“I used to be a bullfighter.” Jose Rios told me that on a business trip to China in 2010. That trip ranks as my favorite during my 34-year career at Modern Tire Dealer.
I will not quite reach 35 years because I am retiring. Mike Manges, our recently hired executive editor, will take over for me on Jan. 16, 2020. I have a few months left, so I will go into more detail in my next two editorials.
Back to Rios. He and his wife, Lucy, are wholesale and retail/commercial tire dealers based out of Medley, Fla., near Miami. Lucy’s Tire Inc. is an export and U.S. wholesale tire operation also known as Lucy’s Tire Americas. Their Falcon Tire Centers chain has one retail tire and service center and five commercial truck and light truck tire and service centers throughout Fla.
The two were among the most eclectic group of independent tire dealers with whom I ever traveled. We flew to Shanghai, China, as guests of China Manufacturers Alliance LLC (CMA) and its parent company, Double Coin Holdings Ltd. (which has since been renamed Shanghai Huayi Group Corp. Ltd.). That was nine years ago, but it remains unforgettable.
After blogging about Jose and his former profession, I found out he never was a bullfighter. Bring it up and he and Lucy still think his ruse is funny. I may be running out of time to get even, but revenge still crosses my mind.
The trip was set up by CMA executives, including President Mike Chang and Aaron Murphy, who moved to TBC Corp. in 2016. Donna Rosman, now Donna Murphy, also helped host the trip.While the dealers were good guests, they never forgot why they were there: to see Double Coin’s commercial tire factories in Shanghai and Rugao, China. They were interested in what Double Coin supplied (truck and small OTR tires), what it was on the verge of supplying (giant OTR tires) and what it wanted to supply in the near future (ag tires). There was even a question about the possibility of supplying passenger tires, which has yet to happen.
The other dealers on the trip were:
- Ricky Benton Sr. and his son Ryan from Black’s Tire Service Inc. in Whiteville, N.C. At one point, Ricky wanted to understand the relationship between CMA and his competition; he wasn’t complaining, he was fact-finding. That was my favorite question of the week, both reasonable and bold. Ricky was MTD’s 2015 Tire Dealer of the Year
- Dan and Kim Jensen, Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores Inc., Oklahoma City, Okla. The youngest couple on the trip, Dan shopped for golf clubs — and a third-tier truck tire line for Love’s nearly 230 stores. Nine years later, Love’s has more than 490 locations, including 350-plus truck service centers.
- Ross and Lynne Kogel, Tire Wholesalers Inc., Troy, Mich. Ross was one part tourist, two parts businessman in his quest to get a better handle on Double Coin, one of his Chinese suppliers. Ross has since turned over the business to his son, also named Ross.
- Art and Brenda Leblanc, Pete’s Tire Barns Inc., Orange, Mass. Art, vice president of Pete’s, has been with the company for close to 40 years. He and his wife are also big Beatles fans.
- Rick and Jan (Melanie) Stewart, Action Tire Co., Forest Park, Ga. Rick, CEO and president, started the business in 1985.
- Jim Parkhouse, Parkhouse Tire Inc., Bell Gardens, Calif. He has been CEO of the company, the 11th largest independent commercial tire dealership in the U.S., for more than 48 years.
- Verdo Gregory, Commercial Tire Sales, Fresno, Calif. Verdo is owner-operator of the 53-year-old specialty tire distributor.
All the dealers were very different, but from my point of view we all got along really well. That included the wives, too. As I said before, it was my best business trip ever: highly informative, entertaining, fun, and definitely memorable.
And it proved helpful in an unexpected way. Parkhouse pointed out a flaw in the way we listed the top 25 independent commercial tire dealers in the U.S. He was right, and the changes we made in determining their proper rank improved the 2011 list.
I haven’t kept in touch with everyone on the trip, unfortunately, but I have remained particularly close with Jose and Lucy. I have spoken at Black’s Tire Service events, and see both Ricky and Ryan at other dealer events at least once a year. Hopefully, Ross Kogel the Elder (that makes him sound like a Dungeons & Dragons character, doesn’t it?) will attend the 2019 Specialty Equipment Market Association Show in November (my last).
Why everything clicked on this trip, I don’t know. During the same time frame, China was hosting the World Expo. Thanks to tickets from Double Coin, we attended the expo for three days and visited pavilions from five countries. The U.S. pavilion was the least impressive of the five, although it was fun watching Ryan Benton interviewed about World Cup soccer at the venue.
That certainly added to the fun. But chemistry sometimes just happens. And that’s no bull. ■
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