In the 18 years since Michael Sullivan left the corporate world and bought a tire store in California, he’s quadrupled that business’ sales. But he admits he hasn’t done it alone.
“I’m just a little guy out in the middle of nowhere,” he says. Sullivan’s Tire Pros is located in Oakhurst, Calif., about 15 miles away from the southern entrance to Yosemite National Park. In the beginning, Sullivan struggled to pay the bills and looked for help. He joined Independent Tire Dealers Group LLC (ITDG).
“I knew other dealers that were part of ITDG, and they were members for the same reason I was looking to be — ITDG is focused on the independent dealer, and providing them with programs they could not possibly negotiate on their own. It’s the leveraging of the mass, and leveraging of the brotherhood.”
For Sullivan, one of the drivers was ITDG’s oil program. His business includes two dedicated quick lube bays, plus the oil changes that occur in his other service bays. “I could never get a consistent oil program; it was fluctuating so greatly. When I looked at their oil program, it was so simple.”
He started ordering Continental- and Cooper-brand tires from ITDG, which he says “really helped us survive. For us, ITDG was really essential in getting over some hurdles. Since then, it’s just brought value to our business in so many ways.”
Sullivan’s Tire Pros has expanded over the years, and now does about $3.2 million in sales a year.
But as the name of his tire dealership implies, Sullivan isn’t a member of just one program group. He’s also a Tire Pros dealer through American Tire Distributors Inc.
“Tire Pros has been good to our business. ITDG is essential to our business,” Sullivan says. “I don’t see them in being in competition with one another. I think both can work together in different ways.”
Tire Pros is a national retail brand, and Sullivan says the group provides him with a marketing platform that helps him improve his business. ITDG is focused on procurement and leveraging the membership to help dealers with everything from tires and oil to auto parts and workers compensation programs.
“I think of it as the best of both worlds.”
Big O Tires
Offered by: TBC Corp.
How many stores do members operate? 455
How do you help drive traffic to a dealer’s brick and mortar location? We provide award-winning, multi-channel marketing, which includes resources for both digital and print campaigns. Plus, we provide quality services for consumers.
What tools do you employ to help dealers in the digital age? Our promotions are powerful, with TV, radio, print, direct mail and digital elements. We provide digital marketing resources and expertise. We also help dealers with customer relationship management (CRM) and search engine marketing (SEM), and offer a brand reputation management program.
What’s your key selling point to attract new dealers? Big O Tires offers a steady, sustainable and growing business opportunity. TBC Corp. provides a strong backbone of support, and there are incentives. One example is the waiving of the initial franchise fee for eligible first responders on an initial location. There’s a similar fee waiver through the company’s program for U.S. military veterans.
What can members expect from you in the next five years? Our footprint will continue to grow to meet the needs of consumers. Big O Tires was recently ranked No. 1 in the category in the Franchise 500 by Entrepreneur. The brand has proven that it knows tires and automotive service, and its increase in sales will continue into the future.
BTS Partner Program
Offered by: Black's Tire Service Inc./BTS Tire & Wheel Distributors
Number of members/participants: 200+
How many stores do they operate? 275
List your group's top 10 selling brands: Goodyear, Cooper, Hankook, Falken, Kelly, Continental, Pirelli, Michelin, Federal and Americus.
How do you help drive traffic to a dealer's brick and mortar location? Training programs and partnering with the BTS locations as a partner store location.
What tools do you employ to help dealers in the digital age? Social media, advertising support, combined with our BTS locations for support.
What's your key selling point to attract new dealers? Family values, and partnering with people in the business who care about more than the sale. We offer Partner Program payback, marketing support and an annual partner dealer group trip.
What can members expect from you in the next five years? Continued partnership with our loyal partner dealers. Together we will support each other.
Independent Tire Dealers
Offered by: Community Wholesale Tire Distributing
Number of members/participants: 150
How many stores do they operate? 168
List your group’s top 10 selling brands: Bridgestone, Firestone, Goodyear, Kelly, Toyo, Continental, General, Kumho, Pirelli and Maxxis.
How do you help drive traffic to a dealer’s brick and mortar location? Google pay per click advertising and sports marketing.
