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Top 100 Dealers Find Opportunities in Traditional Retailing

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Top 100 Dealers Find Opportunities in Traditional Retailing

While e-commerce is blamed for store closures throughout much of the retail sector, this year’s Modern Tire Dealer 100 has many examples of dealers who are opening stores.

They are also expanding through acquisitions and investing in their existing brick-and-mortar locations while they participate in the digital revolution that is turning traditional retailing upside down.

Snider Tire Inc., which goes to market as Snider Fleet Solutions, is among the latest to extend its physical footprint with the acquisition of 27 commercial locations from Michelin North America Inc.’s Tire Centers LLC (TCi) subsidiary. The deal, which finalized in early July, puts Greensboro, N.C.-based Snider Tire in the No. 16 spot with 76 outlets.

At the end of June, McCarthy Tire Service Co. completed its purchase of P.J. Dooling Tire Co. of Philadelphia, Pa. Dooling Tire’s tire sales and service operations will be merged into McCarthy Tire’s commercial location in Trainer, Pa. It is McCarthy Tire’s second acquisition in two months. The company purchased the commercial division of Scranton-Dunlop Inc., known in the marketplace as Sandone Tire, in Scranton, Pa., in May. Sandone Tire’s truck tire sales and service operations were merged into McCarthy’s commercial location in Dickson City, Pa.In addition, McCarthy Tire relocated its combination commercial-retail store in Reading, Pa., to a larger, 32,000-square-foot facility. The company plans to increase commercial tire sales and services, and add fleet mechanical services, engine diagnostic work, and heavy-duty truck repair at the Reading store. A new Bandag retread plant in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., began production in September 2016 and represents a $3.5 million investment. At full capacity, the plant produces 1,000 retreads per day. McCarthy Tire’s 49 stores put it at No. 22 on the Modern Tire Dealer 100.

Dealers acquire, build and renovate

At the very top of the Modern Tire Dealer 100, Reinalt-Thomas Corp. added 23 locations, all greenfield construction, for a total of 940 Discount Tire/America’s Tire outlets. In the No. 2 spot with 772 locations is TBC Corp., which added 13 NTB Tire & Service Centers and Tire Kingdom stores.

Monro Muffler Brake Inc. is ranked No. 3, unchanged from last year. In all, Monro acquired 37 stores and now operates 585 retail, commercial and wholesale tire locations. The company’s acquisitions include former list maker Clark Tire & Auto Inc.’s 24 retail outlets, two commercial stores, four wholesale locations and one retread plant. The acquisitions will continue. In a May 2017 earnings release, the company told investors it plans to acquire competitors at attractive prices and open 20 to 40 stores per year in existing markets.Express Oil Change LLC grew through acquisitions and new construction, according to Josh Henderson, executive vice president of marketing. The company, which flies the Express Oil Change & Tire Engineers banner at the majority of its tire stores, added 39 outlets for a total of 185 stores and the No. 6 ranking.

In California, Rent A Wheel/Rent A Tire LP purchased five EZ Rims 4 Rent locations. Two of the stores were merged into existing Rent A Wheel outlets. The other three became new Rent A Wheel stores in Moreno Valley, Calif.; Crenshaw, Calif.; and Las Vegas, Nev. The Las Vegas outlet is the company’s third store in that city.

“Certainly in the last couple of years it’s been a more challenging business environment where we’ve had to market more aggressively to continue our growth. However, we’ve been able to achieve 15% same-store growth,” says President Matt Seaburn. The company is in the No. 7 spot with 141 stores.

No. 8 ranked Purcell Tire & Rubber Co. added two states to its geographic coverage through acquisition. The Potosi, Mo.-based company bought eight commercial stores operated by Phelps Tire Co. Inc. in Washington and Alaska.

No. 9 ranked Tire Discounters Inc. has 103 stores, having added seven outlets since the start of 2016. “This growth will allow us to service more customers and offer them a trusted, nearby expert whenever car care needs arise,” says Jamie Ward, president. “To account for the increasing demands on our infrastructure, we’ve hired a new chief technology officer and are implementing a state-of-the-art point-of-sale system to help us deliver an enhanced customer experience across the board.”

