At the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) SEMA Show held in Las Vegas last fall, TravelCenters of America LLC announced the formation of its TA Truck Service Commercial Tire Network (TA). With the company’s 244 existing truck stop locations, that propelled TA Truck Service to the top of the charts as the country’s largest commercial tire dealer.
For 40-plus years, TravelCenters had operated truck stops across the country, so it had a natural relationship with fleets of all sizes and independent operators as well. Kevin Carr, director-tire division of TA Truck Service, spoke in April at the North American Tire & Retreading Expo and shared some background into why TA Truck Service was launched, how the company views the marketplace and where it might be headed.
“Our desire was to find a way to offer more solutions to our current customers, garner new business through those same type of solutions offerings, and find a way to attract more business, and satisfy customers with that business,” said Carr. The company found that the majority of their fleet customers were buying fuel from them, but went elsewhere for tires and other services.
Since time is money, Carr said “the path we took was how do we bring everything together to offer one stop, one solution, and one way of doing things that would free up time, be cost effective to the customer and by the same token, help build up the industry and find ways to generate more business for our industry.
“We’ve created a sell-out program, a repurposing retail program at our locations that allows our customers to come in, look at different categories of tires at one price, no matter what position, what size, and make a choice on the product they want to fit the needs they have, instead of being forced into a particular tire and particular price,” he elaborated.
TA Truck Service already offered fuel and service along with some national accounts programs for fleets, “but we weren’t able to go out and do the things that a commercial tire dealer does that our customers wanted — can we deliver tires, can we drop them off, can we carry retreads, can we carry retreads out to their locations?”One stop shop
After TA Truck Service worked with a number of nationwide fleets, and met with fleet decision makers and maintenance managers, Carr said the company knew “retreading is the key.”
“We came up with a plan that was – why open our own retread facility?” Carr said they knew there were plenty of companies fighting to produce retreads and gain market share to be profitable and successful. “We made a decision to support that industry,” said Carr.
TA Truck Service has partnerships with multiple retreaders to provide them the benefits of having their own retread shop(s). “We were able to utilize someone else’s facility, someone else’s people, someone else’s investment that they put into their business, and support them through our business efforts,” said Carr.
“We’re new to the game of retreading when it comes to retread management. But we definitely are effective as we move forward. Again, I think it’s because of the partners. We have the luxury today of having multiple retread partners and brands. We’re not done. We’re looking to have a bit more offering on another side of our business and we build it specifically to the customer,” Carr said.
Words of advice
So far, Carr believes the TA Truck Service model is working for them. He said they are fortunate because they are large enough and have a dealer council made up of fleet executives that meet twice a year. The council is an open dialog where TA Truck Service executives listen to their fleet customers.
“A lot of great things we’re doing today, whether it be better maintenance programs, service equipment, tools, and services we offer, it comes directly from them,” said Carr.
Carr said TA Truck Service’s size allows it to offer multiple tire and retread brand offerings instead of being locked into one or two main brands. (At TA Truck Service’s launch last year, the company planned to feature Goodyear, BFGoodrich, Cooper (Roadstar), Yokohama and Continental brand tires. The largest announced partner, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., was to supply a full line of Goodyear, Marathon and Kelly tires available across the United States. At the time, the company was planning to start selling Pirelli and Formula tires this year.
TA Truck Service’s sales pitch to fleets, according to Carr, is its ability to be able to offer a full range of tire brands along with national account programs in addition to the other services that already existed at their truck stop chain.“A driver can come into our shop, get some fuel, get some tires, find some work when we’re doing the tires, we can do the repair right there. While that’s going on, he can take a shower, get a bite to eat, buy a card for his wife, and then drive out the door and go home, all in one stop.
“We went from having one brand of retread to multiple. We went from being able to just drop off or deliver a retread on the roadside any time of day to being able today to deliver to you, manage your own casings, repack our own casings, all the things that a fleet desires that limited us from that ability to do business with them to a greater capacity,” said Carr.
The way forward
As TA Truck Service moves forward, Carr said they want to constantly find ways to reshape, modernize, be faster, be quicker, be more efficient, but always around listening to the customer every day. He said the company is currently searching for more efficient ways to handle scrap tire disposal.
Carr also weighed in on the current discussion regarding Chinese truck tires.
“We have not jumped on the low-cost tires being imported today. We’ve stayed to this day true with the brands we brought in. Our goal is to really develop and work with brands we have, work with the partners who jumped up and worked with us . When we look at the Chinese import tires, to speak directly, we look at the brands if we bring them in that are reputable here in the United States, and have big companies here in the United States,” said Carr. “They operate here in the United States. There’s some here today we would choose to work with but I don’t believe you’ll see a day we jump into the race to the bottom.”
The TA Truck Service network includes 244 truck service facilities, 1,090 repair bays, nearly 3,000 technicians, more than 2,200 RoadSquad Connect emergency roadside assistance vehicles and a growing fleet of OnSite mobile maintenance vehicles. ■