What tools do you employ to help dealers in the digital age? A website with live pricing that is customizable by dealer.
What’s your key selling point to attract new dealers? We are a family-owned distributor that empowers its employees to make frontline decisions to solve customers’ needs and problems.
What can members expect from you in the next five years? We will continually seek out ways to better serve customers and grow their business. We will continue to focus on person-to-person relationships and not just technology to serve our customers.
Independent Tire Dealers Group
Offered by: Independent Tire Dealers Group LLC
Number of members/participants: 157
How many stores do they operate? 719
List your group’s top 10 selling brands: We don’t own the “sell” relationship so we don’t have that answer. We offer 30 brands of tires to members.
How do you help drive traffic to a dealer’s brick and mortar location? There are three ways: 1. There’s an ITDG dealer locator on our website: www.itdgusa.com. 2. Our vendor partners add our members to their dealer locators. 3. We use the connectivity of our social media and marketing partners in the group.
What tools do you employ to help dealers in the digital age? It’s similar to our response above. We also work with our partners — Net Driven, AllData LLC, Optimize Social Media Inc. and TCS Technologies — to work closer with our members.
What’s your key selling point to attract new dealers? The member retains their independence. We don’t tell them what or how much to buy. We have longevity on our side, as we are celebrating our 25th anniversary this year. Members can expect continued growth and stability with ITDG. They can earn shareholder eligibility the first year they join. All products and programs are available to help them run their business. We also have our own internal financing company and our own Captive Workers Compensation Insurance program.
What can members expect from you in the next five years? Continued growth and expansion throughout the U.S. Stronger and more diverse vendor programs, from tires and parts to equipment and marketing. A next gen initiative to help members with sustainability and succession planning. We are growing to “build out,” not growing to “sell out.”
Offered by: TBC Corp.
How many stores do members operate? More than 1,149 in the U.S. and Canada.
How do you help drive traffic to a dealer’s brick and mortar location? We use our marketing tools, and we provide consumers with quality services. We have an award-winning, multi-channel marketing strategy, and it includes both digital and print assets.
What tools do you employ to help dealers in the digital age? Midas deploys high quality branding that features strong messages and a consistent look and feel that carries across our TV advertising, mailers and fliers, in-store displays, website and social media.
We tie everything together into an integrated strategy. Midas also uses in-store marketing to let customers know about the additional services we offer.
What’s your key selling point to attract new dealers? We have a popular incentive which helps first responders and U.S. military veterans join the Midas family. The initial franchisee fee for a first store is waived for eligible first responders, as well as U.S. military veterans. Dealers also can rely on the support of TBC Corp. as they build their store and find success in a sustainable, non-cyclical and growing business.
What can members expect from you in the next five years? Midas has been a staple in the market for more than 60 years. The brand was recently selected for America’s Best Customer Service for 2019 by Newsweek. Midas continues to find a way to expand on years of sales growth, and its footprint will expand to provide the best service to customers.
Mr. Tire and Big 3 Tire
Offered by: K&M Tire Inc.
Website: MrTireOutlet.com and Big3Tire.com
Number of members/participants: 1,600+
How many stores do they operate? 1,600+
List your group’s top 10 selling brands: Bridgestone, Firestone, Cooper, Mastercraft, Continental, General, Kumho, Hankook, Falken, Yokohama and Double Coin.
How do you help drive traffic to a dealer’s brick and mortar location? Exclusive mail-in rebates, social media interaction, engagement and marketing. We offer a la carte-minded program tools that put the dealer in control of their business.
What tools do you employ to help dealers in the digital age? Website and point of sales integration with national account pricing structures. Agile purchasing bonuses with exclusive marketing campaigns. A direct investment to dealers’ social media growth, plus interaction with a dedicated digital content specialist.
What’s your key selling point to attract new dealers? We level the playing field for independent tire dealers with the power of a network of like-minded independent dealers.
What can members expect from you in the next five years? Dedication to continuous improvement and development of our program to ensure our dealers have every tool necessary to be the leading and most trusted provider of tires and services in their geographic markets.
We are overhauling our digital content focus to maximize visibility of our Mr. Tire and Big 3 Tire dealers to their customers.