Tire Discounters plans to open one new location and remodel five existing stores in the Greater Cincinnati area; three stores each in both Nashville and Chattanooga, Tenn.; and one new store in both Louisville and Lexington, Ky.The company is entering the Huntsville, Ala., market later this year, extending its footprint beyond Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Tennessee and Georgia. “We are excited to introduce ourselves to the Huntsville community as we continue our rapid expansion across all markets,” says Ward. “Having opened or remodeled 29 locations in the past three years, we’re eager to continue that momentum and bring our high levels of customer service to more and more customers.”

In addition, the company says it’s open to partner with other family-owned and operated businesses with a customer-first philosophy as it expands.

“We want everyone to know that there are other choices than selling to some big faceless corporation,” says Ward. “We know that not everyone has a solid succession plan like we do, and we want family tire and service retailers considering options to sell to know they can trust us to take care of their customers and their hard-earned reputations.”

Ward says Tire Discounters is prepared for the challenges rapid growth brings. “We want to make sure we are continuing to bring a higher standard to our increasingly large number of customers. Our new point-of-sale system is a step forward in this regard, which will continue to improve our shopping experience for our customers. We are also investing in new phone systems and new promotion tools to enable our growth.”

La Mirada, Calif.-based ATV Inc., which does business as American Tire Depot, added eight stores. The company has 99 stores and holds the No. 10 spot.

Green Bay, Wis.-based Pomp’s Tire Service Inc. expanded southward with the acquisition of Cross-Midwest Tire Co. in Kansas City, Kan. Pomp’s Tire gained 14 stores in the deal and is tied for the No. 11 spot on this year’s list with 97 outlets.

Allen Park, Mich.-based Belle Tire Distributors Inc. completed the merger of its commercial division with Tredroc Tire Services Inc. of Elk Grove Village, Ill., in October 2016. The “new” Tredroc has 27 commercial stores and is tied for No. 41 in the rankings. Belle Tire’s retail operations, headed by Jack Lawless, were not part of the merger. The company operates 97 retail outlets, which ties it for No. 11 on the Modern Tire Dealer 100. Belle Tire says it plans to add five retail stores this year.

Town Fair Centers Inc. built new stores in Londonderry, N.H. (five bays), and Williston, Vt. (eight bays), and renovated vacant retail buildings in Manchester, Conn. (seven bays), and Littleton, N.H. (five bays). The new stores gave the dealership a total of 95 outlets and the No. 13 spot. The company “shoots for two to four” new stores a year, according to Mike Barbaro, senior vice president.

Sullivan Tire Co. Inc. recently acquired a 5,000-square-foot full automotive service and tire business in Westford, Mass.  This acquisition brings the company’s store count to 83 outlets and the No. 14 spot in the rankings. Sullivan Tire’s focus is on growth, remodeling and renovation to existing stores, upgrades to tire and auto equipment, and employee training and development, according to Joseph Zaccheo, chief operating officer.  He says the company is looking at a number of opportunities  both through acquisition and ground up construction. Sullivan Tire recently completed five store renovations in the Maine and Massachusetts markets with plans to complete three more by the end of the year.  The company plans three to five new stores in the New England area in the next 12 months.

No. 17-ranked Kauffman Tire Inc. opened five stores to bring it to 63 outlets. Four stores are in Georgia in the cities of Brunswick, Columbus, Rome and Macon. The fifth store is in Tallahassee, Fla.

Plaza Tire Service renovated a former auto shop into its first outlet in Springfield, Mo. The 6,000-square-foot, six-bay store is the company’s 61st location overall. Plaza Tire opened three stores in Missouri (Moberly, O’Fallon and Warrenton) in 2016. Plaza Tire holds the No. 18 spot in the rankings.

Black’s Tire Service Inc. added six Perry Brothers Tire Service Inc. stores in North Carolina through a partnership with the Perry family. The deal was announced in February 2017. In the fall of 2016, the company opened a store in Hickory, N.C. Black’s Tire Service renovated a former truck dealership into a 20,000-square-foot retail and commercial outlet.“We have a lot of great commercial customers that run in that area, and the Hickory store will help us expand our footprint to better serve their needs,” says Ryan Benton, general manager. For now, the company plans to focus on making its existing stores the best they can be, according to Benton. Black’s Tire Service is tied for No. 24 on the Modern Tire Dealer 100 with 43 stores.

