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K&M goes south to meet new dealers

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K&M goes south to meet new dealers

K&M Tire Inc. doesn’t expect to continue its rapid growth of the last few years, but that’s just fine for the leaders of this family-owned tire wholesaler.

Since 2011 K&M has doubled its number of warehouses and employees, and in 2014 the growth included a southern expansion in Texas and Oklahoma. That’s a big reason the company chose Dallas as the site for its 2015 dealer convention. More than 600 dealers attended the two-day event in Dallas Jan. 22-23, including 100 dealers from the Lone Star State.

“We are still new to Texas and Oklahoma, so a lot of the dealers have never met us and maybe never heard of us,” said Cheryl Gossard, vice president of K&M in Delphos, Ohio.

She said by having the dealer meeting close to home for those newest customers “they’ll figure out what K&M is about.”

David Skidmore and his wife Connie, owners of David’s Auto Repair in Boyd, Texas, are among K&M’s new customers. The Skidmores opened their shop two years ago and spent their time at the two-day meeting mulling the information and products presented. For now the Skidmores operate a small shop with David as technician and Connie managing the books, but their dreams for the future are bigger.

That’s a story familiar to K&M. Today the company sells 30 brands of tires from 17 distribution centers, and the 18th warehouse is set to open soon near Cleveland, Ohio. K&M operates 1.8 million square feet of warehouse space, and its trucks travel 35,000 miles a day serving up to 20,000 customers a year.

That’s quite different than it was in 1970 when Ken Langhals opened a two-bay gas station and sold “way less than 100 tires a week.” Langhals, president of K&M, said the company now sells 50,000 tires a week.

Langhals said business increased at most of the company’s warehouses in 2014. “November was by far the best month we’ve ever had.”

Langhals and his daughter (Gossard) both said they don’t expect 2015 to be a year of rapid expansion and acquisitions. “I don’t really care if we get any bigger,” Langhals said. “I care about how we’re taking care of our customers. If we’re not taking care of our customers, I don’t want to grow.”

K&M stressed its familial roots and feel throughout the annual meeting. The company’s general session focused on three themes, ideas that K&M said are the basis of its business: teamwork, relationships and trust. Even the event’s celebrity speaker, three-time Dallas Cowboys Super Bowl champion Emmitt Smith, touched on those qualities as important not just in football, but especially in his current role as CEO and president of Emmitt Smith Enterprises.

Kevin Knebel, national marketing manager for K&M, told the crowd “our success is directly aligned with you, our dealers’ success.” To aid that success, K&M’s annual meeting includes a trade show, this time with 40 vendors, plus a series of seminars. A class on social media covered the basics, while a presentation by Craig Wallick, sales manager for Goodyear, and his son, Jeff Wallick, director of training and development for K&M, outlined strategy.

The elder Wallick framed his advice by reminding dealers to focus on the future. He said often as dealers prepare for the year ahead they rely too heavily on what happened last year. He encouraged — begged them really — to look out the windshield rather than the rear-view mirror.

“The economy’s looking good. Record employment. Low unemployment. Confidence is high. Sales are back above pre-recession time. Gas prices are low. People are driving more miles. Those are tailwinds,” Craig Wallick said. “If you were looking at the rear-view mirror, you would say to yourself ‘I’m going to inventory the same number of tires I inventoried last year.’”

He knew some would consider his advice self-serving: a tire salesman pushing more tires. But Craig Wallick said dealers need to stock smart. Some inventory only 100 tires and rely too heavily on a distributor’s deliveries. When a customer needs a tire immediately, the customer doesn’t wait for the next truck. He goes down the street and buys it from a competitor.   ■

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