Retail

Riding the waves of change: MTD's Top 100 dealer list is a who's who of the industry. But who's who this year?

Like sand at the ocean's edge, the tire industry is constantly shifting. Our latest "Top 100 independent tire store chains" list mirrors that ever-changing landscape.

Two of the top five independent tire dealers from last year's Top 100 list are gone -- one due to bankruptcy (Winston Tire Co.), the other bought by another dealership (Merchant's Inc., purchased by TBC Corp.). A number of other dealers also have drifted off the list, making room for the up-and-comers.

There is at least one constant in the ebb and flow: Discount Tire Co. Inc. remains number one.

Tire Kingdom expands again

TBC finalized its purchase of Merchant's in April. Merchant's was fourth on Modern Tire Dealer's 2002 list of Top 100 independent tire store chains with 122 outlets.

TBC paid $57.5 million in cash for Merchant's and will pay up to $15 million in future years based on the performance of the outlets. The Merchant's stores will be integrated into TBC's Tire Kingdom retail operations and called Tire Kingdom's Merchants Tire. The Merchant's acquisition increased Tire Kingdom's store count by more than 50%; with 345 retail stores, Tire Kingdom is second on our Top 100 list.

Here are many of the other changes that occurred among our top dealers in the last 12 months -- and a look at what they plan to do in the coming months.

* Some of the 563 Penske Auto Centers LLC (PAC) stores closed in early 2002 are getting new life breathed into them. Big O Tire Stores Inc. entered the Michigan market in a big way when it opened 12 outlets in Detroit suburbs -- many of them at former PAC outlets. The stores are owned by U.S. Auto Care LLC. Per another recent deal with Kmart Corp., U.S. Auto Care will lease three more stores.

* Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. bought 97 Winston Tire outlets last year via bankruptcy court proceedings. The tiremaker was a major creditor of Torrance, Calif.-based Winston Tire, which filed for Chapter 11 protection last year. Winston Tire, previously owned by Performance Management Inc., was fifth on MTD's top dealer list last year.

Forty-four of those outlets will be converted to the company's Just Tires format, according to Goodyear.

* Evans Tire (see photo) had one of its best years in recent history, according to President John Andonian. Same store sales grew 29% in 2003.

* Certified Tire & Service Centers, based in Moreno Valley, Calif., opened its 21st location, a 10-bay, 11-employee shop, this year prior to purchasing seven Winston Tire Co. stores from Goodyear. Three of those outlets are in Riverside, Calif., while four are in San Diego. That brings the company's total up to 28 locations

* Easter Tire & Retreading Inc. in Lima, Ohio, opened two new locations and plans to add two more in 2003.

* Black's Tire Service in Whiteville, N.C., opened a new location in Wilmington, N.C., and branched out into the wheel business. The company also is sponsoring two race teams.

* Chabill's Tire of Morgan City, La., broke ground on a new retail outlet last month that will contain 10 bays, four for tire service and six for automotive service. Company owner Charley Gowland says he hopes to open his 11th store by the end of this year.

* Autotire Car Care Centers, based in St. Louis, Mo., opened a new store in Chesterfield, Mo., and plans to open another in southwest St. Louis County within the next year.

* Phoenix, Ariz.-based Fletcher's Tire has plans to open nine facilities over the next three years. The operation currently has 21 stores. President Jerry Fletcher says he plans to invest $1 million in each new outlet to get them up and running.

* Northwest Tire & Service in Flint, Mich., reports its new "Price Patrol" program has been well received by customers and employees alike at its 11 locations. If customers "find another tire advertised at a price less than our own (within 100 miles), we give them the difference back and then we double what we gave them," according to Vice President A.J. Faught. The program requires employees "to do research on what's available in our market."

Northwest Tire also has embraced an all-inclusive pricing program called "Ready to Roll," in which all the extras, such as valves, balancing and road hazards, are free, says Faught.

* Englewood Tire Distributors, headquartered in Lyndhurst, N.J, plans to open a store in Wayne, N.J., within three to four months. "We just got approvals," says John Boyle, president. The company currently has 13 locations. The new 4,800-square-foot retail outlet will have six bays and employ eight.

* Jack Williams Tire Co. of Moosic, Pa., opened a 20,000-square-foot, 19-bay high performance tire center late last month in Kingston, Pa. Another store, a 7,000-square-foot, eight-bay facility, will open soon in Palmyra, Pa. With the two new locations, the company will have 23 stores. Company President Bill Williams also is negotiating to buy another shop.

* Kauffman Tire Service, based in College Park, Ga., has broken ground for a new retail store in the Atlanta area that will open in August. The 7,000-square-foot outlet will contain eight service bays, says Kauffman Tire President John Kauffman.

The company also increased its sales by developing new Web sites in conjunction with Progress Co. partner BravePoint, a leading developer of e-business and enterprise solutions. Launched last year, www.treadepot.com, a consumer site, has increased its Internet presence, doubling direct-to-consumer sales and increasing customer satisfaction, says the company. Kauffman Tire also developed a Web-based B2B site.

* Escondido, Calif.-based Evans Tire & Service Centers' new stores in Encinitas, Clairmont Mesa, National City and Vista, Calif., are up and running. The outlets give the dealership 13 locations throughout San Diego County (AKH Co. Inc. does business as both Evans Tire and Discount Tire in California).

* Dunlap & Kyle Co. Inc.'s recently acquired 120,000-square-foot warehouse in Jackson, Miss., is up and running, according to Bob Dunlap, the dealership's chairman. The company also is adding 145,000 square feet to its warehouse in Batesville, Miss.

* Cincinnati, Ohio-based Tire Discounters Inc., which has 35 stores, plans to add at least six new stores by the end of the year. The new stores will be in the greater Cincinnati and Dayton, Ohio, and northern Kentucky areas, according to Tire Discounters President Chip Wood.

Lori L. Mavrigian Managing Editor
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