‘Ideal for convenience seekers’

Commercial Tire Inc. added three stores for a total of 43 outlets and a tie for the No. 24 spot. The company’s newly built location in Eagle, Idaho, has six bays for mechanical and tire services, plus two Valvoline Express Care bays. “It’s gorgeous,” says Brady Hansen, marketing coordinator. “It’s truly a one-stop shop. The right tools are in place whether customers are looking for that 15- or 20-minute oil change and want to wait in their vehicle or they have extensive work to be done.”

The Valvoline Express Care bays are ideal for “convenience seekers,” according to Hansen. “We allocate those bays solely to Express Care. If they need tire work they come out and go into one of the six bays. So it is all about convenience and speed.”

The Eagle store’s shop employees are cross trained to work in both the oil change and mechanical bays. Commercial Tire is considering adding similar outlets, according to Hansen.In late 2016, the company expanded into Ellensburg, Wash., with the purchase and renovation of a building for a three-bay commercial location. The Ellensburg facility also sells passenger and light truck tires but does not offer passenger or light truck mechanical or lube services. Commercial Tire also purchased and renovated a building in Orem, Utah, into a single-bay commercial outlet.

The company has provided commercial services to the Ogden, Utah, market from a rented facility for the last 19 years. In 2016, Commercial Tire built a larger facility, adding retail tire sales to its offerings in Ogden.

In addition to expanded service offerings and new locations, Commercial Tire has moved away from promotions based solely on price. “We’re not always the cheapest in the market. We pride ourselves in being a premium provider. So we carry premium brands, premium product across the board. It’s so tough to win the price war, so we aim to win by selling Commercial Tire,” says Hansen.

The most credible salespeople are customers themselves, and Commercial Tire has built a marketing campaign around testimonials. The campaign’s first two videos, each about three minutes in length, were posted to YouTube in March 2017. The videos tell the stories of a local family and a local business and their dealings with Commercial Tire.

“We let our customers do the talking for us. They attest to what we do more so than saying we guarantee the lowest price,” says Hansen. The testimonials are shared through numerous channels, from on-hold music to radio spots to printed inserts placed in the tires on the showroom floor to 35 roadside billboards. The company is also active in social media, where the testimonials, as well as sponsorships of community and charity events, are highlighted.“We’re proud of the progress we’ve made with our online presence. Previously we kind of had that as a secondary avenue,” says Hansen.

“The convenience market is growing so much that we know we have to be accessible after closing during the week, Sundays, and holidays. Plus we’ve become very transparent online — we’re showing our prices and allow customers to request appointment times. We need to be available when it’s convenient for them.”

A pattern of steady expansion

Bob Sumerel Tire & Service LLC, which does business as AAA/Bob Sumerel Tire & Service, opened its second store in Fairfield, Ohio. The company purchased and renovated a former auto service center into a six-bay retail store. The company also expanded its footprint around the Dayton, Ohio, area, where it built a new eight-bay store in Beaver Creek. The Cincinnati, Ohio-based dealership is tied for the No. 33 spot with 34 stores.

Bauer Built Inc. added a store in Mankato, Minn., to bring it to 34 stores and a tie for the No. 33 spot. No. 35-ranked Graham Tire Co. added a retail store in Sioux Falls, S.D., and a commercial store in Fremont, Neb. The dealership has 31 stores.

T.O. Haas Tire Co. Inc. completed two store remodels, installed new equipment in new locations and grew its 4x4 enthusiast market share by increasing inventory levels of lift kits, leveling kits and other 4x4 aftermarket products, according to Fred Knight, marketing manager. The Lincoln, Neb.-based dealership goes to market as T.O. Haas Tire & Auto and is tied for No. 44 with 25 stores.