Point S Tire & Auto Service
Offered by: Tire Factory Inc.
How many stores do members operate? More than 200 retail and commercial locations across 20 states.
List your group’s top 10 selling brands: Nokian, Michelin, Goodyear, Toyo, Hankook, Falken, Pantera, Black Lion, Thunderer, Venezia and Laufenn.
How do you help drive traffic to a dealer’s brick and mortar location? Point S marketing actively supports our dealers in each market. We deploy comprehensive marketing campaigns that drive top-of-mind awareness through mass-media, including television, radio and out-of-home marketing. We then capitalize on that with localized digital strategies for each store. In addition, we provide all seasonal marketing and point-of-sale collateral.
What tools do you employ to help dealers in the digital age? We have our proprietary All-Trac platform that provides online scheduling, bay management and outbound customer reputation management. We also have monthly social media content calendars and research customized Google AdWords for each dealer’s market.
What’s your key selling point to attract new dealers? We value our members’ independence. We provide everything a dealer needs to successfully grow their tire and auto service business (tire buying, programs, V/B, marketing support, technology innovations and dealer-to-dealer camaraderie). Members also benefit from the financial performance of their co-op. The reason owners join and remain members is because we listen to their needs and take actionable steps to assist them. We live by our manta: The reason we exist is to make our members successful.
What can members expect from you in the next five years? We will continually be the leader in the technology space, supporting our dealers with innovative tools to attract customers and maintain their profitability. We will maintain world class tire buying programs through our international connection with Point S International (4,100 locations). We will increase our footprint via strong independent dealers nationwide.
RNR Tire Express
Offered by: SPF Management Co. LLC
Number of members/participants: 23 groups
How many stores do they operate? 104
List your group’s top 10 selling brands: Nexen, Falken, Yokohama, Toyo, Ironman, Delinte, Nankang, Milestar, Kumho and Amp.
How do you help drive traffic to a dealer’s brick and mortar location? On top of traditional marketing efforts we put a large focus on digital advertising and social media.
What tools do you employ to help dealers in the digital age? We utilize several digital tools to assist in promoting and capturing potential customers including a best-in-class sales customer relationship management (CRM) that tracks leads to closed deals.
What’s your key selling point to attract new dealers? We’re serving a whole new market segment with specialized and unique best practices that create a value for our customers and healthy bottom lines for our dealers.
What can members expect from you in the next five years? The most efficient support program that exceeds our dealers’ expectations!
Offered by: American Tire Distributors Inc. (ATD)
Number of members/participants: 500+
How many stores do they operate? 625+
List your group’s top 10 selling brands: Tire Pros franchisees have access to ATD’s broad selection of tire and wheel brands. Tire Pros offers exclusive programs, promotions and enhancements across multiple tire manufacturers.
How do you help drive traffic to a dealer’s brick and mortar location? Tire Pros offers a suite of digital and traditional marketing services to drive traffic to our franchisees’ stores. This marketing support is delivered through dedicated Tire Pros retail account managers that are supported by an experienced marketing team.
What tools do you employ to help dealers in the digital age? The Tire Pros marketing services team is well versed in a wide array of digital marketing strategies and tactics. Tire Pros also runs a national marketing campaign, which leverages cutting edge digital channels to drive traffic to our franchisees’ stores.
What’s your key selling point to attract new dealers? Tire Pros’ ability to work in partnership with our franchisees to develop the strategies necessary to drive traffic, enhance their operations, and improve their business profitability.
What can members expect from you in the next five years? Tire Pros will continue to develop the tools, technologies and programs to drive traffic to our franchisees’ stores. In addition, the Tire Pros team will provide retail consulting services to help enhance our franchisees’ operations and the customer experience they deliver online and in-store.
Offered by: Tire Solutions Inc.
Number of members/participants: 193
How many stores do they operate? 193
List your group’s top 10 selling brands: Toyo, Multi-Mile, Hankook, Falken, Kumho, Sumitomo, Westlake, Harvest King and Sailun.
How do you help drive traffic to a dealer’s brick and mortar location? We run our own mail-in rebate promotions that are exclusive to our dealer network. We combine the rebates with local print and digital advertising.
