17 independent tire stores band together to form United Tire & Service
The name United Tire & Service LLC reflects the mission of 17 independent tire stores in Pennsylvania’s Delaware Valley: unite to compete against big box retailers and national tire dealers. “We are individual businessmen who have gotten together to buy better,” says Ken Sylvester, president.
By joining forces, 14 dealers who operate 17 independent shops are able to offer competitive pricing on all major brands while still providing personal, high-quality service to their customers in the Philadelphia metropolitan area. “We are now able to compete and win with every major national tire center chain without compromising our mission to not only meet our customers’ expectations but to exceed them,” says Sylvester. He has been in the tire industry for 30 years, as a technician, Goodyear dealer and now owner of Downingtown Tire & Service Inc., a 10-bay shop.
Most of the dealers have known each other for many years. Up to eight years ago, nine of them were part of a partnership which operated nine stores. When the owner retired, each dealer bought his own store. At first the individual dealers shared accounting services. As the dealers eventually bought more stores, their separate identities and increasing competitive pressures were hindering growth.
“As we grew and got up to 16 stores we realized it was impossible for us to advertise, it was impossible to buy as a group, it was hard to grow anymore. We had gotten as big as we could in that type of entity. We decided we needed to become one as far as at least the identity,” says Sylvester.
Acquisitions of small stores by bigger chains such as Monro Muffler Brake Inc. and Pep Boys-Manny, Moe & Jack were another factor. “They come into a marketplace and can do a category kill. They can take all the profit margin out of a tire. It’s hard to be a tire dealer at that point. So we had to find a way to combat that. We just didn’t want the small guy to be knocked out of a market,” says Sylvester.
About a year ago the nine dealers decided to open their group to new dealers and to rebrand themselves. Fourteen dealers were part of the group when United Tire & Service launched its new brand on April 29, but not all are partners in every location. “That’s where the United Tire umbrella comes in,” says Sylvester. “We’ve all joined under this umbrella to work together as one entity.”
Sylvester says shop owners can become United Tire authorized dealers, rebrand their stores and buy tires through the program. Or they can join completely and take advantage of shared services such as accounting, credit card processing and training.
The company’s retail website, www.unitedtire.com, went live on April 30. In addition to showing product and service information, the website provides price quotes by email. Offering shoppers the ability to request a price by email helps to validate their buying interest, according to Sylvester. He says dealers “went back and forth” on whether to display prices online.
“A lot of people use prices on the Internet to go to where they normally do business and try to get them to lower their prices. We’re going to try this, and if it doesn’t work we’ll put the prices there. I’ve talked to a lot of people in the industry, and half believe you should put pricing on the Web and half don’t.”
A Web portal for dealers will launch in June. It will show tire suppliers at first, with parts suppliers to be added later.
“We’re trying to create it so they don’t have to shop around for the best price. They just need to spend time selling tires,” says Sylvester.
The program includes the Pirelli, Goodyear, Continental and Nexen brands with more manufacturer agreements expected soon. Sylvester has talked to at least six independent dealers with multiple locations who have expressed interest in joining the group.
The group also is looking for people to partner in opening new locations.
“In a year I would see ourselves to be at least double where we are today in terms of membership and revenue,” says Sylvester. “I built the business plan based on becoming 50 or 60 stores, but I think the sky’s the limit.”
United Tire & Service celebrated its 17-store launch on April 29 with a grand opening at the store in Ardmore. The company donated $5,000 and a percentage of proceeds from opening day sales to Mothers Against Drunk Driving in the name of Ian Mann, a technician from the Downingtown location killed by a drunk driver.
“We hope this real life David and Goliath story inspires other small business owners to hold their own against industry conglomerates,” says Sylvester.
Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.unitedtire.com for more information. — Ann Neal
Dealers stand united
Nine partners evolved to become a group of 14 dealers who united to establish bulk buying power, shared business services and a single brand identity. Ken Sylvester is president of the group, United Tire & Service LLC. He and Tim Steigerwalt run the retail side of the company while Jeff Cohen and Andy Chafolsky are responsible for the wholesale operation. The members and their store locations, all in the Delaware Valley of Pennsylvania, are:
Harry Bickel — Downingtown;
Bob Cox — Ambler;
Andy Chafolsky — Quakertown;
Alex Curtis — Phoenixville;
Bill Damico — West Chester;
Al Dumas — Wilmington;
Pete Getz — Concordville;
Steve Harvilla — Rosemont;
Eric Russo — Philadelphia;
Lenny Salvato — Paoli;
Ken Sylvester — Ardmore,
Tim Shook — Havertown;
Tim Steigerwalt — Southampton, Willow Grove; and
Pete Weidner — Colmar.
Read the entire June 2014 issue of Modern Tire Dealer by clicking on our digital version here.