Bore/MPC LLC, which goes to market as Big O Tires in Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma, opened a store in Fayetteville, Ark., on June 3, 2017, and is scheduled to open a store in Norman, Okla., in the middle of July 2017. Along with new store openings, the company is refreshing its existing Big O Tires outlets. “With 17 stores, we are constantly remodeling facilities. In 2016, we spent $300,000 on a remodel of the office, showroom and exterior of our oldest facility in Columbia, Mo.,” says Rusty Coats, director of operations. The company is tied for No. 64 on the Modern Tire Dealer 100.Northwest Tire Inc. just broke ground for its fifth store in Bismarck, N.D., where the company is headquartered. The new retail store is scheduled to open in the spring of 2018. It will have six tire bays and two drive-through quick lube lanes. “We are going to continue to expand,” says Dan Pearson, president. “We’re looking at both avenues: a  cquisitions and places to build.” Northwest Tire is celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2017 and has 15 stores, which ties it for No. 69 on the Modern Tire Dealer 100. The company also operates four warehouses, two retreading plants and an auto supply store.

Steve Shannon Tire Co. Inc. will open its 18th store in Lewiston, Pa., on Aug. 2. Construction is nearly complete on the 12,000-square-foot, nine-bay store. Owner Steven Shannon says plans are in the works to open two stores by the end of 2017. The Bloomsburg, Pa.-based dealership is tied for No. 64.Redburn Tire Co. opened single-bay commercial stores in Gallup, N.M., and Flagstaff, Ariz. The Phoenix-based commercial dealership has 14 stores and is tied for No. 81 in the rankings.

Fairfield, Calif.-based East Bay Tire Co. opened a 4,000-square-foot commercial outlet with one bay in Maui, Hawaii. The company, which tied for No. 88 with 13 stores, also moved its commercial facility in Stockton, Calif., to a larger location.

In May 2017, Free Service Tire Co. Inc. opened its second store in Johnson City, Tenn., and fourth store overall in the Tri-Cities area that encompasses Johnson City, Kingsport and Bristol.  The company renovated a former two-bay quick oil change location into a nine-bay full service outlet. “We identified this site as an obvious location for growth,” says Dennis Pritchett, vice president of retail, who oversaw the remodel of the building.

The company’s original location, which opened 98 years ago this summer, is also located in Johnson City. Free Service Tire was founded by Dan Wexler Sr. in 1919. Today, Lewis Wexler Sr., Dan’s son, is CEO and his sons, Lewis Jr. and Harrison, oversee day-to-day management. The company is tied for No. 93 with 12 stores.

More wholesale capacity

S&S Tire Firestone Inc. and Dunn Tire LLC expanded their wholesale operations. S&S Firestone, which is tied for No. 50 with 23 stores, opened its 11th distribution center in August 2016. Brian Quisenberry, marketing director, says the 80,000-square-foot facility will be a “model for efficiency, safety and technology as we expand in the future.” Located in Cincinnati, Ohio, the new facility serves northern Kentucky, southeast Indiana and southwest Ohio.

Dunn Tire relocated from a warehouse in Henrietta, a Rochester suburb, to the larger 75,000-square-foot newly constructed facility, also in Henrietta and built to Dunn Tire’s specifications. The leased facility can be expanded to 115,000 square feet. The new facility serves eight Dunn Tire retail stores in the Rochester area retail and hundreds of wholesale customers in central New York. The company’s wholesale division is branded Exxpress Tire Delivery.

Pittsburgh is a new market for Dunn Tire, according to David Simons, executive vice president and chief financial officer. Dunn Tire began delivering to the area from its Erie, Pa., warehouse following the sale of Terry’s Tire Town to American Tire Distributors Inc. in 2014.

“After studying the market, learning where the opportunities were and where relationships could be built, we leased a 60,000-square-foot warehouse that is part of a 500,000-square-foot facility in Cheswick, a suburb northeast of Pittsburgh.” The warehouse services western Pennsylvania south of Interstate 80 and nearby areas in Ohio, West Virginia and Maryland. Dunn Tire is tied for No. 36 with 30 retail stores.Fort Pierce, Fla.-based St. Lucie Battery and Tire Co. counts a wholesale distribution center among its recent accomplishments.

“In just the last six months, we have launched a wholesale distribution center, increased company profitability by 2%, and successfully advanced our safety program,” says Lindsey Concannon, corporate brand manager.

St. Lucie Battery and Tire, which is tied for No. 81 with 14 stores, opened its third store in Port St. Lucie in 2017 and will open a fourth store in that city in September.

“We are always working to make our online, and in-store, experiences very client-friendly,” says Concannon. “We constantly manage and update our website and social media platforms so that our customers can make informed decisions and have the most up-to-date information. Just this year, we added a complete tire catalog to our online platform.”