What tools do you employ to help dealers in the digital age? We have a strong website program that enables the dealers to have an online presence that allows them to show pricing and sell tires online if desired. We also have implemented a new tool for 2019, monthly digital ads to be used on the web, plus Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. This service is free to our network!
What’s your key selling point to attract new dealers? The biggest selling point is our dedication to our dealers’ success. We continue to bring promotions that drive retail. We offer training to help front counter sales and products that retail customers are looking for. We have several national account programs that benefit our group, including NAPA, Auto Value, Lube Tech, TCS Technologies, Coats equipment from Hennessy Industries Inc. and NCP processing. We are a family-owned business, so we really take pride in our customer service and going the extra mile!
What can members expect from you in the next five years? First and most important, they can expect the same great service and dedication to their success. We will be adding more national account programs and will be constantly looking at ways to help our customers gain market share with innovative marketing ideas that are tailored to their individual markets.
United Tire & Service
Offered by: United Tire & Service LLC
Number of members/participants: 8
How many stores do they operate? 13
List your group’s top 10 selling brands: Michelin, Goodyear, BFGoodrich, Continental, Bridgestone, Hercules, Uniroyal, General, Pirelli and Cooper.
How do you help drive traffic to a dealer’s brick and mortar location? No short answer here! We have a complete customer relationship management (CRM) and fully integrated loyalty program through our point of sales system, along with an annualized marketing program providing each location support in brand development and creative services for all print, out-of-home, point-of-purchase and online graphics creation. We do competitive market and media research. We offer direct mail creation and execution services. We provide search management and search engine optimization (SEO) services along with in-market video advertising and in-market retargeting management. We offer market price management and competitor evaluations, tire manufacturer program management, along with complete bookkeeping and cash flow management. Plus, we can help with event planning and management services.
What tools do you employ to help dealers in the digital age? In half of our stores we have deployed fully digital vehicle evaluations. We believe that customers today need clear, concise digital reviews of their vehicles, including pictures and detailed reports of items that need maintenance or service. This transparency is critical to building consumer confidence. The platform includes reminders for future services.
What’s your key selling point to attract new dealers? Dealers retain their identity while finding a common brand to market themselves in a highly digital age. With full accounting and marketing support, they can compete on a similar scale to the 100+ store chains.
Each location is supported by local and regional events in their communities. Evaluating a dealer’s tire manufacturer programs, and the best way to manage those programs, we help dealers make the most prudent decisions regarding programs, with a realistic tire unit volume. We also provide help with other vendor relationships, things like parts, uniforms, supplies, etc.
What can members expect from you in the next five years? As the marketplace continues to become more digitally active we are focused on the external customer and internal customer first. That includes having the ability to find pricing for any service online in a fast, efficient way. It also means communicating with a customer in the way they want to communicate, whether that’s in a phone call, text or by email, and allowing customers to pay in advance — or in a manner that works best for them. For stores, we believe our biggest differentiator will be in helping them recruit and develop their teams with a more proactive plan for associate development.
Xpress Tire and Auto Service
Offered by: Conrad’s Tire Service Inc.
Website: dealer.xpress-tire.com and xpress-tire-com
Number of members/participants: 121
How many stores do they operate? 128
List your group’s top 10 selling brands: Cooper, Multi-Mile, Firestone, Bridgestone, Goodyear, Starfire, and various opening price point private label options.
How do you help drive traffic to a dealer’s brick and mortar location? We run and actively market a consumer facing website for our affiliate dealers that is mobile friendly. Their individual locations are featured with their specific pricing, along with the availability of tire lines and products for that specific market.
What tools do you employ to help dealers in the digital age? The xpress-tire.com website is monitored and managed by an outside entity that is constantly working to maximize exposure for these dealers, many of which are not digitally engaged on their own. Additionally, we work in concert with the dealers who are digitally engaged to make sure our program complements their efforts.
What’s your key selling point to attract new dealers? We understand the small independent dealer very, very well; it is part of our core. We know what works for them and why. We can teach them how to be relevant in the tire business and to use that as a springboard to growing their service business.
