidifies our existing Sioux Falls market, and the other is a new market to us. We’re excited about Fremont. There’s a lot of commercial truck business and ag business, and it is our intent to really grow that business.”
Mickelson says the company knew the store in Lincoln had to be expanded and upgraded in order to grow in that market.
“We think that by taking that geographically a little ways away from the retail center, it’s going to help both businesses.”
Relocating and remodeling
Bauer Built Inc. holds the No. 33 spot with 33 stores. In June 2016, Bauer Built hosted an open house for its newest location, a 20,000-square-foot truck and retail facility in Lexington, Neb. The company built the outlet following its acquisition of Central Tire & Tread Inc. a year before. Bauer Built had operated out of Central Tire’s building until completing the new store.
In November 2015, Bauer Built opened locations in Bismarck, N.D., and Clarksville, Ind. “We feel the state of North Dakota is under served in the commercial tire business, and we outgrew the ability to serve these customers effectively from the Fargo location,” says Chairman and CEO Jerry Bauer.
In Clarksville, Bauer Built had housed its operations in temporary quarters since July 2015 while renovating an existing truck and trailer repair shop. Bauer says the Clarksville facility was developed as a natural extension of its Indianapolis location, which serves customers throughout the southern part of Indiana and trucking companies traveling north and south on Interstate 65.
The company completed the remodeling of its outlet in Durand, Wis., in March 2016. The project included replacing the concrete floor in the entire service area and a complete remodel of the office, showroom and restrooms. Floor heat was added for employee comfort and heating efficiency. A new alignment rack and aligner were installed.
Building on acquisitions
McCarthy Tire Service Co. is relocating five stores to larger facilities and expanding commercial tire and truck repair services at eight stores. The company has 47 stores to hold the No. 21 spot, up two versus last year’s rankings. In June 2015 McCarthy purchased 10 Ragan Tire Group LLC locations. In the following months, six Ragan stores in North Carolina were folded into existing McCarthy locations. Three Ragan stores in South Carolina and one in Atlanta, Ga., helped McCarthy increase its presence in those markets.
The three South Carolina stores, which previously serviced only OTR tires, expanded to include a full line of commercial tire sales and services, plus 24-hour commercial roadside assistance. McCarthy’s Greenville, S.C., store moved into a larger 19,000-square-foot space in April, allowing it to provide drive-in commercial service. The former Ragan store in Cayce, S.C., relocated in June to a 15,000-square-foot facility in Columbia, S.C., with access to Interstate 20. The North Charleston, S.C., store reconfigured its existing space to add commercial tires and services. The Atlanta location remains dedicated to OTR tires and services.
Another 2015 acquisition is delivering growth in 2016. When McCarthy acquired Hartman Fleet Services it moved the staff and assets to an existing McCarthy store in Manassas, Va. The company is adding technicians and equipment to build out this store’s capacity for fleet services. It offers heavy-duty truck repair, fleet diagnostic work, and diesel engine repair in the shop and via mobile truck repair units.
McCarthy’s Hagerstown, Md., store is moving to a 31,000-square-foot location in nearby Maugansville this month. The move will allow the store to add fleet mechanical services, fleet diagnostic work and heavy-duty truck repair inside a former Volvo truck repair shop adjacent to Interstate 81.
McCarthy opened a new retread plant in Wilson, N.C., this winter, and relocated its existing Wilson store to the larger 44,000-square-foot facility. The retread plant produces 132 units a day, and plans are to increase capacity to 198 retreads a day. The Wilson store offers commercial tire sales and services, truck mechanical services, OTR tire sales and services, as well as automotive tire sales, services and mechanical services.
A new retread plant is being built in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., which will have a capacity of 1,000 retreads per day, double the output of the current plant less than a mile away.
The dealership also moved its Prospect Park store, which specializes in fleet work, to Trainer, a town between Philadelphia and Wilmington, Del.
Franchisees add stores
The franchisees on this year’s Modern Tire Dealer 100 also added stores. Koldenhoven Enterprises opened two Big O Tire Tires stores in New Mexico in the past year, and plans to open two more, according to Scott Koldenhoven, who is a group partner. The Colorado Springs, Colo.-based company is tied for No. 70 with 15 Big O Stores.
Matthew Greco is an owner of Golden West Tire Centers LLC, which operates 26 Big O Tires stores. The company acquired 15 stores over the past year to debut on the Modern Tire Dealer 100 in the No. 42 spot.
Six stores in Southern California were acquired in July 2015, and nine stores in the Western Slope region of Colorado were acquired in September 2015. Golden West Tire Centers purchased the stores from a retiring Big O Tires franchisee. “Both markets have tremendous potential and we are excited about the growth opportunities,” says Greco.