Investment in training pays off

In October 2016, Chabill’s Tire Service LLC opened an eight-bay, 8,000-square-foot retail store in Gonzales, La. It is the fourth Chabill’s Tire store in the Baton Rouge market, and the company “will continue to build there until we run out of possibilities,” says Charley Gowland, general manager. The company remodeled its Houma, La., outlet in 2016. The Houma location was Chabill’s second store when it was built in the mid-1970s and it “really needed a makeover.”The company is preparing to break ground for another store in the Baton Rouge area scheduled to open in the first quarter of 2018. Chabill’s Tire opened its first store in the Baton Rouge market in 2012.

Sales are up about 10% year-over-year, and Beth Barron, operations chief, attributes much of that to sales training for call center employees, managers and service advisors. A consultant provides on-site training three times a year. “He has done a lot of training with us on our phone skills and customer experience training,” says Barron. “We feel the program has helped us gain market share, specifically in the tire area. We are selling more tires than we’ve ever sold. He helps us perfect that, and our retail sales supervisor reinforces the program on a day-to-day basis.”

Gowland says the company decided early on to commit to an ongoing sales training program. “The ability for us to really commit the resources is making a big difference in the way we go to market and what we are able to achieve now.”

He notes the company grew sales in the midst of falling oil prices. “This economy and a good part of the south Louisiana area that we occupy is not doing so well on the commercial side because of low oil prices. So we’ve been able to grow our business even with the sadness that’s out there in the oil fields.”

Chabill’s Tire directs about 2% of annual sales revenue to its advertising budget. This year’s advertising included local broadcast TV spots for the first time in several years. In addition, the company increased radio advertising and revamped its customer loyalty program. Social media accounts for about half of the advertising budget.

“Our suppliers are becoming our competitors and our competitors are getting fiercer,” says Gowland. “We have a small call center that provides a much better experience for our tire customers, and a minimal response time to online quote requests. Our tire prices are much sharper today than a year ago, as we model our pricing matrix to be slightly lower than our wholesale club competitors. We are trying to simplify our processes and create meaningful change in how we communicate with our customers and our employees. We’re doing everything that we can to improve the customer experience on the phone and in the stores.” Chabill’s Tire holds the No. 69 spot with 15 stores.

Alignment services added

There are four RNR Tire Express and Custom Wheels franchisees on the Modern Tire Dealer 100. David Harrison, owner of No. 54-ranked Rental Concepts LLC, added three outlets for a total of 21 stores. Chris Raffo, owner of Rims USA LLC, added one store for a tie at the No. 81 spot with 14 RNR stores. Harrison plans to add six outlets and Raffo two outlets in 2017. The company which offers RNR franchises, SPF Management Co. LLC, is owned by Larry Sutton, whose 13 RNR stores tie for No. 88. Tied for No. 93 with 12 RNR stores is Shannon Strunk, owner of Gulf Coast  L&P Inc. Sutton and Strunk each plan to open two additional stores in 2017.

Vince Ficarrotta, RNR’s vice president, says the franchise added 15 stores over the last year. “It’s the most we’ve grown in a single year so far and it looks like we may double that in 2017.” All new stores offer alignments, and a majority of existing stores have added the service.

“Adding the alignment services has been a tremendous advantage for us,” says Ficarotta. “Our investment in the wheels and tires themselves is further enhanced through the additional services that we are able to provide our customers. I think that helped in the bigger picture of providing credibility and reputation to the consumers that we are a reputable tire dealer that does what tire dealers are expected to do, which is align wheels and tires.”

Rebranding and expanding

The recent remodel of two Lamb’s Tire and Automotive outlets completely changed the look of the buildings, replacing Goodyear branding with corporate branding, according to Jim Ramsey, president of Lamb Ventures LP. His company also added commercial services to its wholesale passenger and light truck tires division that serves car dealerships. Lamb’s now offers 24/7 fleet services as well as commercial truck sales.

In August, Ramsey will open a new Lamb's Tire store in Austin to give the company 16 outlets in central Texas. The new location is a renovation of an existing building and will be the dealership’s largest outlet with 10 bays and a four-bay stand-alone lube center and quick change oil lane.

