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'Truckers come first'

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'Truckers come first'

Some commercial tire dealerships cater to mammoth over-the-highway trucking fleets. Others make the majority of their money servicing local pick-up and delivery operations.

Clarence David, owner of Toltec Tire & Service Inc., a small single-outlet dealership in Eloy, Ariz., knows who keeps his business in the black -- the small, independent trucker.

"Truckers come first," he says emphatically. "I always tell truck drivers when they come in -- before anything -- they'll be taken care of. Time is money, and if you don't waste their time, they appreciate it."

This focus on service has earned Toltec Tire -- which is located between Phoenix and Tucson - acclaim from truckers throughout the country. "Most of our customers are passing through and stop here because we take care of them," says David. "They come from all over -- Florida, Texas, Oklahoma. They tell me, 'I've heard about you from another driver. You gave him good service and a good price and that's why I stopped in.'"

Low-cost alternatives

Dave Escandon, a self-employed trucker from Bakersfield, Calif., recently pulled his 18-wheeler into Toltec Tire's outdoor service area. He needed to remove two trailer tires and replace them with spares. Within 15 minutes he was back on the road.

"Tires are like gold," Escandon told CTD before climbing back into his cab. "Every truck needs 18 of them."

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Escandon does three coast-to-coast runs a month. David expects to see him again. "Once a trucker breaks down, he's at your mercy. But it's not our policy to take advantage of somebody. Truckers are very loyal."

Many of them also are price-conscious, which is why Toltec keeps hundreds of retreads in stock. The dealership's retread shop is small but efficient. (Its monorail and curing chambers are located outside under a canopy thanks to southeastern Arizona's moderate year-round weather.)

The plant churns out 24 tires a day using three men. In order to maintain a high degree of quality, there are no plans to accelerate production, according to David.

"We make sure it's done right. Our failure rate is less than 2%. We have very few guys who come back and say, 'This retread failed.' But our policy is, if you're not happy with the tire, bring it back and we'll replace it at no charge."

Inspection is the most important part of the retread process, says David. "Can the casing be salvaged? Is it repairable? Some can't be salvaged."

Toltec charges from $160 to $170 for a truck tire retread, about $130 less than it charges for a new truck tire. David bases the dealership's prices on his market's going rate. "We monitor other retreaders and dealers. We're very competitive."

Toltec is the only retreader in Eloy, a small town of about 10,000. However, a Flying J truck stop and a couple of other truck stops in the area sell new truck tires. "They're competitors but not competition. A lot of them send customers to us."

While David says the truck stops don't repair tires due to liability concerns, Toltec performs several hundred repairs during an average week, 80% of them nail hole injuries. "You'd be surprised at what some of these drivers run over: screwdrivers, scissors, wrenches!"

David's 10 employees are cross-trained. "They're all capable of stepping in and doing work in another position. Everyone knows what the other guy is doing."

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Still building

Toltec Tire opened its doors eight years ago. Prior to that, David -- an Arizona transplant from Chicago -- manufactured real estate sign posts in Phoenix. "We were the largest real estate post company in the city."

Though David was successful, he decided to examine other career options. While flipping through a newspaper he stumbled across a "for sale" ad for a wholesale tire operation in nearby Casa Grande, Ariz. David bought the company. "I had no background in the tire business. I didn't know anybody in the tire business. But it sounded like an adventure."

Four years later, Toltec's current location - including its retread shop -- became available and the dealership relocated. "The majority of our business used to be wholesale." Now it mainly consists of retreads and used tires sold directly to end users.

The learning process hasn't always been easy, says David. Early challenges included "learning all the different sizes, how you process a retread, and what was going on the industry."

There were times when David second-guessed himself. But he has gained confidence as Toltec's sales have grown from roughly $800,000 to $1.3 million annually.

David doesn't miss his former profession. "Truck drivers are much more lenient and easier to get along with than real estate agents. They don't have as many excuses."

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Service is king

Service truck work makes up a substantial part of Toltec's overall business. "We're not open 24 hours a day but we have service available 24 hours."

Truckers who need help after hours use a phone outside Toltec's office to call an answering service, which then notifies David or one of his men. "Within 10 minutes I'll have someone here or on the road to take care of them."

Toltech charges a night-time service rate of $45 an hour, "which truckers don't mind paying." The price applies for both on-site and off-site work. "We don't do any mechanical work -- just tires. But we can get somebody if they need mechanical work."

A large, elevated sign near Toltec's shop that says "Tires -- 24 hours" in big, red letters also brings truckers in off the highway. "It's like a magnet," says David.

The dealership offers tire re-grooving. It charges $20 to re-groove a highway tire and $25 to re-groove a drive tire. A growing number of Toltech's clients are having their tires re-grooved as a low-cost way to squeeze more miles out of them.

Not all of Toltec's customers are truckers. RV and motor home drivers make up about 10% of the company's clientele. "RVs are easier to work on than trucks, but their drivers aren't easier to deal with. They want you to drop everything and work on their vehicle. They don't care how many (customers) are in front of them. They want it right now."

Toltec's margins have remained constant over the years, according to David. "Our pricing structure stays about the same. There's very little variance. If a guy wants a $160 tire, we have a $160 tire. If he wants a $120 tire, we have a $120 tire. Most of them are looking for a good quality tire at a good price.

"The RV drivers -- you may seem them once but never again. The truck driver we'll always see. They're the backbone of our business. We keep them rolling and they remember us.”

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