There are four RNR Tire Express and Custom Wheels franchisees on the Modern Tire Dealer 100. Chris Raffo, owner of No. 85-ranked Rims USA LLC added one store, and David Harrison, owner of No. 61-ranked Rental Concepts LLC, added three outlets. The company which offers RNR franchises, No. 85-ranked SPF Management Co. LLC, is owned by Larry Sutton, who owns 13 RNR stores.
Shannon Strunk, owner of Gulf Coast L&P Inc., which operates 12 RNR stores in the southeastern U.S., has committed to adding 58 stores over the next 10 years. Vince Ficarrotta, RNR’s vice president, says Strunk’s commitment combined with growth plans of other franchisees and existing stores positions RNR to surpass 250 stores by 2018. “We have had enormous interest from investors who want to get into the business, and I would suspect that we continue to grow at a significant rate over the next five years,” says Ficarrotta.
Overcoming economic challenges
New to the Modern Tire Dealer 100 is Tulsa, Okla.-based Robertson Tire Co. Inc., which opened its second store in Broken Arrow, a Tulsa suburb, to bring its number of outlets to 12. The company, which is tied for No. 94, invested in a new store despite economic and political headwinds.
“We have been surprised that business across the industry seems to be slightly down compared to last year,” says Shane Robertson, corporate development director. He attributes some of the dip to consumer uncertainty about large purchases in a “very aggressive political year.” Conditions unique to Tulsa also play a role. “In addition, we have seen big losses in the oil and energy industry over the past year, which affects Oklahoma more than most any state in America.” Despite the downtick, Robertson Tire increased profits and sales.
“We added our 12th retail store in December 2015. Our profits are up 2% and our overall sales are up 3%. We continuously update signage and remodel stores as needed. We are also undergoing a huge upgrade to our computer system this summer to be more integrated with NAPA and CarFax programs for more accurate vehicle and customer information, as well as more accurate and up-to-the-minute pricing.”Robertson Tire also became more aggressive on pricing. “We’ve researched our competitors’ pricing pretty heavily, and we’ve found tires and bought tires the right way in order to be competitive,” says Robertson. He says the company made a “hard” decision to match any price.
“The only reason people didn’t come to us if they weren’t going to come to us was price. I think the price-match guarantee gained us quite a bit of business that maybe other people are losing. We’ll match any price. Once in a while that means we don’t make much money at all on the sale, but the goal is to keep them from buying somewhere else and to keep that customer forever.”
The family has received offers asking them to sell their business and inquiries from dealerships trying to sell their shops to them. Robertson says his family has no plans to build new stores for at least the next two years and is staying clear of acquisitions for now.
Robertson Tire posted $23.8 million in sales in 2015. Sales were up in the first quarter of 2016, dipped in May, but finished strong in June. “We always seem to be able to make it through these economic downturns,” says Robertson. “We’ve been around since 1962. We’ve remained family-owned. The northeast Oklahoma area is very focused on local family-owned businesses and that plays to our advantage.”
Discount Tire/America’s Tire latest stores
The newest Discount Tire store opened in Blue Springs, Mo., in June 2016. Here’s a list of retail store openings since June 2015, with the most recent at the top. All are new construction on land purchased by the company, with the exception of leased land in Indianapolis and Louisville. The total number of stores in each state at the time of opening is also listed.
Blue Springs, Mo. (6 stores in Missouri)
San Bernardino, Calif. (136 stores in California)
Cordova, Tenn., and Nashville, Tenn. (18 stores in Tennessee)
Boerne, Texas, and Portland, Texas (236 stores in Texas)
Lake City, Fla. (28 stores in Florida)
Boise, Idaho (5 stores in Idaho)
Indianapolis, Ind. (25 stores in Indiana)
Louisville, Ky. (3 stores in Kentucky)
White Lake, Mich. (55 stores in Michigan)
Brooklyn Center, Minn. (28 stores in Minnesota)
Independence, Mo. (5 stores in Missouri)
Lawton, Okla. (14 stores in Oklahoma)
Anderson, S.C. (11 stores in South Carolina)
Durango, Colo. (48 stores in Colorado)
The company plans to build four stores by the end of August 2016. The location of each and the number of stores in each state at the time of opening are listed.
San Antonio, Texas, July 2016 (237 stores in Texas)
Terrell, Texas, July 2016 (238 stores in Texas)
Hamilton, Ohio, August 2016 (18 stores in Ohio)
Country Club, Mo., August 2016 (7 stores in Missouri)