“We’re just going to continue to look for opportunities; we’re going to continue to grow but not too fast. We feel the central Texas area still has tons of opportunity,” says Ramsey.

He participates in Goodyear and Michelin’s e-commerce programs in order to serve customers he would not otherwise meet.

“Our goal is when a customer comes in to get their the tires installed, we’re going to make the experience so good they are not going to think about going online to get the next tires. We train our personnel with the idea that when they meet a customer who bought tires online, the next time they do not need to go online.”

Mountain View Tire & Service began rebranding 25 retail stores 18 months ago. Chris Mitsos, vice president, expects the project to be complete by the end of 2017.

“We were a traditional heritage Goodyear dealer for many years,” says Mitsos, a son of company founder and family patriarch Nick Mitsos. “We used to say we bled blue and yellow. In the 1990s and early 2000s if you wanted a Goodyear tire, you had to go to a Goodyear dealer, a Sears, or a Goodyear company-owned store. But once Goodyear opened up their distribution to the entire planet, it was no longer special to buy a Goodyear tire from a Goodyear dealer.”

The company adopted a multi-brand strategy and has been branding Mountain View Tire in the digital marketplace for the last five years. In 2015, the company turned its attention to repackaging its buildings.

“It’s a painstaking operation because of the approval process in each of the cities we are in. In the city of Los Angeles it takes almost 12 months to get a permit to change a sign,” says Mitsos.

The cost to rebrand the stores is about $600,000. The results proved worth the cost. “We’ve got a lot of positive feedback from associates, customers and vendors,” says Mitsos.

Plans for four new Mountain View Tire stores have been delayed by local approval processes. For example, Mitsos signed a lease on property in Chatsworth in December 2014. “It’s the summer of 2017 and we still don’t have a permit to build from the City of Los Angeles. It takes approximately 24 months to get the permit.”

All the stores are new construction. Ground was just broken for a new store in Wildomar, which Mitsos expects to open this year. Construction of a store in Menifee should begin by September. The other stores will be built in Chatsworth and Murrieta. The stores will range from 5,600 to 6,200 square feet and have seven or eight bays.

In some cases, such as the Murrieta store, Mountain View Tire believes there’s room for one more competitor. In other locations, like Chatsworth, the company is opening in an underserved community.

“You would think in a super developed place like Southern California that there would be no room for new development, but it’s not true,” says Mitsos.

“There’s still room for more stores, there’s new communities being built all over the place. As those communities get built and the infrastructure goes in place, we will continue to look for places to build stores.”

Mountain View Tire is tied for No. 36 in the Modern Tire Dealer 100 rankings with 30 stores.

‘We’re still a service industry’

Auto repair and maintenance represent 65% of Mountain View Tire’s business. Mitsos doesn’t expect the digital revolution in retailing to affect shopping behavior when it comes to vehicle service.

“It’s going to be a long time before you can get a car repaired on the internet. So the good news is that we’re still a service industry and people still have to come to us for the auto repair.”

Mountain View Tire is an installer for Goodyear’s e-commerce program. “Less than 25 tires a month get installed through our organization on the e-commerce program,” says Mitsos.  “It’s about 70% new customers, 30% repeat customers. And the repeat customers are the only ones who spend money on top of the tire installation.”

Mitsos expects that all Tier 1 tires, i.e., Goodyear, Michelin, Bridgestone, Pirelli and Continental, will eventually be sold only through the internet and installed at independent tire shops. He foresees Tier 2, 3 and 4 tires to be marketed and sold at the brick-and-mortar locations.

“I believe that someday all Tier 1 products will be sold online and it will be at that point business owners like us are going to have to make a decision on if we want to continue to participate in that,” he says.

Compared to department stores, electronics chains and other retail sectors, the effects of e-commerce on the replacement tire market have been relatively mild. Only about 6% of tire sales are made online, according to Modern Tire Dealer estimates.

“I’ll take my chances with the other 94%,” says Mitsos. “Someday it might be a higher percentage buying through the internet, but we’re smart guys, we’ll figure it out.”

Modern Tire Dealer 100 dealers provided more photos of their newly built and remodeled stores than could be printed in this issue. See our photo gallery here.   ■

See the 2017 Modern Tire Dealer 100 list here.

To see last year's Modern Tire Dealer 100 listing, click here.

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