What can members expect from you in the next five years? Expanded distribution; increased social media interaction to the extent dealer individuality will allow; targeted dealer specific promotions; and expanded product access. ■
'They Treat us Like Family’
At Fuerst Automotive in Broadview Heights, Ohio, tires are an important part of the business, but they’re not king. Co-owner and Manager Mitchell Stout says tires represent 20% to 30% of the family business’ sales.
For at least the last decade, Fuerst Inc. dba Fuerst Automotive, has been an Xpress Tire and Auto Service dealer through Conrad’s Tire Service Inc. Stout says Xpress eliminates the stress and time of having to do an exhaustive search for the best priced tire whenever one is needed.
“Their online portal is amazing. Instead of having to call and shop different prices and manufacturers, we’re able to do an online search. And they carry a wide range of tires.”
Stout says he loves to sell tires from Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. since the company also calls Ohio home, but he also appreciates giving consumers options. And that’s another way Xpress helps his business.
“If I have a question, or if I have to search for a certain brand of tire, they’ll go above and beyond and search for tires they don’t even carry. If I have a customer who brings in a quote from another shop, they’ll meet or b‘Best decision we made’
“If I have a question, or if I have to search for a certain brand of tire, they’ll go above and beyond and search for tires they don’t even carry. If I have a customer who brings in a quote from another shop, they’ll meet or beat that price,” Stout says. “And that helps us in the long run, especially when it’s a brand new customer and we’re trying to make that first impression.
“It’s not just another company. They really do treat us like family. Being a family-owned business, that’s what we look for.” 'They Treat us Like Family’
Rob Slagle, general manager of S&S Tire Co., says his family’s tire dealership has a claim to fame. The Arizona business, with three locations west of Phoenix, was the first tire dealer outside of California to join Independent Tire Dealers Group LLC.
“For us it’s been a breath of fresh air since 2000,” says Slagle. “It was the best decision we made.
“We are a band of brothers, and I know that’s a euphemism, but I could truly call any of my partners in the group. I don’t do it very often, but if I’m facing a difficult decision, I can do it. We’re all for one and one for all. That’s number one. None of us feel threatened by the other.”
Slagle says membership in ITDG brings with it other benefits. “I can focus on running my business, my employees, my customers, my properties because I don’t have to negotiate with my vendors. It makes running a business so much easier.”
That doesn’t mean he’s fully removed from vendors, of course. But Slagle says being an ITDG member carries with it some prestige. “They don’t take just any dealer. When a vendor calls me and they’re a prospective vendor with ITDG, they know I can pay my bills, that I’m credit worthy and that I’ve been in business a certain amount of time.”
S&S Tire also participates in ITDG’s captive insurance company, which provides worker’s compensation coverage. Slagle’s father, the late Bob Slagle, helped start the insurance program for the group. Being part of that protection is “the second best decision we ever made. We feel like we’re in control of our premiums, and if we can limit our injuries, it’s a triple win. We keep the employee working, we keep the premiums down, and we save the company money.” Plus, at the end of the year, members in the insurance coverage share in the dividends. 'They Treat us Like Family’
Twice-a-day deliveries. Quality products. Great people. These are among the reasons Scott Heinecke, owner of Annandale Auto Care LLC, partners with Tire Solutions Inc. But they aren’t the biggest differentiator.
What is? Road hazard protection — on every tire. It’s built into the price of every tire he buys from Tire Solutions.
“That’s a selling point. I don’t have any other supplier that offers that,” he says. “They’re the ones eating that, and they’re still very competitive.”
Consumers in Annandale, Minn., ask about road hazard protection, and Heinecke can say it’s included. “We say it’s free and it is. We don’t charge any more for it.”
Tire Solutions also invites its members to an annual conference that includes tire training as well as sales and customer service tips. Throughout the year the two service writers who work in Heinecke’s five-bay shop have opportunities to earn gift cards as sales incentives.
For Heinecke, it comes down to relationships. He’s known Tire Solutions CEO and President Rick Lang for 16 years. “You buy from who you trust.”
How have programs changed in a year? See "Program Groups Help Dealers Focus on Selling" from April 2018.