American Omni celebrates 25 years
Twenty-five years ago American Omni Trading Co. got its footing selling truck tires made in India to customers in Latin America. Since then the Texas-based importer has sold and shipped tires to 62 countries, altered its customer base and developed its own private brands, all while supplying everything from wheelbarrow to off-the-road tires.
The deal that started American Omni actually took place five years earlier. The company’s CEO and President Tom Brackin was selling tires in Latin America and Europe and sourcing them from Dunlap and Kyle in Batesville, Miss. It was while he was a customer of Michael Dunlap’s that the two developed their own business plan. On March 4, 1990, Brackin and Dunlap incorporated their new company.
“I couldn’t ask for a better partner than Michael Dunlap,” Brackin said. “He’s been very supportive throughout the years. That’s a critical part of our success, that they’re always there. They’re our rock. They’ve been our rock for years and I’m confident they’ll be our rock going forward.”
American Omni initially set up distribution points in Central America, the Caribbean, Venezuela and Columbia. Then, in 1994 Brackin took a trip that would forever change the trajectory of the business. He flew to China for the first time. A year later he visited Thailand. In both countries he sought out factories to build a supply chain, and American Omni continues to do business with the manufacturers he met on those early excursions: South China Tire & Rubber Co. Ltd., better known as Wanli, and Deestone Ltd. Deestone in particular has been a big player for American Omni.
“Those two relationships really carried us through the next 18 to 19 years,” Brackin said.
By the late 1990s, American Omni had built and launched its first private brand. Nutech bias truck tires are made in China and initially were built for Latin America. But the price point and look of the tire – without any Chinese on it – made it a good seller in another new market.
“We found better success selling them to the United States,” Brackin said. More than 750,000 Nutech tires have rolled off the assembly line.
With its big toe in the American market, the company took another leap with truck tires in the U.S. when it started selling Wanli radial truck tires in 1998.
Brackin’s son Chris, who joined the company two years later, said having the Deestone brand, and then adding the Wanli brand “is really where we got our stronghold here in the United States.”
Truck tires led to farm tires which led to commercial and all-terrain tires. Around 2003 American Omni built its first radial light truck tires. The Kona brand was wildly successful, and 14 months of production sold out in 60 days. Little by little American Omni added products and brands. Along the way, the company found its niche, said Chris Brackin, vice president of sales: Developing private brands for customers. Sometimes a customer owned a brand and American Omni would revitalize it with a tread pattern it owned. Other times a new tread was created.
“We kind of found our strengths with those types of accounts, those types of projects, because not a lot of people were doing that at that time. Companies would come to us not knowing how to develop certain things in China, but we did because we had done it before and we were successful at it.”
All of that became American Omni’s foundation. The company which started selling in the U.S. to mom-and-pop, and small, regional wholesalers eventually grew to handle larger, national accounts. “We realized we can sell bigger accounts with more volume and not have as many headaches,” Tom Brackin said. “Not as many ship-tos, not as many credit issues. We found things that we take as a given, such as consistency, quality, competitiveness, we were able to take that and add better customer service to it and really attract some larger accounts to do business with us.”
It hasn’t been all smooth sailing, however. In 2008 off-the-road products were “a very large percentage” of American Omni’s business, and the antidumping duties on OTR tires that year hit the company hard. “It brought our business in January and February (2009) to its knees,” Tom Brackin said. But they regrouped, moved agricultural and industrial production to Thailand and switched the focus in China to passenger and light truck tires.
Just as the OTR tariff hit, Tom Brackin was ramping up for bigger business. He bought a 10,000 square-foot shell of a building at what might have been the worst possible time. “I’m like, ‘Oh God, what have I done?’” He called the staff into a meeting and said if employees could band together, he would promise no layoffs and no cuts in benefits. He kept that promise. As his staff moved into the new building in October 2009, he flew to China to negotiate lower tire prices.
The recession and Tariff 421 added more pressure, but because the company had reliable suppliers established both in and outside of China, American Omni’s business exploded. The Brackins expect those same relationships to carry them through the next tariff.
“From 2009 to 2012 our business grew 300%,” Tom Brackin said. “That was our biggest growth period. We had reliable suppliers. We were in a financial situation to be able to pay the $12,000 to $13,000 duties on every container which a lot of companies could not do.
“At the same time, we got notice by some large wholesalers who needed large volume coming in, but people they were doing business with, the factories or the importers, weren’t in a position to supply their needs and pay the tariffs. It gave us an opportunity and we took advantage of it.”
Today American Omni employs 39, including a pair of engineers in China plus a staff to process orders and oversee logistics. The company is projecting growth by 25% in 2015, and steady growth to follow for three years after that.
Long term, Tom Brackin expects to turn the business over to his son. The younger Brackin already is anticipating his own three young children to someday join him, and 25 years from now when the company marks its golden anniversary they’ll be talking about “strengthening the partnerships we have in place now, talking about the customer base and how we’re taking care of them and changes in the marketplace and how we’re adapting to that.”